A theoretical model of localized heat and water vapor transport in the human respiratory tract

J Biomech Eng. 1986 Feb;108(1):19-27. doi: 10.1115/1.3138574.


A steady-state, one-dimensional theoretical model of human respiratory heat and water vapor transport is developed. Local mass transfer coefficients measured in a cast replica of the upper respiratory tract are incorporated into the model along with heat transfer coefficients determined from the Chilton-Colburn analogy and from data in the literature. The model agrees well with reported experimental measurements and predicts that the two most important parameters of the human air-conditioning process are: the blood temperature distribution along the airway walls, and the total cross-sectional area and perimeter of the nasal cavity. The model also shows that the larynx and pharynx can actually gain water over a respiratory cycle and are the regions of the respiratory tract most subject to drying. With slight modification, the model can be used to investigate respiratory heat and water vapor transport in high stress environments, pollutant gas uptake in the respiratory tract, and the connection between respiratory air-conditioning and the function of the mucociliary escalator.

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Body Water / metabolism*
  • Computers
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Mucous Membrane / physiology
  • Respiration
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*