The earth's atmosphere and its molten outer core have one thing in common: Both contain powerful, swirling vortices. While in the atmosphere these vortices include cyclones and hurricanes, in the outer core they are essential for the formation of the earth's magnetic field.
These phenomena in earth's interior and its atmosphere are both governed by the same natural mechanisms, according to experimental physicists at UC Santa Barbara working with a computation team in the Netherlands.
Using laboratory cylinders from 4 to 40 inches high, the team studied these underlying physical processes. The results are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
"To study the atmosphere would be too complicated for our purposes," said Guenter Ahlers, senior author and professor of physics at UCSB. "Physicists like to take one ingredient of a complicated situation and study it in a quantitative way under ideal conditions." The research team, including first author Stephan Weiss, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSB, filled the laboratory cylinders with water, and heated the water from below and cooled it from above.
Due to that temperature difference, the warm fluid at the bottom plate rose, while the cold fluid at the top sank –– a phenomenon known as convection. In addition, the whole cylinder was rotated around its own axis; this had a strong influence on how the water flowed inside the cylinder. Rotation, such as the earth's rotation, is a key factor in the development of vortices. The temperature difference between the top and the bottom of the cylinder is another causal factor since it drives the flow in the first place. Finally, the relation of the diameter of the cylinder to the height is also significant.
Ahlers and his team discovered a new unexpected phenomenon that was not known before for turbulent flows like this. When spinning the container slowly enough, no vortices occurred at first. But, at a certain critical rotation speed, the flow structure changed. Vortices then occurred inside the flow and the warm fluid was transported faster from the bottom to the top than at lower rotation rates. "It is remarkable that this point exists," Ahlers said. "You must rotate at a certain speed to get to this critical point."
The rotation rate at which the first vortices appeared depended on the relation between the diameter and the height of the cylinder. For wide cylinders that are not very high, this transition appeared at relatively low rotation rates, while for narrow but high cylinders, the cylinder had to rotate relatively fast in order to produce vortices. Further, it was found that vortices do not exist very close to the sidewall of the cylinder. Instead they always stayed a certain distance away from it. That characteristic distance is called the "healing length."
"You can't go from nothing to something quickly," said Ahlers. "The change must occur over a characteristic length. We found that when you slow down to a smaller rotation rate, the healing length increases."
The authors showed that their experimental findings are in keeping with a theoretical model similar to the one first developed by Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg and Lev Landau in the theory of superconductivity. That same model is also applicable to other areas of physics such as pattern formation and critical phenomena. The model explains that the very existence of the transition from the state without vortices to the one with them is due to the presence of the sidewalls of the container. For a sample so wide (relative to its height) that the walls become unimportant, the vortices would start to form even for very slow rotation. The model makes it possible to describe the experimental discoveries, reported in the article, in precise mathematical language.
The other UCSB author is postdoctoral fellow Jin-Qiang Zhong. Additional authors are Richard J. A. M. Stevens and Detlef Lohse from the University of Twente and Herman J. H. Clercx from Eindhoven University of Science and Technology, both in the Netherlands.
Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
NASA examines Peru's deadly rainfall
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Steep rise of the Bernese Alps
24.03.2017 | Universität Bern
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy