Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Tempest in a teapot: International team of scientists describes swirling natural phenomena

30.11.2010
Scientists can use cylinders as small as teapots to study the mechanisms involved in powerful hurricanes and other swirling natural phenomena.

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!
Further information:
http://www.ucsb.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level

20.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Relax, just break it

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>