How Earth's rotation affects vortices in nature

October 15, 2013

What do smoke rings, tornadoes and the Great Red Spot of Jupiter have in common? They are all examples of vortices, regions within a fluid (liquid, gas or plasma) where the flow spins around an imaginary straight or curved axis. Understanding how geophysical (natural world) vortices behave can be critical for tasks such as weather forecasting and environmental pollution monitoring.

In a new paper in the journal Physics of Fluids, researchers Junho Park and Paul Billant of the CNRS Laboratoire d'Hydrodynamique in France describe their study of one such geophysical vortex behavior, radiative instability, and how it is affected by two factors, density stratification and background rotation.

Radiative instability is a phenomenon that alters the behavior of fluid flows and can deform a vortex. The "radiative" tag refers to the fact that it is an instability caused by the radiation of outward from a vortex.

"These waves can exist as soon as there is a density stratification—a variation of densities—throughout the vertical column of the ," Park said. "In this study, we have considered how background rotation—in this case, the rotation of the Earth—impacts them."

Examples of density stratification in nature, Park explained, include the decrease in air density as one moves higher in the atmosphere or the increase in water due to salinity and temperature with increasing ocean depth. "So, the waves in our mathematical model are somewhat analogous to waves on the ocean surface," he said. "Likewise, the impact from background rotation on our modeled waves serves as an equal for the impact of the Coriolis force caused by the Earth's rotation."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This is a view from above of the growing and spiraling wave field emitted by a geophysical vortex due to the radiative instability. The black circle represents a boundary of the vortex core. Credit: J. Park/Ecole Polytechnique-CNRS

"What we learned from our models is that strong background rotation suppresses the radiative instability, a characteristic that had been expected but whose dynamics had never been studied precisely," Park said. "We've now developed a sophisticated mathematical means to explain this phenomenon, and that's important to being better able to study and understand the behavior of geophysical vortices such as hurricanes and ocean currents."

Park said that he and Billant next plan to study instability behaviors in vortices with non-columnar shapes. "For example," he said, "there are pancake-shaped flows called Mediterranean eddies, or meddies, that would be worth studying since we know they affect the mixing of the components that make up the ocean ecosystem."

Explore further: Understanding a novel form of turbulence

More information: The article, "Instabilities and waves on a columnar vortex in a strongly-stratified and rotating fluid" by Junho Park and Paul Billant appears in the journal Physics of Fluids.

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1.4 / 5 (11) Oct 16, 2013
This effect is not new. Similar curves for electromagnetic fields were derived in two of my books: "The Secret of Gravity" (1997) and "Secrets of the Atom" (1999). This effect produces the phenomenon known as "the speed of light".

Dr. Weldon Vlasak
1 / 5 (11) Oct 16, 2013
Vortices are created by the interaction of charges and the flow thereof.
The spiral, helix, and vortex are ubiquitous throughout nature, the scalable electrical interaction of charges from the smallest particles to galactic clusters, it is the electric force which drives nature.
5 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2013
Psh. You're all wrong. Unicorns and magic are the source of the vortices. I mean while we're playing imagination time, might as well imagine fun things. Unless we want to go back to talking about boring old reality, what with its experiments and data and scientific process.
1 / 5 (10) Oct 16, 2013
Magic (frozen-in fields) and unicorns (DM, DE)? That seems to be required by the "standard" theory among others. On the contrary, the first few sentences for the page I linked;

"The theories in this site are based entirely on conventional physics. There are no claims of magic or strange forces. The laws of nature are not bent or twisted to support some weird theories. If you can show that the hypotheses set out below are false, then let me, and everyone else know exactly why – but you must argue from the basic principles of science."

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