Thermally driven overturning circulation

Today was the second day of tank experiments in Torge’s and my “dry theory 2 juicy reality” teaching innovation project. While that project is mainly about bringing rotating tanks into the theoretical teaching of ocean and atmosphere dynamics, today we started with the non-rotating case of a thermally driven overturning circulation.

Very easy setup: A rectangular glass vase filled with luke-warm water. A frozen cool pack for sports injuries draped over one end (which we’ll think of as the northern end) provides the cooling that we need for deep water formation. The deep water is conveniently dyed blue with food dye. Red food dye is warmed up and added to the “southern end” of the tank, and voilĂ ! An overturning circulation is set up.

Watch the sped-up movie to see what happens:

As you will notice, this circulation won’t last for a very long time. Since we are adding neither warming nor mixing, the cold water will eventually fill up the tank. But it’s still quite a nice experiment!

(And should you have noticed the “salt fingers” forming towards the end of the movie, I’ll write about those tomorrow)

And here is the nice group of students that humoured me and posed for this picture. It’s fun with such a motivated group that comes up with new things to try all the time! :-)

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