Category Archives: tank experiment

Planetary Rossby waves on Beta-plane. A super easy tank experiment!

This is seriously one of the easiest tank experiments I have ever run! And I have been completely overthinking it for the last couple of weeks.

Quick reminder: This is what we think hope will happen: On a slope, melt water from a dyed ice cube will sink, creating a Taylor column that will be driven down the slope by gravity and back up the slope by vorticity conservation, leading to a “westward” movement in a stretched, cyclonic trajectory.

We are using the DIYnamics setup: A LEGO-driven Lazy Susan. And as a tank, we are using a transparent plastic storage box that I have had for many years, and the sloping bottom is made out of two breakfast boards that happened to be a good size.

Water is filled to “just below the edge of the white clips when they are in the lower position” (forgot to take measurements, this is seriously what I wrote down in my notes. We didn’t really think this experiment would work…)

The tank is then rotated at the LEGO motor’s speed (one rotation approximately every 3 seconds) and spun into solid body rotation. We waited for approximately 10 minutes, although I think we had reached solid body rotation a lot faster. But we had a lot of surface waves that were induced by some rotation that we couldn’t track down and fix. But in the end they turned out to not matter.

To start the experiment, Torge released a blue ice cube in the eastern corner of the shallow end. As the ice cube started melting, the cold melt water sank down towards the ground, where it started flowing towards the bottom of the tank. That increased the water column’s positive relative vorticity, which drove it back up the slope.

This was super cool to watch, especially since the ice cube started spinning cyclonically itself, too, so was moving in the same direction and faster than the rotating tank.

You see this rotation quite well in the movie below (if you manage to watch without getting seasick. We have a co-rotating setup coming up, it’s just not ready yet…)

Very soon, these amazing meandering structures appear: Rossby waves! :-)

And over time it becomes clear that the eddies that are being shed from the column rotating with the ice cubes are constant throughout the whole water depth.

It is a little difficult to observe that the structure is really the same throughout the whole water column since the color in the eddies that were shed is very faint, especially compared to the ice cube and the melt water, but below you might be able to spot it for the big eddy on the left.

Or maybe here? (And note the surface waves that become visible in the reflection of the joint between the two breakfast boards that make up the sloping bottom. Why is there so much vibration in the system???)

You can definitely see the surface-to-bottom structures in the following movie if you don’t let yourself be distracted by a little #HamburgLove on the back of the breakfast boards. Watching this makes you feel really dizzy, and we’ve been starting at this for more than the 8 seconds of the clip below ;-)

After a while, the Taylor column with the ice cube floating on top starts visibly moving towards the west, too. See how it has almost reached the edge of the first breakfast board already?

And because this was so cool, we obviously had to repeat the experiment. New water, new ice cube.

But: This time with an audience of excited oceanographers :-)

This time round, we also added a second ice cube after the first one had moved almost all the way towards the west (btw, do you see how that one has this really cool eddy around it, whereas the one in the east is only just starting to rotate and create its own Taylor column?)

And last not least: Happy selfie because I realized that there are way too few pictures like this on my blog, where you see what things look like (in this case in the GEOMAR seminar room) and who I am playing with (left to right: Torge, Franzi, Joke, Jan) :-)

Taylor column in a rotating tank

For both of my tank experiment projects, in Bergen and in Kiel, we want to develop a Taylor column demonstration. So here are my notes on the setup we are considering, but before actually having tried it.

Since water under rotation becomes rigid, funny things can happen. For example if a current in a rotating system hits an obstacle, even if the obstacle isn’t high at all relative to the water depth, the current has to move around the obstacle as if it reached all the way from the bottom to the surface. This can be shown in a rotating tank, so of course that’s what we are planning to do!

We are following the Weather in a Tank instructions:

  • rotating our tank at 5rpm with the obstacle in the water until solid body rotation is reached (We know that solid body rotation is reached if paper bits distributed on surface all rotate at same rate as the tank).
  • change the rotation rate a little (they suggest as little as -0.1 rpm) so water moves relative to tank and obstacle, i.e. we have created a current flowing in the rotating system.

As the current meets the obstacle, columns of water have to move around the obstacle as if it went all the way from the bottom to the surface. This is made visible by the paper bits floating on the surface that are also moving around the area where the obstacle is located, even though the obstacle is far down at the bottom of the tank and there is still plenty of water over it.

In the sketch below, the red dotted line indicates a concentric trajectory in the tank that would go right across the obstacle, the green arrows indicate how the flow is diverted around the Taylor column that forms over the obstacle throughout the whole water depth.

Or at least that’s what I hope will happen! I am always a little sceptical with tank experiments that require changing the rotation rate, since that’s what we do to show both turbulence and Ekman layers, neither of which we want to prominently happen in this case here. On the other hand, we are supposed to be changing the rotation rate only very slightly, and in the videos I have seen it did work out. But this is an experiment that is supposedly difficult to run, so we will see…

I also came across about a super cool extra that Robbie Nedbor-Gross and Louis Dumas implemented in this demo: a moving Taylor column! when the obstacle is moved, the Taylor column above it moves with it. Check out their video, it is really impressive! However I think implementing this feature isn’t currently very high on my list of priorities. But it would be fun!

Spin down — lots of shear instabilities in our tank!

When you stop a rotating tank, lots of stuff happens and it is usually very impressive to watch. Sometimes we stop tanks on purpose to show for example the development of Ekman layers, but sometimes we are just done with an experiment and then get to see cool stuff to see just as part of cleaning up.

Like below: When the tank stops, the water inside continues to spin, but friction with the sides and the bottom of the tank starts slowing the water down, inducing shear. Shear in turn produces turbulence and the structures cause smaller and smaller eddies. Very cool to watch!

Parabolic surface shape of a tank of water in solid body rotation

One of the first exercises Torge and I plan on doing with the students in our “dry theory to juicy reality” project is to bring a water-filled tank to solid body rotation and measure rotation, surface height at the center of the tank and the sides, as well as water depth before rotation, and then have them put those together according to theory.

Setup of the experiment as we did it using a glass vase my mom gave me as tank (diameter 24.5 cm). The non-rotating water depth was 9.2 cm. Once we rotated the tank with 10 rotations per 8.6 seconds, the maximum water level at the outside edge of the tank was approximately 10.8 cm, and the minimum 7.9 cm.

Seeing how difficult it is to “measure” the surface heights while the tank is rotating (we chose to draw circles on the outside of the tank at the heights where we thought the water levels were, in order to measure them later on a non-rotating tank), we were quite pleased with those results once we plugged them into the equations.

Calculating the resting water level as arithmetic mean between the rotating maximum value at the rim and the minimum value in the center, we are only off by 0.1 cm, so not too shabby!

And calculating the height difference between resting water level and rotating maximum level from the tangential velocity and radius of the tank, we are only off by 0.4 cm. So all in all, that’s working well!

Btw, below you see the resting water level and above the mark for the rotating maximum value. Quite impressive difference, isn’t it?

Anyway, looking at rotational surfaces and volumes and stuff this way is a lot more fun than doing it the dry theoretical way only! At least that’s what I think ;-)

Rotating vs non-rotating turbulence — now with movie!

Lots of demonstrations being prepared for Torge’s and my “dry theory to juicy reality” project. Shown here today: rotating vs non-rotating turbulence. Because the only way to really appreciate how amazing rotating flows are is to compare them with non-rotating ones. And not everybody does have a clear idea what non-rotating flows would even look like.

So here we are dropping dye into a non-rotating tank. Top view shows it forming tons of small eddies and spreading to the sides.

Side view shows that most of the dye sank to the bottom of the tank and is spreading there, showing 3-dimensional turbulence.

Now, for comparison, the rotating case!

Top view shows one single, clean eddy.

And side view shows that the structure is coherent all the way from surface to bottom. Now doesn’t this look really fascinatingly different from the non-rotating case?

To show the difference even more clearly, check out the movie below. Speed of both movies is the same!

 

Spinning dye curtain — when a tank full of water has not reached solid body rotation yet

With all the rotating tank experiments I’ve been showing lately, one thing that comes up over and over again is the issue of solid body rotation.

On our DIYnamics-inspired turntable for our “dry theory to juicy reality” project, Torge and I came up with a fun way to illustrate the importance of full body rotation in tank experiments, again inspired by the DIYnamics team, this time their youtube channel.

For the spinning dye curtain experiment, we start up the rotating table, and then pretty much immediately add in some dye. Below, you see what happens when you add in the dye too late (we waited for 2 minutes here before we added it): The water is so much in solid body rotation already, that we only form columns and 2D flow.

But if we add in the dye right away after starting up the tank, we form these spirals where the water further away from the center is spinning faster than the water right at the center, thus distorting the dye patches into long, thin filaments (Btw, I’ve shown something similar in my “eddies in a jar” experiment earlier, where instead of starting up a turntable I just stirred water in a cylindrical tank).

But as the tank continues to spin up, the eddies eventually stop spinning and the tank turns into solid body rotation. If new dye is added now, only columns form, but they stay intact as if they were, indeed, solid bodies.

But seeing the behaviour of a fluid change within half a minute or so is really impressive and something we definitely want to do in class, too!

Baroclinic instabilities / Hadley cell circulation in a tank

The DIYnamics-inspired turntable that Torge and myself have been working on for our “dry theory to juicy reality” project is finally working well!

This is what the setup now looks like (how simple is that?!) and we had an exciting morning testing different experiments!

The one experiment that we have been using as test case in all our previous sessions is the Baroclinic Instability / Hadley cell circulation. There are sketches of the setup and the expected circulation in this blogpost, so just a quick reminder: We place a cold core in the center of our tank (here a glass with blue ice in it), spin the tank (at approximately 20rpm) into solid body rotation, and introduce dye (blue towards the center, red towards the outer edge of the tank).

And what happens then is just beautiful: We get 2D instabilities that transport cold (blue) water outwards and warmer (room-temperature, red) water towards the center of the tank.

We’ve run the experiment three times with different water levels (and once with Southern Hemisphere rotation just for fun) and it worked beautifully each time.

I find it always fascinating how there is hardly any mixing between the red and blue curtains (and there shouldn’t be any because rotating flows become 2D (as shown here)).

Just look at how the dye curtains form when we first add the blue dye…

And then a little later added some red dye…

And then let the field develop.

So I think we’ve got this experiment down and can run it with the students once the semester starts up again in October! :-)

Combining rotation of a water tank with a temperature gradient: A Hadley cell circulation demo!

Yesterday, we combined a thermally-driven overturning circulation with the effects of rotation, and thus created a Hadley cell circulation. And while the tank was turning faster than we would have liked, we still managed to create a circulation that largely resembles the sketch below: An axially-symmetric overturning circulation (with cold water, indicated by blue arrows, moving down near the cooling in the middle and then outwards, and warmer water moving up along the outer rim and then towards the middle of the tank) which induces the thermal wind flow (sketched in green: Fast surface current in the direction of rotation but even faster than the tank is rotating, and slow bottom flow in the opposite direction).

But what would happen if we increased the tank’s rotation rate? It would make the induced azimuthal flow, the thermal wind, faster too, until it eventually becomes unstable and breaks down into eddies. And then, the experiment (first blogged about a long time ago) looks similar to this one: Lots and lots of eddies that are now rigid vertically and move as Taylor columns!

Heat exchange between the cold core and the warmer areas towards the rim of the tank now doesn’t happen via overturning any more, but looks something like sketched below: We now have radial currents bringing warm water towards the middle (red) and cold water away from it (blue), and the eddies that create those currents are coherent over the whole depth of the tank.

This is actually a really nice demonstration of the circulation in mid- and high latitudes where the weather is determined by baroclinic instabilities, i.e. weather systems just like the eddies we are showing here.

Btw, having two different experiments both represent the same Hadley cell circulation isn’t a contradiction in itself: On Earth, the Coriolis parameter changes with latitude, but in the tank, the Coriolis parameter is the same throughout the tank. So depending on what latitude we want to represent, we need to change the tank’s rotation rate.

Here is an (old) movie of the experiment, and I can’t wait for our own tanks to be ready to produce a new one!

 

Combining a slowly rotating water tank with a temperature gradient: A thermal wind demonstration!

Setting up an overturning circulation in a tank is easy, and also interpreting the observations is fairly straightforward. Just by introducing cooling on one side of a rectangular tank a circulation is induced (at least for a short while until the tank fills up with a cold pool of water; see left plot of the image below).

But now imagine an axially symmetric setup where the cooling happens in the middle. What will happen to that overturning circulation if the tank is set into rotation (see right plot above)?

First, let’s check there is an overturning circulation. We can see that there is when we look at dye crystals that sank to the bottom of the tank: Dye streaks are moving outwards (and anti-clockwise) from where the crystals dropped on the ground, so at least that part of the overturning circulation is there for sure. If our tank were taken to represent the Hadley cell circulation in the atmosphere, this bottom flow would be the Trade winds.

Now, in addition to having water sink in the middle of the tank, spread radially outwards, and returning by rising near the outer edge of the tank and flowing back towards the middle, a secondary circulation is induced, and that’s the “thermal wind”. The thermal wind, introduced by the temperature gradient from cold water on the inside of the tank to warmer waters towards the rim, tilts columns that would otherwise stay vertically.

You see that in the image below: Dye dropped into the tank does not sink vertically, but gets swirled around the cold center in a helix shape, indicated in the picture below by the white arrows. In that picture, the swirls are tilted very strongly (a lot stronger than we’d ideally have them tilted). The reason for that is that we just couldn’t rotate the tank as slowly as it should have been, and the higher the rotation rate, the larger the tilt. Oh well…

So this is the current pattern that we observe: An overturning circulation (sketched with the red arrows representing warmer water and the blue arrows representing colder waters below), as well as the thermal wind circulation (indicated in green) with stronger currents near the surface (where the water is moving in the same direction as the rotating tank, but even faster!) and then a backward flow near the bottom. The velocities indicated here by the green arrows are what ultimately tilted our dye streaks in the image above.

The thermal wind component arises because as the overturning circulation moves water, that water carries with it its angular momentum, which is conserved. So water being brought from the rim of the tank towards the middle near the surface HAS to move faster than the tank itself the closer it gets to the middle. This flow would be the subtropical jets in the Hadley cell circulation if out tank were to represent the atmosphere.

Here is an old video of the experiment, first shown 5 years ago here. I’m looking forward to when Torge’s & my rotating tanks are ready so we can produce new videos and pictures, and hopefully being able to rotate the tank even more slowly than we do here (but that was the slowest possible rotation with the setup we had at that time). I promise you’ll see them here almost in realtime, so stay tuned! :-)

Why do we need a rotating tank to study ocean and atmosphere dynamics? A demonstration

For our project “Ocean currents in a tank: From dry theory to juicy reality“, Torge, Joke and I are working on building affordable rotating tanks to use in Torge’s Bachelor class on ocean and atmosphere dynamics. When people ask what we need rotating tanks for, the standard answer is that rotation of the tank simulates rotation of the Earth. Which is of course true, but it is not really satisfying because it doesn’t really convey the profound effect that rotation has on the behaviour of the ocean and atmosphere, which is actually very easy to show in a quite dramatic way (at least I think it’s dramatic ;-)).

Imagine a cylindrical tank filled with fresh water. In its middle, we place a (bottom-less) cylinder filled with dyed, salty water. When we lift the cylinder out of the tank, the blue dye is released into the freshwater. And depending on whether the tank is rotating or not, the blue water behaves very differently.

The picture below shows top views and side views of a non-rotating and a rotating experiment, taken after similar amounts of time after the “release” of the blue water.

Let’s focus on the top view first. In the non-rotating experiment, a dipole of two counter-rotating eddies develops within seconds of the central dense column being released, spreading blue water pretty much all throughout the tank. In the rotating experiment, after a similar amount of time, the dipole looks different: Even though the same amount of dyed water was released, the two eddies are much smaller and much more well-defined.

In the side view, the difference becomes even more clear. In the non-rotating experiment, looking at the boundary between the blue and clear water, we see eddies moving water in all directions, so in combination with the top view, we know that turbulence is three-dimensional.

In the rotating experiment, however, the boundary between blue and clear water looks very different. There is a clear separation between a blue column of water and the clear water surrounding it. From the side view, we don’t see any turbulence. We know, however, from the top view that there is turbulence in the horizontal plane. In the rotating case, turbulence is two-dimensional.

And this is the dramatic difference between rotating and non-rotating fluids: rotating fluids are rigid in a way that non-rotating fluids are not. And this means that they behave in fundamentally different ways: rather than developing in 3 dimensions, they only develop in 2 dimensions. So in order to simulate the atmosphere and ocean of the rotating earth correctly, we need to also rotate our water tank.

P.S.: Images for this post were originally posted in this post (and in other posts linked therein) 5 years ago. Hoping we’ll have new images soon when our new tanks are up and running! :-)