Observing the “melting ice cubes” experiment with a thermal imaging camera

Remember the melting ice cube experiment? Great!

Experiment: Ice cubes melting in fresh water and salt water. By Mirjam S. Glessmer

If I had the chance to teach an intro to oceanography or some other class where I have time with students over a longer period (these days I am mostly giving one-off workshops), I would actually use the thermal imaging camera to make a different point with this experiment than the one I have usually recommended it for.
I would first do the classical experiment to talk about density-driven circulation. This could be done either using dye (levels of difficulty would be something like 1) easy: freeze dye into the ice cube. 2) medium: let them observe what happens with clear ice cubes and only add dye once they’ve realized that the fresh water ice cube is melting much faster, but have a hard time figuring out why. In this case, drop dye onto the melting ice cubes. 3) no dye at all, but let people focus on condensation pattern on the cups as well as shapes of the ice cubes. I tried that for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it worked really really well. I think that’s my favourite way of doing the experiment now!
After students have done that experiment and we have moved on to properties of seawater etc weeks later, I would bring the same experiment back when talking about how water is transparent to visible light, but not to all other wavelengths. Because students will likely assume that they will see the same kind of pattern that they saw with dye (or that they sketched when they drew the mechanism), but actually, unless the plume of dense water is flowing right along the edge of the cup, they won’t be able to see it because they really only see the temperature of the cup itself and can’t “look inside” the way they can with their eyes. So at first, I would assume, they’d be a bit bored and annoyed to be presented with the same experiment again, until they realize that now the point is a very different one. (Since I haven’t tried to use that experiment in that way, I am not quite sure how it will work, I think it would be important to either hold the melting ice cubes in the middle of the beaker. That way, there is no cold plume along the edge of the cup, and students see cold water appearing at the bottom of the cup “out of nowhere”. Alternatively, one could ask them to look at the cup from the side opposite to where the ice cube is (they always float to the edge somehow), but maybe that would be giving too much away already?). So now the point would be to explain why we can’t see the sinking plume on the thermal imaging camera, and dependency of transparency of sea water on wavelengths of light. This can lead to ocean color, remote sensing, camouflage colors of animals, all kinds of other stuff. I think that could actually be exciting! What do you think?

My workshop at MeerKlima.de

Today I ran a workshop at the MeerKlima.de congress in Hamburg: A congress for high school students, organised by a student committee. The large lecture theatre of the chemistry department at the University of Hamburg was crowded for the opening lecture by Mojib Latif:

For my workshop, however, we set a limit of 40 participants due to the size of the room (and the amount of stuff that I had lugged in from Kiel. Yesterday’s ice cubes did very well, btw!). And there were two TV crews and a photographer documenting the awesome ice cube experiment.

You can watch documentaries of the workshop here and here (both in german).

Sneak peak of those two documentaries, obviously only of the tiny little sequences featuring me:

And thanks to Johanna and Dirk for their support before, during and after the workshop!

I also got to watch another workshop by a colleague, who used the Monash Simple Climate Model (which I have talked about here) and I have got to say: That is such an awesome tool for teaching about models and/or the climate system! You will definitely hear more about it in the future as I incorporate it into my own teaching.

And last not least we had a phone call to the Meteor off Peru which rounded off a day full of bumping into people I hadn’t seen in a while. Always great to reconnect with old friends and colleagues!

It was great fun to be part of this congress, and it was a great way to experience first hand how science outreach can work in such a format. Since the congress was curated by the students themselves, many students were very interested and asked great questions. Also, the topics of the workshops corresponded closely to what students really wanted to see and hear. It would be amazing to see this scaled up next year, maybe over several days and with more parallel sessions, so that participating students really get to pick and choose exactly what topic they are interested in and that even more students get the opportunity to experience such an amazing congress!

Workshop prep and a riddle

Looking at the picture below, can you guess which experiment I am going to do at the MeerKlima.de workshop? Yep, my favourite experiment — melting ice cubes! :-)

And I am obviously prepared for several extensions of the classic experiment should the students be so inclined…

Now I only need to get the ice cubes from Kiel to Hamburg — and as ice cubes, not a colourful, salty, wet mess :-)

Having gotten that backstory as a hint, any idea what’s going on with the spoons below?

Yep. Freshwater on the left, salt water on the right. Different refraction indices due to different densities. Neat :-)

“Coriolis fountain”

We’ve been thinking about Coriolis deflection a lot recently (see links at the end of this post). But this weekend, at Phaenomenta Flensburg, I came across a so-called “Coriolis fountain”. A fountain that you can put into spin and that then changes shape like so:

Uta, remember we talked about this a couple of years ago? Nice puzzle for anyone interested in fluid dynamics…

Watch the movie and be amazed :-)

Considered exemplary: My “ice cubes melting in fresh water and salt water” in the “on the cutting edge” teaching collection! :-)

After reading recently that I am being considered the queen of the melting ice cube (aaaaw, thank you!!!), having my movies of the experiment featured in Elin Darelius and Petra Langebroek’s article on “fun in the kitchen”, and hearing that the activity I posted on the “On The Cutting Edge”‘s website using the very same experiment has been awarded “exemplary” status (so excited!), I simply had to talk about this experiment again. Even though just two days ago I talked about using it as a tool to let future instructors experience inquiry-based learning. One really cannot talk about this experiment enough!

Go check it out on On The Cutting Edge’s website, check out my own summary page with all the best tips and tricks, watch the movie below or look at all the posts tagged with “melting ice cubes experiment“. And then go and DO THE EXPERIMENT!

Standing waves in a tank

And really high order ones, too!

On Monday, I showed you a movie on wave generation in Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA)’s wave tank. At the end of that movie, we see that the wave energy is being dissipated by a “beach”. Well, we actually see that some of the energy is reflected in those cute little baby waves. And there is another fraction of the total energy that passes through the beach into another part of the tank. And that’s what I want to show you today.

When I’ve talked about standing waves in a tank before, that always meant the simplest form: Only one node. We have always tried to avoid higher-order modes before, partly because they are a lot more difficult to generate, at least using our method.

But here is what happened in the wave tank:

Isn’t it beautiful?

Eddies in a jar

Rotating experiments in your kitchen.

Do you know those Saturday mornings when you wake up and just know that you have to do oceanography experiments? I had one of those last weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a rotating table at hand, but luckily most of my experiments work better than the exploding water balloon time-lapse I showed you on Monday, so this is what I did:

Dye spiral

I took a large cylindrical jar, filled it with water, stirred, let it settle down a little bit and then injected dye at the surface, radially outward from the center. Because the rotating body of water is slowed down by friction with the jar, the center spins faster than the outer water, and the dye streak gets deformed into a spiral. The sheet stays visible for a very long time, even as it gets wound up tighter and tighter. And you can see the whole eddy wobble a bit (or pulsate might be the more technical term) because I introduced turbulence when I stopped stirring. So pretty, the whole experiment. And so satisfying if you need a really quick fix of oceanography on a Saturday morning!

Watch the movie below if you want to see more. Or even better: Go play yourself! It’s easier than making one of those microwave mug cakes and sooo goooooood :-)

Influence of stratification on mixing

A wind stress is applied to the surface of a stratified and a non-stratified tank to cause mixing.

This is an experiment that Martin and I ran at the JuniorAkademie this summer, but since I posted soooo much back than (just look for the tag “JuniorAkademie” to get an impression of what we did) I feel it never got the attention it deserves. So here we go again! :-)

We ran two experiments, one after the other.

In the first one, we took a tank full of freshwater, added dye droplets and switched on a hair dryer to force mixing through the wind stress. After about a minute, the tank was fully mixed.

In the second experiment, we created a salt stratification: salt water with approximately 35 psu, and freshwater. We then added the dye droplets. The droplets never penetrated into the salty layer but instead layered in at the interface between the two layers. We then added the wind stress.

After a minute, the surface layer was well mixed, but there was no mixing penetrating into the bottom layer. To fully mix the whole depth, the wind forcing ran for 86 minutes (and I am proud to report that my hair dryer survived this ordeal!).

Mixing in a non-stratified tank (left) and in a stratified tank (right). See the stop watch at the bottom of the panels for an impression of the time scales involved!

This is a great demonstration of how mixing is inhibited by stratification. We had been expecting to see a difference, but we were really surprised that the difference was so large. I started the experiment an hour before a meeting we had to attend, but then obviously couldn’t leave on time, because I could neither stop the experiment (seriously! How could I have stopped?) nor leave the hair dryer running while I wasn’t in the room.

Watch a short movie below and a movie containing the full time lapse even further down!


Tilting of a frontal surface under rotation

Eddy in a rotating tank.

This is an experiment that Pierre and I ran two years ago in Bergen but that – as I just realized – has not been featured on this blog before. Which is a pity, because it is a pretty cool experiment.

Under rotation, vertical fronts with different densities on either side can persist for a long time without leading to the density-driven adjustment shown in the non-rotating Marsigli experiment. This is what we demonstrate with this experiment.

In a not-yet-rotating tank, dyed salt water is filled into a centered cylinder while, at the same time, fresh water is filled in the tank outside of the cylinder.

This setup is then spun up for approximately half an hour. Then, the cylinder can be carefully removed and the column of dense water can adjust to the new conditions.

Screen shot 2012-03-09 at 5.50.07 PM
The rotating tank just as the cylinder is being removed

When the cylinder is being removed, disturbances are being introduced. Hence, several columns with sloping fronts develop in the rotating system.

Screen shot 2012-03-09 at 5.50.16 PM
Dense columns developing towards an equilibrium state in the rotating system.

This is what the rotating tank looks like from the side several minutes after the cylinder has been removed.

Screen shot 2012-03-09 at 5.50.26 PM
Side view of the sloping front around the dense column

Here are a couple of movies of this experiment. First a top view (note how you can see the deformation of the surface when you focus on the reflection of the ceiling lights on the water’s surface!):

Then a side view:

And finally (just because it’s fun) this is what it looks like when you switch off the rotation of the tank when you are done with the experiment: