Tag Archives: Coriolis platform

What happens when you accidentally change the rotation rate of the tank just a liiiittle bit? Inertial oscillations!

Inertial oscillations. Not what you want in a tank...

Inertial oscillations. Not what you want in a tank…

At some point the angular velocity of our tank was accidentally changed a tiny little bit. That was almost instantly corrected, however we could see the effect for quite some time later: inertial oscillations! All the water in the tank moved in circular motions at half the period of rotation.

You read about inertial oscillations in oceanography all the time, but it was really cool to actually observe them!

Inertial oscillations. Not what you want in a tank...

Inertial oscillations. Not what you want in a tank…

Elin receives award for polar sciences!

I’m sure there will be an official press release some time later today, and we will link to it when it comes out, but I thought I should let you all know that yesterday, on Nansen’s Birthday, Elin received the 2017 award for polar research of the Framkomitee.

I don’t know what was said in the official laudation or why Elin was chosen, but here are a couple of things I would have said that are more than enough to make her deserve this award more than anybody else I can think of:

That Elin’s research is outstanding doesn’t need to be mentioned specifically, otherwise she would not even have been nominated for a price like this one. When, some time last year, I read the proposal that ultimately funded all our time in Grenoble, doing research on this really cool pool-on-a-merry-go-round, I was so impressed by how all-embracing it was. In contrast to almost everybody else I know, Elin is not a one trick pony. It’s not enough for her to “just go on a research cruise and measure things” (and let me be clear: That in itself is an amazing trick that any pony, and any oceanographer for that matter, should be happy to master!), or “just do tank experiments”. Elin’s research combines sea-going oceanography, experimental work, and numerical models, and not just on paper as is sometimes the case in interdisciplinary research projects, but in practice. She sees how integrating results from one method with results from another will benefit both, and how adding a third could contribute even more. Of course she doesn’t do it all by herself; there is a reason this blog is called “Elin & team’s scientific adventures”. But the way she brings together people from different countries, with different backgrounds both scientifically and culturally, makes her team both stronger scientifically and so much more fun to work in.

Elin is also very invested in sharing her science and her excitement for it with the world. She has been blogging for years (find links to her previous adventures here) for different audiences: Primary school kids, teachers (even including teaching materials like experiments and exercises), the general public. And she gave me completely free reign over what would be published on this blog: We explicitly agreed to share all our “oh sh**, we should have thought about this before!” and “ooooops, that didn’t work!” moments with the world, in order to portrait science in a realistic way and maybe help others who might be struggling with their research by showing that it is normal to spend the first week or more at a new research facility just trouble-shooting (remember our persistent problems with the source, for example? Yes, that is the kind of stuff that doesn’t usually get shared in scientific publications or presentations, but isn’t it nice to know that other people’s research isn’t always going smoothly, either? Not even award-winning people’s research! And let me tell you, when I told other researcher friends about our plans to share this kind of stories with the world, they almost all declared us mad!). I believe these stories need to be shared (and there is actually research backing up this claim), but it takes a very strong person, like Elin, to actually do it!

But in addition to being an amazing researcher and science communicator, Elin is so much more. She is an inspiration and a role model. She makes doing exciting and complex research look easy. Not easy in a “oh, anyone could do it!” way, but in a “despite working really hard, she manages to have a life outside of work that seems to feed her energy levels, provide new ideas, sustains friendships, and ultimately makes her an even better scientist. Maybe I should try that, too?” kind of way. Elin is the kind of person who organises funding and then logistics for an early-career women workshop and then invites more than a dozen of those into her holiday house over night when, on the day of the event, the weather is so bad that we can’t take the cable car up the mountain to go to the place we had planned. Or that urges us to rent bikes in Grenoble and take the scenic route home to enjoy the views of the river and the mountain to recharge after a long and exhausting day in the lab. Or that cooks for her team in Grenoble, taking into account everybody’s different dietary restrictions. And — extremely impressive — Elin didn’t even complain when her phone drowned in her backpack (and not even in Bergen, in Grenoble!), let alone let us see the enormous strain she must have been under when experiments didn’t work out right away and we hadn’t found all the fixes yet! Long story short: Working with Elin means being reminded every day of why I love oceanography, and what a great and rewarding way of spending your time it is to work on exploring and understanding — and sharing with the world! — the wonders and puzzles of the ocean.

There would be so much more to be said about Elin and why I am so happy she got this award, but I have a day job that doesn’t involve writing laudation speeches, so this will have to do for now.

If you want to know what it was like to shake the Norwegian King’s hand (and I don’t even know if that happened, but I hope for his sake that he didn’t miss out on the opportunity to get to know Elin!) and all the other fun events of the day, maybe, if you ask nicely, Elin will tell you herself later. For now, join me in congratulating her! I can’t think of anyone more deserving for this award. Congratulations, Elin!!!

Picture by Nils Gunnar Kvamstø, via Twitter

See the Coriolis deflection when filling the tank!

I just realized we never showed you that you can see the Coriolis deflection on the inflowing water when we started filling the tank! So here you go. Isn’t that cool? (Remember, we are in the Southern Hemisphere…)

Coriolis deflection of water flowing into the tank during filling

Coriolis deflection of water flowing into the tank during filling

Fairy dust sprinkler, or: more neutrally buoyant particles!

What happens when the almost neutrally buoyant particles that we use to visualize the flow field have sunken out of the surface layer?

And this is how the particles are added into the tank!

And this is how the particles are added into the tank!

The fairy-dust sprinkler comes and sprinkles more fairy dust! :-)

Thomas adding more particles

Thomas adding more particles

And that produces all these cute little swirls that glow bright green. So pretty! :-)


How we can see vertical slices of the flow field in our tank

Elin observing Antarctic currents close up and personal

Elin observing Antarctic currents close up and personal

We’ve talked before how we use the laser to light up neutrally-buoyant particles on horizontal slices of our tank, but we can actually also do this in the vertical.

Elin and Thomas observing Samuel working on the laser

Elin and Thomas observing Samuel working on the laser

This is sometimes very helpful to check whether the particle distribution is still good enough or whether someone needs to go in and stir up some particles before the next experiment.

Can you see the particles in the current?

Can you see the particles in the current?

We are constantly adding water to the tank — how is the water level kept stable?

You’ve probably been wondering about this, too: We have a constant inflow from our “source” into the tank. How do we keep the water level stable?

Samuel adjusting the "skimmer" to regulate the outflow of the tank

Samuel adjusting the “skimmer” to regulate the outflow of the tank

Worry no more — here is the answer. In the picture above you see Samuel adjusting the skimmer — a sink inside the tank that height is adjusted such that its upper edge is exactly at where the water level should be. So any excess water is skimmed off and drained.

Sounds easy, but it’s actually not — we have a free surface in the tank and we are rotating quite fast, so there is a height difference of almost 10 cm between the center and the outer edge. So a little bit of fiddling around involved…

This is what experiments look like at our rotating tank


Just so you don’t get bored over the weekend (and because they are so so beautiful to look at!) here are a couple more sneak peek gifs of our experiments.


Remember, though, that what we see are only particle distributions in one layer close to the surface, and also the very beginning of the experiments before the flow has reached a balance. So please don’t over-interpret :-)


About the influence of viscosity: The Reynolds number

This blog post was written for Elin Darelius & team’s blog (link). Check it out if you aren’t already following it!

I read a blog post by Clemens Spensberger over at  a scisnack.com couple of years ago, where he talks about how ice can flow like ketchup. The argument that he makes is that ketchup on your hotdog behaves in many ways similarly to glaciers on for example Greenland: If there is a layer of a certain thickness, it will start sliding off — both the ketchup off your hotdog and the glaciers off Greenland. After most of it has dripped to your shirt or in the ocean, a little bit still remains on the hotdog or the mountain. And so on.

What he is talking about, basically, are effects of viscosity. Water, for example, would behave very differently than ketchup or ice, if you imagine it poured on your hotdog or raining down on Greenland. But also ketchup would behave very differently from ice, if it was put on Greenland in the same quantities as the existing glaciers on Greenland, instead of on a hotdog as a model version of Greenland in a relatively small quantity. And if you used real ice to model the behaviour of Greenland glaciers on a desk, then you would quickly find out that the ice just slides off on a layer of melt water and behaves nothing like you imagined (ask me how I know…).

This shows that it is important to think about what role viscosity plays when you set up a model. And not only when you are thinking about ice — also effects of surface tension in water become very important if your model is small enough, whereas they are negligible for large scale flows in the ocean.

The effects of viscosity can be estimated using the Reynolds number Re. Re compares the effects of the velocity u of the flow, a length scale of an obstacle L, and the viscosity v: Re = uL/v.

Reynolds numbers can be used to separate different flow regimes: laminar flows for very low Reynolds numbers, nice vortex streets for Re > 90, and then flows with a stagnant backwater for high Reynold numbers.

Dependency of a flow field on the Reynolds number. Shown is the top view of a flow field. You see red obstacles, stream lines in blue (so any particle released at any point of a blue line would follow that line exactly, and in the direction shown by the arrow heads)

Dependency of a flow field on the Reynolds number. Shown is the top view of a flow field. You see red obstacles and blue stream lines (so any particle released at any point of a blue line would follow that line exactly, and in the direction shown by the arrow heads)


I have thought long and hard about what I could give as a good example for what I am talking about. And then I remembered that I did an experiment on vortex streets on a plate a while back.

Vortices created on a plate

Vortices created on a plate

If you start watching the movie below at min 1:28 (although watching before won’t hurt, either) you see me pulling a paint brush across the plate at different speeds. The slow ones don’t create vortex streets, instead they show a more laminar behaviour (as they should, according to theory).

Vortex streets, like the one shown in the picture above, also exist in nature. However, scales are a lot larger there: See for example the picture below (Credit: Bob Cahalan, NASA GSFC, via Wikipedia)

Vortex street. Credit: Bob Cahalan, NASA GSFC, via Wikipedia

Vortex street. Credit: Bob Cahalan, NASA GSFC, via Wikipedia

While this is a very distinctive flow that exists at a specific range of Reynolds numbers, you see flows of all different kinds of Reynold numbers in the real world, too, and not only on my plate. Below, for example, the Reynolds number is higher and the flow downstream of the obstacle distinctly more turbulent than in a vortex street. It’s a little difficult to compare it to the drawing of streamlines above, though, because the standing waves disguise the flow.


One way to manipulate the Reynolds number to achieve similarity between the real world and a model is to manipulate the viscosity. However that is not an easy task: if you wanted to scale down an ocean basin into a normal-sized tank, you would need fluids to replace the water that don’t even exist in nature in liquid form at reasonable temperatures.

All the more reason to use a large tank! :-)