Tag Archives: temperature

24 Days of #KitchenOceanography — Melting ice cubes that are forced to the bottom of a beaker

Welcome to 24 days of #KitchenOceanography! Both English and German instructions below.

Herzlich Willkommen zu 24 Tagen Küchen-Ozeanographie! Deutsche und Englische Anleitungen weiter unten.

24 Days of #KitchenOceanography — Double-diffusive mixing

Welcome to 24 days of #KitchenOceanography! Both English and German instructions below.

Herzlich Willkommen zu 24 Tagen Küchen-Ozeanographie! Deutsche und Englische Anleitungen weiter unten.

24 Days of #KitchenOceanography — Mediterranean Outflow

Welcome to 24 days of #KitchenOceanography! Both English and German instructions below.

Herzlich Willkommen zu 24 Tagen Küchen-Ozeanographie! Deutsche und Englische Anleitungen weiter unten.

24 Days of #KitchenOceanography — Melting ice cubes!

Welcome to 24 days of #KitchenOceanography! Both English and German instructions below.

Herzlich Willkommen zu 24 Tagen Küchen-Ozeanographie! Deutsche und Englische Anleitungen weiter unten.

This is an experiment I’ve written extensively about on this blog before. Check out all the posts tagged melting ice cubes experiment if you are interested in much more in-depth discussions!

Über dieses Experiment habe ich bereits sehr viel und sehr viel in die Tiefe gehend geschrieben. Alle Posts dazu findet man unter dem Tag “melting ice cubes experiment“.

24 Days of #KitchenOceanography — Density-driven currents

Welcome to 24 days of #KitchenOceanography! Both English and German instructions below.

Herzlich Willkommen zu 24 Tagen Küchen-Ozeanographie! Deutsche und Englische Anleitungen weiter unten.

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 voilà! 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! :-)

Demonstration: Nansen’s “dead water” in a tank!

A ship that is continuously pulled with a constant force suddenly slows down, stops, and then continues sailing as if nothing ever happened? What’s going on there? We will investigate this in a tank! And in order to see what is going on, we have dyed some of the water pink. Can you spot what is going on?

The phenomenon of “dead water” is probably well known to anyone sailing on strong stratifications, i.e. in regions where there is a shallow fresh or brackish layer on top of a much saltier layer, e.g. the Baltic Sea, the Arctic or some fjords. It has been described as early as 1893 by Fridtjof Nansen, who wrote, sailing in the Arctic: “When caught in dead water Fram appeared to be held back, as if by some mysterious force, and she did not always answer the helm. In calm weather, with a light cargo, Fram was capable of 6 to 7 knots. When in dead water she was unable to make 1.5 knots. We made loops in our course, turned sometimes right around, tried all sorts of antics to get clear of it, but to very little purpose.” (cited in Walker,  J.M.; “Farthest North, Dead Water and the Ekman Spiral,” Weather, 46:158, 1991)

When observing the experiment, whether in the movie above or in the lab, the obvious focus is on the ship and the interface between the clear fresh water layer (the upper 5cm in the tank) and the pink salt water layer below. And yes, that’s where a large-amplitude internal wave develops and eats up all the energy that was going into propulsion before! Only when looking at the time lapse of the experiments later did I notice how much more was going on throughout the tank! Check it out here:

The setup for this experiment is discussed here and is based on the super helpful website by Mercier, Vasseur and Dauxois (2009). In the end, we ended up without the belt to reduce friction, and with slightly different layer depths than we had planned, but all in all it works really well!

Accidental double-diffusive mixing

When setting up the stratification for the Nansen “dead water” demo (that we’ll show later today, and until then I am not allowed to share any videos, sorry!), I went into a meeting after filling in layer 4 (the then lowest). When I came back, I wanted to fill in layer 5 as the new bottom layer. For this experiment we want the bottom four layers to have the same density (so we would actually only have one shallow top layer and then a deep layer below [but we can’t make enough salt water at a time for that layer, so I had to split it into four portions]), and I had mixed it as well as I could. But two things happened: a) my salinity was clearly a little fresher than the previous layer, and b) the water in the tank had warmed up and the new water I was adding with layer 5 was cold tap water. So I accidentally set up the stratification for salt fingering: warm and salty over cold and fresh! Can you spot the darker pink fingers reaching down into the slightly lighter pink water? How cool is this??? I am completely flashed. Salt fingering in a 6 meter long tank! :-D


Experiment: Temperature-driven circulation

My favorite experiment. Quick and easy and very impressive way to illustrate the influence of temperature on water densities.

This experiment is great if you want to talk about temperature influencing density. Although it doesn’t actually show anything different from a temperature driven overturning experiment, where circulation is determined by hot water rising and cold water sinking, somehow this experiment is a lot more impressive. Maybe because people are just not used to see bottles pouring out with the water coming out rising rather than plunging down, or maybe because the contrast of the two bottles where one behaves exactly as expected and the other one does not?

Anyway, it is really easy to do. All you need is a big jar and two small bottles. Cold water in one of the small bottles is dyed blue, hot water in the other small bottle is dyed red. Both are inserted in the jar filled with lukewarm water (movie below).

Using bottles with a narrower neck than mouth is helpful if you want to use the opportunity to talk about not only temperature-driven circulation, but also about double-diffusive mixing (which you see in form of salt fingers inside the red bottle in the picture above).

Isn’t this beautiful?

P.S.: This text originally appeared on my website as a page. Due to upcoming restructuring of this website, I am reposting it as a blog post. This is the original version last modified on December 2nd, 2015.

I might write things differently if I was writing them now, but I still like to keep my blog as archive of my thoughts.

Melting ice cubes experiment — observing the finer details

If you don’t know my favourite experiment for practically all purposes yet (Introduction to experimenting? Check! Thermohaline circulation? Check! Lab safety? Check! Scientific process? Check! And the list goes on and on…), check it out here. (Seriously, of you don’t recognize the experiment from the picture below, you need to read up on it, it’s awesome! :-))


Susann and I got funding from PerLe (our university’s project to support teaching innovation) to add a couple of cool new features to Susann’s “intro to meteorology” lecture, and doing a hands-on experiment with 50 students in a lecture theatre in their second lecture was only one of the first of many more to come.

We used the experiment to introduce the students to oceanic circulation, and this experiment is, in my experience, very engaging and sparks curiosity, as well as being very nicely suited as a reminder that things are not as easy as they seem to be when you see those nice plots of the great conveyor belt and all the other simplified plots that you typically see in intro-level lectures. Especially understanding that there are many different processes at play simultaneously, and that they have different orders of magnitude and might act in different directions helps counteract the oversimplified views of the climate system that might otherwise be formed.

I usually use dye to make it easier to observe what’s going on in the experiment (either by freezing it directly into the ice cubes as shown in the picture on top of this blog post, or by dripping it onto the melting ice cubes when students have started to observe that — counter to their intuition — the ice cube in the fresh water cup is melting faster than the one in the salt water cup).  We had dye at hand, but I decided on the spur of the moment to not use it, because the students were already focussing on other, more subtle, aspects that the dye would only distract from:

The shape of the ice cubes

In many of the student groups, the most prominent observation was that the shape of the melting ice cubes was very different in the fresh water and salt water case. In the fresh water case, the ice cube melted from the sides inwards: as a cylindrical shape with a radius that was decreasing over time, but in any instance more or less constant for all depths. In the salt water case, however, the ice cube melted upwards: The top did not melt very much at all, but the deeper down you looked the more was melting away. Why?

Condensation on the sides of the cup

Another observation that I prompted was in what regions the cups showed condensation. In the fresh water case, there was a little condensation going on everywhere below the water line, and sometimes there were vertical streaks down from where the ice cube was touching the wall. In the salt water case, there was only a small band of intense condensation close to the water level.

This, not surprisingly, looks very similar to what a thermal imaging camera sees when observing the experiment (as described in this post).


Taken together, those two observations are quite powerful in explaining what is going on, and it seemed to be a fun challenge for the students to figure out why there was condensation on the outside of the cups in the first place (does condensation occur in warmer or colder places?), what it meant that different places ended up being warmer or colder, and how all of that is connected to global ocean circulation. Definitely an experiment I would recommend you do! :-)