How can a tornado form inside an "igloo"?
Our Guest Blogger, Lisa Zyga, is a science writer who is interested in many areas of science and technology, including the impact of science on society. She is excited about exploring new inventions in science, medicine, and space, and inspiring and fascinating readers interested in the creative frontier of science with the readers of InventorSpot.com. Here's her article:
* * * * *
Scientist can now form tornados inside an "igloo" .
Before you fear that things may spiral out of control, the scientists' tornadoes are just a fraction of the size of the real thing, and actually meant to allow scientists to study tornado formation and get a better understanding of why they form.
Such knowledge is becoming increasingly important to meteorologists, who worry that recent rises in global temperatures may increase tornado activity world-wide. In general, tornadoes form when warm air collides with cold air, and therefore often occur on flat plains where natural obstructions such as mountains don't block air flow.
Although many tornadoes occur each year, and most do not take an extreme death toll, there are some extreme exceptions. The deadliest tornado on record, which occurred in Bangladesh in 1989, killed 1300 people.
Scientists from the University of Ulm in Germany created tornadoes in a Petri dish just a few micrometers in size. However, the physical processes needed to create these micro-tornadoes are identical to those for natural tornadoes.
To create tornadoes in the lab, the scientists first made tiny nano-sized igloos from drops of water with polystyrene. As the drops of water evaporated, humid swirling air formed inside the warmer interior of the igloo underneath the cold igloo roof.
Eventually, the cold igloo breaks apart, allowing the swirling air to escape in a similar fashion to the way a real tornado moves. By monitoring the conditions in the igloo (which is somewhat like a tornado incubator), the scientists could compare how different conditions affect the tornado growth and activity.
Of course, there are many exterior variables that may be difficult for scientists to simulate in a lab. Differing wind speeds, weather conditions, terrain, altitude conditions must be considered to understand the full dynamics of tornadoes.
The scientists aren't deterred, though, and hope to create larger tornadoes in the future. Even on a daily basis, anyone can understand how difficult it is to predict the weather-and who knows what tiny criteria may determine the difference between a windy day and a tornado.
Although meteorologists may not understand tornadoes as well as other weather formations, just think that, 60 years ago, the only method for detecting a tornado was someone directly observing it. Now, we have radar, Doppler, and a handful of other observable clues prior to formation that point to favorable tornado conditions.
Maybe, these micro-tornadoes will lead to a new technology for predicting tornadoes with greater accuracy, and help avoid the most severe damage and loss that still persists.
Image credit: Andrei Sommer and the American Chemical Society.