What’s behind the speedy ‘smoke ring’ vortices?

The flag of Australia located on the map. Horizontal orientation. Macro photography. (MarkRubens, iStock)


Typically, the waters of the ocean to flow gently to the west, in part driven by the massive, slow waves generated by the spin of the Earth. Even when whirlpools, or eddies pop up, they tend to flow along with the rest of the water. But sometimes two vortices to combine into something called a modon, a huge vortex that can break off of the ocean on the regular flow.

Nine of these modons, which were spotted in Australia between 1993 and 2016, were analyzed using satellite imagery and ocean temperature data. The modons — that may seem like enormous smoke rings in the water were found to travel many times faster than the ocean’s typical flow, a new study found.

In the study, which was published Dec. 4. in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists said that they do not see a clear evidence of how the modons formed. However, the strange curling may result from one of two processes: two opposite-rotating vertebrae fusing together or a larger eddy to split into two pieces that rotate in the opposite direction, the study said. [Photos: Travel Australia, the Great Ocean Road]

Regardless of how the modon is formed, the overall structure is the same: The modon consists of two vortexes turning in the opposite direction of each other, with their tails together below the surface of the water. In the paper, the scientists described the phenomenon as the bottom half of a smoke ring intersected by the surface of the water. YouTuber “Physics Girl” illustrates the half of the ring also in a video where she uses food dye to show how two individual vertebrae to communicate and merge.

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These huge vortices are not of short duration. The study found that they have a duration of up to six months before splitting, and then, with that individual vertebrae can run for a number of months. They put the whole Tasman Sea, the body of water between Australia and New Zealand, according to the study.

In some cases, the modons broke loose when they collided with a part of the continental shelf; in other cases, the scientists couldn’t deduce the reason from the available satellite data.

Still, what he about this powerful vortex is that they can travel either east or west to 7.9 inch (20 cm) per second, a speed that is several times the speed of Rossby waves, which is on average 4-8 cm (1-2 cm) per second in the analyzed region. (Rossby waves are waves that, of course, a result of the rotation of the Earth, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) Sometimes the modons would be the pivot in the direction of the north or the south, the strengthening of which eddy was spinning in that direction, and the weakening of the other for balance, the study found.

Because these oceanic smoke rings travel independently and faster than the ocean currents, the researchers said in the newspaper that the modons quickly can the transfer of water, heat and minerals from one place to another, and even speculated that they would be able to carry small organisms for long distances in their wake.

Original article on Live Science.

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