Wednesday, February 8, 2012

CYCLONE JASMINE AND THE CORIOLIS EFFECT

As I wrote a couple of days ago, Vivian and I were scheduled to go to Vanuatu where I was to have a training seminar with a group of pastors. Unfortunately, it turned out that we were not the only ones scheduled to go to Vanuatu on that day. A cyclone named Jasmine also had set her sights on the islands. A man whom I respect once told me to never pick a fight with an angry woman, so in the end, Jasmine won out. She made her schedule but I did not.
Actually, what happened is that Air Vanuatu canceled the flight and rescheduled us to fly up there on Saturday. So, if there are no further changes, we will be leaving at that time. I am not sure how the training will work out once we get there, since I have not been able to contact anyone in Vanuatu. Nevertheless, I guess these are things that are, like the cyclones themselves, in the hands of God.
As I have been looking at the satellite photos of the cyclones (there are actually two right now in the southern Pacific), and with these three days of unscheduled hours that have suddenly come to me, it has caused my mind to wander once again to think about something that I have written about before: The Coriolis Effect. What is the Coriolis Effect? It is that combination of certain laws of physics and motion that causes the cyclones that form south of the equator to turn with a clockwise rotation and the hurricanes that form north of the equator to turn counterclockwise (or as they say here, and anti-clockwise rotation).
What are these laws of physics? I once tried to learn the mechanics of how this all takes place, but my trouble is that if something cannot be explained to me using stick-figure people diagrams, I usually cannot understand it.
But I like the Coriolis Effect. I especially like that it involves the word effect, because the effects are very interesting. It is simply intriguing to me that the hurricanes and cyclones rotate in this fashion, as well as high-pressure and low-pressure weather systems. People who know about physics more than me (my brother Daniel and his boys) tell me that the Coriolis Effect causes large weather systems to rotate in this way, but the effect is not pronounced enough to cause movements on a smaller scale, such as water in a sink or a flushing toilet.
But I, in my own way, have also studied this effect. When we lived in Venezuela (which is north of the equator) and when I traveled to countries such as Peru (which is south of the equator), I regularly made a mental note of which way the water went down when I flushed the toilets. In Venezuela – counterclockwise. In Peru – clockwise. I told my nephew that if it was not because of the Coriolis Effect, then they must make the toilets different in the southern hemisphere.
I have also flushed toilets here in New Zealand. I must say that the results are not what I would expect. The water in the toilets that I have flushed here seem to have very little discernable rotation at all. I don’t know why this is but I think it is what physicists call a “geographical anomaly.” If physicists do not have that term, then they should.
Speaking of water rotation, I think that I once mentioned a little museum that is located on the equator in the country that is even named after the equator – Ecuador. With GPS measurements, they have determined the exact location of the equator, and have a line running down the middle of the grounds of the outdoor museum to show the visitors where the northern hemisphere meets the southern.
At the museum they have various demonstrations of physical phenomena that they say is only possible right on the equator, and little experiments that you can do. For instance, on the equator it is possible to balance an egg on its end on the top of a nail that is partially driven into a board. It did it. Even right on the equator it is a little difficult, but it can be done. I must confess that I have not tried it in any other part of the world, but I assume it must be impossible since that is what they told me at the museum. They even gave me an official-looking and signed certificate that shows that I successfully balanced and egg on a nail, and someplace I have a photograph of the egg on top of the nail. I have always meant to have the certificate framed (with the photo), but so far have not done it.
Another experiment that they have involves water rotation running down a drain. They used a basin for this experiment and not a toilet, so perhaps this does skew the results somewhat, but the demonstration was impressive nevertheless. The lady at the museum had a movable basin which she placed about two meters north of the line that showed where the equator was. She then poured in a bucket of water, and when the water stopped sloshing around, placed a single leaf on the top of the water right in the middle. Then, with her hand, she pulled out the plug to let the water go down, which it did, rotating in a counterclockwise direction – just what we all expected would happen.
She then took the basin to a spot an equal distance south of the line. Again the water and again the leaf. However, this time when she pulled out the stopper, the water rotated in a clockwise direction. Some audible “Ooo’s” emanated from several of the visitors.
Then the basin was placed directly over the equatorial line. This time, when the plug came out, the water went straight down without any rotation at all. This time some, in the small crowd, gasped. I did not. I didn’t want to appear to be a stupid tourist.
Even though I did not admit it, I was impressed by this demonstration and wondered about it. Since that time, I have decided that the lady must have started the rotational spin of the water when she took out the plug. Even a slight movement of the hand can make the water rotate in any direction that you want. I always hoped that I would be called back to Ecuador so I could again go to that museum to watch more closely, and perhaps catch that lady with her tricks. Sadly, I never returned and I now think the days of me visiting Ecuador are probably over. I am sure she is continuing with her fraudulent demonstration.

So now I am watching Cyclone Jasmine rotate in a clockwise direction and waiting for her to move off to the east so that I can go up to Vanuatu and do my training. In the mean time, I will occupy my mind with more deep and profound thoughts. I hope this has helped you all understand the Coriolis Effect.

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