Phenomena

Coriolis

There’s an infamous supposition about drains swirling one way in the Northern Hemisphere and the other way in the Southern Hemisphere. Destin from Smarter Every Day and Derek from Veritasium have put the claim to the test with experiments on either side of the globe. First, go here and watch their synchronized videos side-by-side. (To synchronize, start the left video and pause it at the sync point. Then start the second video and unpause the first video when the second video hits the sync point.) I’ll wait here.

That was awesome, right?! The demonstration doesn’t work with toilets because they’re driven by the placement of jets around the circumference. And your bathtub doesn’t usually work either because any residual vorticity in the tub gets magnified by conservation of angular momentum as it drains. It’s like a spinning ice skater pulling their arms in; the rotation speeds up. So, to get around that problem, Destin and Derek let their pools sit for a day to damp out any motion before draining. At that point, the Coriolis effect is strong enough to cause the pools to rotate in opposite directions when drained. You may wonder why the effect is so slight for the pools when it’s pretty stark with hurricanes and cyclones. The answer is a matter of scale. The pools are perhaps 2 meters wide, which means that the difference in latitude across the the pool is very slight and therefore, the differential speed imparted by the Earth’s rotation is also very small. Because hurricanes and cyclones are much larger, they experience stronger influence from the Coriolis effect. (Image credits: Smarter Every Day/Veritasium; via It’s Okay To Be Smart)

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