In the Eye of a Hurricane

Although eyes are common at the center of large-scale cyclones, scientists are only now beginning to understand how they form. Since real-world cyclogenesis is complicated by many competing effects, researchers look at simplified model systems first. A typical one uses a shallow, rotating cylindrical domain in which heat rises from below. The rotation provides a Coriolis force, which shapes the flow. In particular, it causes a boundary layer along the lower surface of the domain, creating a thin region where the flow moves radially inward. (Its opposite forms at the upper surface of the domain, sending flow radiating outward.) Like an ice skater spinning, the flow’s vorticity intensifies as it approaches the central axis of rotation. When the conditions are right, this intensely swirling boundary layer flow lifts up into the main flow, forming an eyewall. The eye itself, it turns out, is merely a reaction to the eyewall’s formation. (Image credit: S. Cristoforetti/ESA; research credit: L. Oruba et al.)

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