Phenomena

Convection Without Heat

Rafts of cream atop a pool of liqueur undergo convection

We typically think of convection in terms of temperature differences, but the real driver is density. In the animations above, cream sitting atop a liqueur is undergoing solutal convection – no temperature difference needed! The alcohol in the liqueur mixes with the cream to form a lighter mixture that rises to the surface. The lower surface tension of the alcohol is also good at breaking up the cream, forming little cells. As the alcohol in those cells evaporates, the cream gets heavier and sinks down into the liqueur, where it can pick up more alcohol, rise back to the surface, and begin the cycle again. (Image credit: J. Monahan et al., source)

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