Phenomena

Taylor Columns

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When rotating, fluids often act very differently than we expect. For example, an obstacle in a rotating flow will deflect flow around it at all heights. This is known as a Taylor column.

In this video, we see the phenomenon recreated in a simple rotating tank (that’s easy to build yourself). Once all the water in the tank is rotating at the same rate, there is very little variation in flow with height. Food coloring dropped into the tank forms tight vertical columns. Even with a short obstacle in place and induced flow in the tank from a change in rotation rate, the dye continues to move uniformly in height. Because the dye cannot travel through the obstacle, it goes around and does so at every height, leaving the space above the obstacle dye-free.

The same phenomenon occurs in planetary atmospheres; this rotating tank is basically a mini-version of our own atmosphere. Where there are obstacles — like mountains — on our planet, air has an easier time flowing around the mountain instead of over it! (Image and video credit: DIYnamics)

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