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With meteorologists concerned about a possible worldwide intensification of tornado activity, scientists in Germany are proposing a new approach to studying formation of twisters, which pack Earth's most violent winds. It involves forming microtornadoes under millimeter-scale crystalline "igloos," according to a report by Andrei P. Sommer scheduled for publication in the June 6 edition of ACS' Crystal Growth & Design, a bi-monthly journal.
In the report, Sommer describes evaporating tiny drops of water laced with polystyrene nanospheres to form the transparent igloos. The drops consisted of 15-microliters of liquid — 15 millionths of a liter — and formed the translucent "igloos" after being deposited on a surface under an evaporation chamber. As the drops evaporated (taking 191 hours, a record for such experiments), Sommer observed patterns formed by swirling micro-vortexes that appeared similar to those formed by tornadoes under real-world conditions.
Because the conditions favoring the formation of the microtornadoes are identical to those forming real tornadoes, Sommer suggested that such igloos and microtornadoes could become an important new tool for meteorologists seeking to understand how certain atmospheric conditions spawn tornadoes. "By simultaneously wetting the roof of such an igloo, if necessary, and injecting minimal amounts of water containing nanospheres into it, it should be possible to mimic basic processes in tornadoes experimentally and to explore the impact of relevant boundary conditions including terrain conditions and cloud cover stability," the report states.
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Andrei P. Sommer, Ph.D.
University of Ulm
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