Oceanographers Spot Double Vortexes Powerful Enough To Devour Sea Life

Thursday, 28 December 2017 - 10:25AM
Earth
Weird Science
Thursday, 28 December 2017 - 10:25AM
Oceanographers Spot Double Vortexes Powerful Enough To Devour Sea Life
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Between weird phenomena like St. Elmo's fire and optical illusions like the Fata Morgana, it's no wonder that old-timey sailors were superstitious-weird stuff happens in the open ocean. In fact, scientists are still getting a handle on a phenomenon that goes against everything we know about the way the ocean usually works: modons, also known as double vortexes or 'smoke-ring' eddies.

The ocean is full of naturally occurring "eddies," which are just areas where the current moves in a circular pattern in contrast to the rest of the current. You'll see little eddies in rivers and lakes, but ocean eddies can grow to massive sizes-they can get so big and last for so long that oceanographers can spot and name them like hurricanes.

One thing oceanographers have never spotted before, however, are modons. A modon is what happens when two eddies swirling in opposite directions join up to create a closely linked pair.

Once they do, they start doing weird things, like moving against the general current at frightening speeds. According to Chris Hughes, one of the University of Liverpool scientists who authored the new paper outlining recent discoveries on modons: "Ocean eddies almost always head to the west, but by pairing up they can move to the east and travel ten times as fast as a normal eddy, so they carry water in unusual directions across the ocean." If you're looking for a way to visualize vortexes merging and moving around together, a YouTuber has already done a mini-demonstration with a pool and some colored dye:



Modons can suck up sea life and carry it to new places, along with nutrients and water of different temperatures. Strangely enough, warm water usually has left sea life and nutrients present, while cold water is usually packed with more. Scientists aren't completely certain on the conditions that create modons, but they know they're out there-nine were sighted between 1993 and 2016, but it's only recently that they've gotten a good look at them. These vortexes can survive for six months and cross huge distances-one crossed the entire length of the Tasman sea, the area between Australia and New Zealand.
As excited as we are to explore space (especially in light of NASA's 2018 To Do List), we think it's about time oceanographers figure out what the hell's going on in our own ocean.
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Scientists Identify Powerful Oceanic Double Vortexes
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