Analogies of Ocean/Atmosphere Rotating Fluid Dynamics with Gyroscopes-Teaching Opportunities

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 8:30 AM
Room C109 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Thomas W. N. Haine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD; and D. A. Cherian

Handout (38.0 MB)

The dynamics of the rotating shallow-water (RSW) system include geostrophic flow and inertial oscillation. These classes of motion are ubiquitous in the ocean and atmosphere. They are often surprising to people at first because intuition about rotating fluids is uncommon, especially the counter-intuitive effects of the Coriolis force. The gyroscope, or toy top, is a simple device whose dynamics are also surprising. It seems to defy gravity by not falling over, as long as it spins fast enough. The links and similarities between rotating, rigid bodies, like gyroscopes, and rotating fluids are rarely considered or emphasized. In fact, the dynamics of the RSW system and the gyroscope are related in specific ways and they exhibit analogous motions. As such, gyroscopes provide important pedagogical opportunities for instruction, comparison, contrast, and demonstration. Gyroscopic precession is analogous to geostrophic flow and nutation is analogous to inertial oscillation. The geostrophic adjustment process in rotating fluids can be illustrated using a gyroscope that undergoes transient adjustment to steady precession from rest. The controlling role of the Rossby number on RSW dynamics is reflected in a corresponding non-dimensional number for the gyroscope. The gyroscope can thus be used to illustrate RSW dynamics by providing a tangible system that behaves like rotating fluids do, such as the large-scale ocean and atmosphere. These relationships are explored for their potential use in educational settings to highlight the instruction, comparison, contrast, and demonstration of important fluid dynamics principles.