PAOC Spotlights

Weather in a Tank II - Water World

Thu March 22nd, 2012

Since 2001, Lodovica Illari and John Marshall have worked to make rotating fluid dynamics more intuitive for undergraduate students studying weather and climate, using a demonstration aptly named Weather in a tank. In this recent MIT News video Illari gives an outline of the project and explains how the demonstrations that she and co-workers have developed really help students grasp the fluid dynamics that underpins atmospheric and oceanic circulation on our planet and beyond.

Fluid dynamics plays a central role in determining Earth's climate. Ocean currents and eddies stir up contents from the deep, while atmospheric winds and weather systems steer temperature and moisture around the globe. As the planet spins on its axis, this rotation can significantly affect fluid motion. To fully understand how climate works, Illari say students must first understand how Earth's rotation affects winds and currents.

While it is commonly recognized that laboratory experiments and demonstrations have made a considerable contribution to our understanding of fluid dynamics, few U.S. universities that offer courses in meteorology and/or oceanography provide opportunities for students to observe fluid experiments in the classroom. In an article in last month's issue of the Journal of Geoscience Education, Illari and co-authors evaluate results of their three-year study, to provide laboratory demonstrations, equipment, and curriculum materials for use in the teaching of atmospheres, oceans, and climate.

The aim of the project was to offer instructors a repertoire of rotating tank experiments and a curriculum in fluid dynamics to better assist students in learning how to move between phenomena in the real world and the basic principles of rotating fluid dynamics, which play a central role in determining the climate of our planet.

The evaluation highlights the overwhelmingly positive responses from instructors and students who used the experiments, citing that the Weather in a Tank curriculum offered a less passive and more engaged and interactive teaching and learning environment.

Mackin, K.K., N. Cook-Smith, L. Illari, J. Marshall and P. Sadler (2012), The effectiveness of Rotating Tank Experiments in Teaching Undergraduate Courses in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate Sciences, Journal of Geoscience Education, February 2012, Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 67-82, doi: 10.5408/10-194.1

You can access the full MIT News article here