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In the chaos of turbulence, scientists chase glimpses of hidden order

  • Published
    13th Dec, 2023

Turbulence is far from a random process. Instead, it hides a deep level of organisation that we are yet to uncover.


Introduction: Everyday Encounters with Unseen Mysteries

  • Profound mysteries: In our daily lives, we unwittingly navigate the profound mysteries of moving fluids, experiencing turbulence in various forms, from rising incense plumes to stirring morning beverages and even our own exhalations.

Turbulent Symphony of Incense: Mixing Chaos and Aroma

  • Chaotic dance of eddies: The journey of an incense plume reveals the captivating transformation from an ordered, well-defined shape to a chaotic dance of eddies.
    • This turbulence plays a crucial role in rapidly dispersing the aroma across a room, creating an immersive olfactory experience.

Navier-Stokes Equations: Blueprint of Fluid Dynamics

  • Fundamental principles: Delving into the fundamental principles governing fluid motion, we explore the balance between inertia and viscous friction.
    • The age-old Navier-Stokes equations, compact yet formidable, provide insights into both laminar and turbulent flows, unveiling the intricate interplay of physical forces.

Nonlinearity and the Turbulent Challenge

  • Navier-Stokes equations: Understanding the challenges lies in the nonlinearity of the Navier-Stokes equations, where fluid inertia introduces positive feedback, amplifying small disturbances and leading to unpredictable and complex flows.
    • The absence of superposition complicates the ability to break down turbulent flows into simpler components.

Ceiling Fan Choreography: Unveiling Turbulent Complexity

  • Motion of air: Examining the motion of air from a ceiling fan exposes the instability of primary vortices, giving rise to a cascade of smaller vortices.
    • This intricate dance, fueled by kinetic energy, highlights the difficulty in deciphering the equations governing such dynamic, interacting whorls.

Supercomputers and the Elusive Solution

  • Planet-sized supercomputers: Contemplating the visionary idea of planet-sized supercomputers by philosopher Nick Bostrom, we confront the reality that even with advanced computational power, predicting the evolution of turbulent eddies over extended periods remains an elusive challenge.

Glimmers of Hope: Chaos, Short-Term Predictions, and Climate Insights

  • Chaos theory: Exploring chaos theory, we find hope in short-term predictions despite the sensitivity to initial conditions.
    • Computational Analysis:Meteorology, driven by computational and remote-sensing resources, demonstrates the practicality of short-term forecasting, offering crucial insights into extreme weather events.

Averages Amidst Unpredictability: Clues from Climate Change

  • Unpredictability:Despite the unpredictability of turbulent flows, averages of certain properties over time, such as mean velocity and total lift force, provide stability.
    • This is evident in climate change studies, where long-term averages reveal underlying trends despite the variability in weather mechanisms.

Kolmogorov’s Theory: Seeking Order in Turbulent Chaos

  • Glimmer of order: Andrej Kolmogorov's theory introduces a glimmer of order, establishing a relationship between the size and energy of turbulent eddies.
    • This revelation, backed by experiments and simulations, sheds light on the consistent behavior of swirling velocities in various flows, from air to water and smoke.

Coherent Structures: The Great Red Spot's Persistence

  • Presence of order: Exploring the presence of order within turbulent chaos, we delve into the Great Red Spot in Jupiter's atmosphere—a colossal, coherent structure defying turbulence for over a century.
  • Hidden organizational depths: Such instances challenge the perception of turbulence as a purely random process, hinting at hidden organizational depths.

Way Forward: Unraveling Turbulence—Nature’s Intricate Tapestry

  • Challenge for Scientists:As turbulence continues to captivate and challenge scientists across disciplines, it serves as a reminder that the mysteries of nature extend beyond high-tech laboratories.
  • Hidden order: Amidst chaos, there exists a hidden order, waiting to be uncovered—one that may be swirling right under our noses, inviting further exploration and understanding.

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