Posts Tagged 'Geophysics'

Mercator’s Marvellous Map

Try to wrap a football in aluminium foil and you will discover that you have to crumple up the foil to make it fit snugly to the ball. In the same way, it is impossible to represent the curved surface of the Earth on a flat plane without some distortion.  [See this week’s That’s Maths column (TM068):  search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Mercator projection of the Earth, truncated at 75 degrees North and South [Wikimedia Commons, author: Strebe].

Mercator projection of the Earth, truncated at 75 degrees North and South [Wikimedia Commons, author: Strebe].

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The Hodograph

The Hodograph is a vector diagram showing how velocity changes with position or time. It was made popular by William Rowan Hamilton who, in 1847, gave an account of it in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Hodographs are valuable in fluid dynamics, astronomy and meteorology.

Hodograph plot of wind vectors at five heights in the troposphere. This indicates vertical wind shear and also horizontal temperature gradients. Since the wind veers with height between V2 and V3, it is blowing warmer air north-eastwards to a colder region (image source: NOAA).

Hodograph plot of wind vectors at five heights in the troposphere. This indicates vertical wind shear and also horizontal temperature gradients. Since the wind veers with height between V2 and V3, it is blowing warmer air north-eastwards to a colder region (image source: NOAA).

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Mode-S: Aircraft Data improves Weather Forecasts

A simple application of vectors yields valuable new wind observations for weather forecasting [see this week’s That’s Maths column (TM065) or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

 The air speed is A (blue),  the wind speed is W (black) and the ground speed is G (red). Since the ground speed is the resultant (vector sum) of air speed and wind speed, a simple vector subtraction gives the wind speed: W= G – A.

The air speed is A (blue), the wind speed is W (black) and the ground speed is G (red). Since the ground speed is the resultant (vector sum) of air speed and wind speed, a simple vector subtraction gives the wind speed: W= G – A.

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Falling Bodies [1]: Sky-diving

Aristotle was clear: heavy bodies fall faster than light ones. He arrived at this conclusion by pure reasoning, without experiment. Today we insist on a physical demonstration before such a conclusion is accepted. Galileo tested Aristotle’s theory: he dropped bodies of different weights simultaneously from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and found that, to a good approximation, they hit the ground at the same time.

Aristotle and Galileo.

Aristotle and Galileo.

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El Niño likely this Winter

This week’s That’s Maths column in The Irish Times (TM056 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com) is about El Niño and the ENSO phenomenon.

In 1997-98, abnormally high ocean temperatures off South America caused a collapse of the anchovy fisheries. Anchovies are a vital link in the food-chain and shortages can bring great hardship. Weather extremes associated with the event caused 2000 deaths and 33 million dollars in damage to property. One commentator wrote that the warming event had “more energy than a million Hiroshima bombs”.

Patterns of sea surface temperature during El Niño and La Niña episodes. Image courtesy of Climate.gov.

Patterns of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature during El Niño and La Niña episodes. Image courtesy of Climate.gov.

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Gauss’s Great Triangle and the Shape of Space

In the 1820s Carl Friedrich Gauss carried out a surveying experiment to measure the sum of the three angles of a large triangle. Euclidean geometry tells us that this sum is always 180º or two right angles. But Gauss himself had discovered other geometries, which he called non-Euclidean. In these, the three angles of a triangle may add up to more than two right angles, or to less.

10 Deutschmark currency note

10 Deutschmark currency note (front)

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Breaking Weather Records

In arithmetic series, like 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + … , each term differs from the previous one by a fixed amount. There is a formula for calculating the sum of the first N terms. For geometric series, like 3 + 6 + 12 + 24 + … , each term is a fixed multiple of the previous one. Again, there is a formula for the sum of the first N terms of such a series. Continue reading ‘Breaking Weather Records’


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