Physics Seminar

Randall D. Peters
Department of Physics
Mercer University

Friday, September 9, 2005, 10am
Willet Science Center 221
(Refreshments will be served.)

Some Physics of Hurricanes

This talk is concerned with how hurricanes work, and will be focused toward a non-scientific audience. Various homemade items, along with a commercial Stirling engine, will be used to illustrate (i) the origin of cyclonic motion due to Earth’s spin, (ii) thermo-mechanics whereby natural heat transport does incredible work against friction between the rotating air mass and the earth’s surface, and (iii) how the storm’s interaction with our planet can not only do catastrophic damage, but also can set it “vibrating like a bell”. The vibration features will be described with data from two novel instruments invented by the speaker. One of these seismic devices, a modernized conventional pendulum, drew attention from around the world, following the tsunami of 26 December 2004. The ‘plumb bob’ type device, using a sensor patented by the speaker, is described in the article, ‘An affordable earthquake detector’, on page 101 of the April issue of Popular Science. Most recently this pendulum was used to monitor hurricane Katrina during her visit to the Gulf coast. It yielded data of the type which caused the writer of the following article:  to state that the speaker is the first person to observe a particular form of earth vibrations caused by the hurricane. Consistent with the enormous damage inflicted by this storm, some of these eigenmode oscillations are unmistakable in the records generated when hurricane Katrina was most energetic.