Hurricanes in a soap bubble

What if we could use soap to predict the intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones? Here’s how.

In 2008, researchers at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) published a study in the journal Physical Review Letters revealing that vortices in soap bubbles demonstrated the same random fluctuations seen in real hurricanes in our atmosphere. Five years later, a study conducted by the Laboratoire Ondes et Matières d’Aquitaine, in conjunction with the Bordeaux Institute of Mathematics and a team from the University of Réunion, has established how it could now be possible to measure the intensity of hurricanes in advance using these same soap bubbles.

Researchers noted that there was a specific dynamic to the intensity of vortices.

The atmosphere in miniature

Why experiment on a soap bubble to study our atmosphere? Simply because, like the atmosphere, it consists of a layer that is very thin in relation to its diameter. Also, for the experiments carried out, it simply has to be heated at the “equator” and cooled at the “pole.” Researchers noted that in the mini-atmosphere created, the speed of rotation – or intensity – of the vortices had a specific dynamic, gradually increasing from a slow start until it reached a peak and then decreasing.
Based on their observations, they were able to formulate a law to estimate the maximum intensity of a hurricane and how long after beginning this would occur.
The law was confirmed when applied to almost 150 cyclones in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans – a promising discovery for the future of meteorology and the study of hurricanes.
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