Tech UPTechnologyVan Gogh sneaks into a NASA photo

Van Gogh sneaks into a NASA photo

The photograph that opens this article was created by NASA in 2017, and its spirals recreate a series of eddies produced in the water of the Mediterranean Sea in the autumn of that year. Now, a study carried out by researchers from the Balearic Islands Coastal Observation and Prediction System (ICTS-SOCIB) and the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA.UIB – CSIC) has used this and other images to describe the anomalous presence of a 60-kilometer radius oceanic eddy between the Balearic Islands and the coast of Catalonia.

One of the main conclusions of the work, which is published in the Journal of Operational Oceanography , is that the duration and intensity of this eddy, greater than other years, could be the cause of an alteration in the flow of marine currents in the Balearic Sea.

“Our hypothesis is that the eddy acted as a barrier, diverting the north current, which normally flows south along the Catalan coast until it reaches this channel. In the absence of the north current, the Atlantic waters coming from the south would not have found any impediment to flow freely towards the north ”, explained Eva Aguiar, researcher at ICTS SOCIB and author of the study. ” These changes affect the distribution of temperature, heat, salt and nutrients in this area of the Mediterranean, which may have implications for primary production and the meteorology of the region, ” says Aguiar. This phenomenon would have already happened in the autumn of 1998 and 2010, as revealed by data from a climate index developed by the researchers and that uses data from between 1993 and 2018.

Hunting for eddies in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea is an ideal setting to study very complex dynamics and phenomena that occur in the oceans and that are more complicated to monitor. “It is a small-scale ocean from which we have observations available and which facilitates the investigation of complex phenomena that also occur on a larger scale in all oceans and that have a direct impact on the climate and marine ecosystems, ” says Joaquín Tintoré, director of the ICTS SOCIB and co-author of the study.

In the Mediterranean Sea there are many eddies of different size and duration, and the most frequent are the so-called “mesoscale”, with a radius of between 10 and 100 kilometers. At the end of summer, many of these eddies occur in the western Mediterranean and can produce vertical speeds towards the deep ocean as well as accumulation zones around it, which has important implications in the biogeochemical cycle of the ecosystem itself or in processes such as accumulation. of plastics.

The conclusions of the study have been collected in the annual Copernicus Marine Service Ocean State Report , prepared by more than 100 scientists from more than 30 European institutions. The document provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of the global ocean and European regional seas and is primarily intended to contribute to decision-making and policy development on the marine environment. Furthermore, the report aims to be an awareness tool on the state of our oceans.

Van Gogh and the physical theory of turbulence

Although Van Gogh surely was not thinking about the eddies of the Mediterranean when he painted The Starry Night , the truth is that this painting was already the object of study to analyze physical phenomena in 2006. As explained in this article by Nobbot, researchers from the CSIC and from the National Autonomous University of Mexico analyzed this and other paintings by the painter and observed that they reproduce the laws observed in turbulent fluids described by the Russian mathematician Andrei Kolmogorov in 1941, more than half a century after the artist’s death.

Reference: Aguiar et al. 2019. Copernicus Marine Service Ocean State Report, Issue 3. Journal of Operational Oceanography. 12: S1 – S123

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