Teacher Demo: Convection

Image courtesy of Steve Spangler

This demo models how convection occurs in the atmosphere and hydrosphere by showing what happens at the interface of a hot fluid and a cold fluid. This simulates what happens when cold and hot air masses meet, as well as why/how the ocean regulates climate.

The ocean regulates climate by absorbing the Sun’s energy in the top layer of water, which heats up and stays on top of the layer of deeper, colder water. The most energy absorption occurs around the equator. As winds and ocean currents move the warm water to different latitudes (north and south), the top warm layer of water loses energy to the colder atmosphere and surrounding colder water, becoming cooler and denser. Eventually this layer of water will become so dense that it will sink and the layer below it will rise, and the cycle will begin again. This is oceanic convection. Since air is a fluid, a similar process occurs in the atmosphere and this demo therefore also demonstrates atmospheric convection.

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