Ocean Black Holes

‘Black Holes’ in Ocean Exist, Scientists Say

Nothing escapes the yawning chasm of a black hole.

Not matter, sound nor even light.

Normally confined to the reaches of space, black holes and their seemingly insatiable appetites for everything, have fascinated — and enlightened — scientists for years.

Now, they may not have to look so far to study them.

Researchers at Switzerland’s ETH Zurich and the University of Miami say black holes are among us — at least, massive eddies in the southern Atlantic Ocean bear their telltale signatures.

What a black hole is to light, an ocean eddy, scientists suggest, is to water. Dubbed maelstroms, they’re bigger than cities, winding up billions of tonnes of ocean water so tightly, nothing escapes them.

And scientists are discovering more every day.

In a paper published earlier this month in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, George Haller, a professor at ETH Zurich and Francisco Beron-Vera of the University of Miami claim they can track and define these engorged eddies — a feat that has, until now, proven elusive.

The ocean’s natural turbulence has thwarted previous attempts to demarcate these islands of intensity. But, by studying satellite imagery, Haller and Baron-Vera were able to identify seven black-hole types in a group of eddies, called Agulhas Rings, that regularly appear off the tip of Africa.

ocean black holes
Mathematically speaking, ocean eddies are counterparts to the black holes in space. (Illustration: G. Haller / ETH Zurich)

Their conclusion?

Maelstroms have the same mathematical properties as black holes.

Now, consider a real black hole. As explained in Science World Report, there’s a point where light being sucked into a black hole stops spiraling — bending instead, before returning to its usual position. The result is a circular orbit.

The dramatic effect of these closed light orbits, dubbed a ‘photon sphere’ by Albert Einstein, finds a parallel in these ocean vortexes, according to scientists. Essentially, the maelstrom whips up its own closed barriers, pressing whatever was sucked inside so tightly that not even a drop of these fluid particles can escape.

In fact, researchers have found eddies bearing the same bodies of water without leaking a drop for nearly a year.

”Mathematicians have been trying to understand such peculiarly coherent vortices in turbulent flows for a very long time,” George Haller explained in a statement.

That stunning sense of stability makes maelstroms something of a transportation device. Everything from the tiniest organisms to waste or oil to higher-temperature water is transported perfectly intact throughout the oceans before the maelstroms eventually lose their charge.

As the study authors note, they “create moving oases for the marine food chain or even impact climate change through their long-range transport of salinity and temperature.”

ocean black holes

By casting light on these black holes (Yes, we know how impossible that sounds), researchers could unravel the mystery of how pollution spreads throughout the environment, ETH Life reports. These maelstroms may also help scientists develops ways to at least slow down the melting of global sea ice.

You can read the full study here.


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