Turbulence As A Real-World Physics Experiment!-December 2, 1997

It had been another long day of travel, about three hours flying back up from Rio to Manaus, again over the rainforest. I met over breakfast with some friends in the film and TV business with whom I’d worked when I was down here for the Earth Summit in 1992, and earlier, on the PBS CHILDHOOD series. They thought using TV and the Internet to link students direct to scientific frontiers sounded pretty neat, and that we’d find Brazilian educators also interested. The hotel was full of teenage models, gathered for some special summer vacation event. But though we were right on the Copacabana beach-front, I had no time for sunning with the beautiful people. Soon it was back to jet-fuel and canned air.

OK, I’d read about the planet’s uneven heating by the sun (the reason the tropics are hotter than the temperate regions is a matter of our planet’s geometry and orbit about the sun—think about this for a hands-on activity in the Teacher’s Guide!) and I was soon to learn that patterns of atmospheric circulation explained why rainforest and deserts encircle much of the globe at particular latitudes—however I’d not expected rainforests to literally affect my ride through the sky. But as our pilot threaded his way through towering thunder clouds, like a New York cabbie avoiding potholes, I realized my bumpy trip was literally shaped by the same forces of heat, humidity and the physics of weather, as the forest I’d come to see. The hydrologic cycle was translated into turbulence: the forces that make the rainforest, knocked us around. Not that this made me any more comfortable: as I get older, I like flying less and less... though I must say every Brazilian flight I took had wonderful food, especially those sugary, chocolate-flecked, custardy desserts that always provided a surprisingly sophisticated finale.

Geoff’s Journals Turbulence As A Real-World Physics Experiment!