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Researcher's theories reach turning point

Engineering professor George Vatistas is helping to predict hurricanes and explain the mysteries of Saturn.
March 15, 2011
By Media Relations

The findings of this Concordia researcher have been reaching for the sky ... and beyond.

In 2008, George Vatistas, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering professor, made headlines when he definitively proved that a little-known 19th century theory on the stability of ring satellite vortices was sound. For decades prior to that, Vatistas had been making waves with his research. Now that work is being taken up by scientists from south of the border to help explain natural mysteries.

In the latest edition of the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences (the peer-reviewed journal of the American Meteorological Society), meteorologist Vincent Wood (from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Severe Storms Laboratory) and Luther White (from University of Oklahoma’s math department) cite Vatistas’s research over 20 times in their article, “A New Parametric Model of Vortex Tangential-Wind Profiles: Development, Testing and Verification.”

George Vatistas’s research has been used to predict hurricanes and explain the hexagonal shape of the jet stream that flows over Saturn’s north pole. | Photo credit by Marc Bourcier
George Vatistas’s research has been used to predict hurricanes and explain the shape of the jet stream that flows over Saturn’s north pole. | Photo of researcher by Marc Bourcier

The article uses what they call the “Vatistas Model” to help predict hurricanes and typhoons – natural disasters that cause substantial losses in life and property worldwide every year. Co-authors Wood and White extend Vatistas’s basic vortex model to characterize realistic looking wind profiles encountered in dust devils, waterspouts, tornadoes, mesocyclones and tropical cyclones. Through this application of Vatistas’s research, meteorologists will be able to more accurately predict the intensity of these catastrophic vortices and shed light on the scientific reasons for their destructive nature.

Meanwhile, the research on satellite vortices has been recently used as an example of a laboratory finding in support of a natural phenomenon beyond the earthly realities of tornadoes. First observed by NASA’s Voyager mission, the pattern has persisted for over 30 years. In an article entitled “Emergence of Polar-Jet Polygons from Jet Instabilities in a Saturn Model,” in the February edition of Icarus, a peer-reviewed journal devoted to solar system studies, co-authors Raúl Morales-Juberías, Kunio M. Sayanagi, Timothy E. Dowling and Andrew P. Ingersoll use Vatistas's laboratory findings on vortex patterns to provide an  example of an earthly experimental evidence to this seemingly unnatural shape.

Vatistas has already seen his work form the basis of a generalized approach to wake characterization in fixed wing aircrafts, helicopters, ship propulsion, the aerodynamics of insect-like flapping wings, gas turbine engines, wind turbines, optics and acoustics. He expects that his research will continue to have far-reaching implications in the years to come and looks forward to sharing his results with his colleagues at Concordia and around the world.

Related links:
•    “Researchers Confirm 124-Year-Old Theorem” – Journal, April 17, 2008
•    Icarus: Emergence of polar-jet polygons from jet instabilities in a Saturn model
•    Atmospheric Sciences

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