Astronomers may peer deep into the cosmos to study mysterious black holes, but would you believe there are "black holes" right here on Earth?
A new study by scientists at the Swiss university ETH Zurich and the University of Miami shows that, mathematically speaking, large ocean eddies behave much like black holes. The watery vortices break off from currents and have their own "coherent" boundaries, as black holes do. Also like black holes, they swallow anything that gets too close and allow nothing to escape.
"The photon spheres around black holes have the property that anything (except light) is sucked into the black hole through them," study co-author Dr. George Haller, professor of non-linear dynamics at ETH Zurich, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Similarly, the eddy boundaries we find have the property that anything that floats on the ocean surface (except water) is sucked into the eddy through them."
The eddies can last a year or two, Haller said, though most peter out after a few months.
Mathematically speaking, ocean eddies are counterparts to the black holes in space. (Illustration: G. Haller / ETH Zurich)
Haller and Dr. Francisco Beron-Vera, a professor of oceanography at the University of Miami, developed a model for identifying the eddies' boundaries using the same mathematics used to reveal black holes' photon sphere boundaries. Using satellite observations made over the course of three months, they used the model to locate seven "black hole" eddies with diameters of 200-300 kilometers.
A fascinating finding, for sure. But there's a real-world benefit to finding black hole-like eddies within the oceans.
"Fully capturing the effects of coherent oceanic eddies is a major impetus behind efforts at several climate modeling centers around the world," Dr. Robert Hallberg, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's geophysical fluid dynamics laboratory, told The Huffington Post in an email.
The eddies can transport warm, salty water and nutrients far north, acting to moderate the effects of climate change by promoting large-scale mixing in the ocean. They help counteract the effects of melting sea ice that introduces cold water with low salinity into the oceans, disrupting global circulation.
Identifying eddies may also help scientists predict the movement of polluted water, such as that resulting from an oil spill.
The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics.
Also on HuffPost:
In this photo provided by Cathy Pasquariello, a storm cloud approaches Ocean City, Md. on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. The National Weather Service is looking into reports of a tornado in Ocean City. Rick Curry, NWS observation program leader in Wakefield, Va., says there have been unconfirmed reports of a tornado and wind damage near 75th Street on Thursday afternoon. He says a storm was moving through the area at the time. Fire department spokesman Ryan Whittington says buildings and multiple vehicles were damaged in the 75th Street area, but no major injuries were reported. He says town officials are working with NWS to determine what kind of weather event caused the damage. (AP Photo/Cathy Pasquariello)
Alabama Severe Weather
A funnel cloud appears in the distance in Level Plains, Ala., near U.S. Highway 84 and Dale County Road 1, Sunday, June 10, 2012. The area was under a tornado warning until 12:15 p.m. There is no official word of any injuries. (AP Photo/Dothan Eagle, Max Oden)
In this photo provided by Gothamist, dark clouds loom over the skyline, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in New York. Two tornadoes struck New York City on Saturday, one swept out of the sea and hit a beachfront neighborhood and the second, stronger twister hit moments later, hurling debris in the air, knocking out power and startling residents who once thought of twisters as a Midwestern phenomenon. (AP Photo/Gothamist, Jake Dobkin) MANDATORY CREDIT
This photo provided by Joey Mure, shows a storm cloud over the Breezy Point area of Queens section of New York, on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. A Fire Department spokesman said there were power lines down and possibly other damage in the Point Breeze section of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The general manager of the Breezy Point Surf Club tells the Associated Press the storm ripped up cabanas and even picked up industrial-sized metal trash bins. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Queens and Brooklyn as a line of strong thunderstorms moved through the city. The service said radar detected a "strong rotation" in the storm, but there was no immediate confirmation that a twister actually formed. (AP Photo/Joey Mure)
Storm clouds move over west of Palmyra, Ind.,, Friday, Mar. 2, 2012 Powerful storms stretching from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes in the north wrecked two small towns, killed at least three people and bred anxiety across a wide swath of the country on Friday, in the second deadly tornado outbreak this week. (AP Photo/The Courier-Journal,David Lee Hartlage) MAGS OUT; NO ARCHIVE; MANDATORY CREDIT
This photo provided by Michael Abrams, shows a storm cloud over the Breezy Point area of Queens section of New York, on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. A Fire Department spokesman said there were power lines down and possibly other damage in the Point Breeze section of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The general manager of the Breezy Point Surf Club tells the Associated Press the storm ripped up cabanas and even picked up industrial-sized metal trash bins. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Queens and Brooklyn as a line of strong thunderstorms moved through the city. The service said radar detected a "strong rotation" in the storm, but there was no immediate confirmation that a twister actually formed. (AP Photo/Michael Abrams) MANDATORY CREDIT
Texas Tornado Weather
Threatening clouds continue to move through southern Tarrant and Dallas counties after a tornado swept through Lancaster, Texas on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Tornadoes tore through the Dallas area Tuesday, peeling roofs off homes, tossing big-rig trucks into the air and leaving flattened tractor trailers strewn along highways and parking lots. (AP Photo/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ron Ennis) MAGS OUT
Lightning streaks across the sky in Tyler, Texas as a powerful line of thunderstorms, several spawning tornados moved across Texas, Tuesday evening, April 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
A Thursday, June 7, 2012 photo provided by Andrew Kniss shows a funnel cloud, seen from Kniss's car on Highway 34, near Wheatland, Wyoming. The rare quarter-mile-wide tornado cut a swath across mainly open country in southeastern Wyoming, damaging homes, derailing empty train cars and leaving one person with minor injuries, officials said. The twister was part of a powerful storm system that rolled through parts of Colorado and Wyoming Thursday afternoon and evening, packing heavy rains, high winds and hail. (AP Photo/Andrew Kniss)
A funnel cloud dips down from the clouds on Saturday, April 14, 2012, just southwest of Otis, Kansas as severe thunderstorms roll across Kansas. The funnel touched down briefly before the storm weakened. Supercell thunderstorms spawned numerous tornadoes in Kansas on Saturday. (AP Photo/The Hays Daily News, Steven Hausler)
A funnel cloud begins to form over the Canebrake Subdivision of Athens, Ala., Friday, March 2, 2012. Homes were damaged and utilities were interrupted when several suspected tornadoes struck Limestone County Friday morning. (AP Photo/Chris Simmons, Athens Fire and Rescue Dept.)
A funnel cloud is seen, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, near Tipton, Okla. Officials say an agriculture office was destroyed and other buildings damaged as tornadoes touched down in southwestern Oklahoma Monday. Tornadoes are most prevalent in Oklahoma in the spring, but the state has a secondary severe weather season in autumn. (AP Photo/The Frederick Leader, Jennifer Grice) MANDATORY CREDIT
Also On The Huffington Post...
Check out this amazing video of a tornado touching down in Northern California. The twister hit on Tuesday in Tehama County, just south of Redding, bringing lightning and large hail. The tornado reportedly tore the roof off one home. There were reports of two other tornadoes — one in Richfield, and the other east of the I-5 between Corning and Red Bluff. Fortunately, the extreme weather is not being blamed for any injuries.