As the Earth turns on its axis, everything attached to it turns with it, a lovely effect of the force we call gravity. Without gravity, we’d fly off into space in less than a heartbeat.
The earth’s rotation has another beneficial effect: instead of the atmosphere circulating only between the poles (high pressure areas) and the equator (a low pressure area), circulating air is deflected toward the right in the Northern Hemisphere and toward the left in the Southern Hemisphere, resulting in curled paths. This deflection is called the Coriolis effect, named after the French mathematician Gaspard Gustave de Coriolis (1792-1843) who studied the transfer of energy in rotating systems like waterwheels.
Because of this atmospheric circulation, it’s also believed that water goes down a sink in one direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere. Coriolis’s deflection causes weather systems to rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, so it seems somewhat obvious that a sink should drain in a similar manner.
However, cyclonic systems are often more than 600 miles in diameter and may exist for several days. By contrast, a typical sink is less than four feet in diameter and drains in a matter of seconds. On this scale, the Coriolis force is miniscule – and not really observable.
But enterprising hucksters never let the impossible get in the way of yet another tourist trap. In Nanyuki, Kenya, a little town located right on the equator, proof of the Coriolis effect exists. In the burnt shell of the Silverbeck Hotel, at the exact altitude of 6389 feet, (the sign says so), a small squarish plastic sink with a very small hole in the bottom of it rests on a pinkish bucket. The gullible group I’m with stands in the southern hemisphere. The demonstration goes like this: one of the demonstrators holds the empty sink and puts his finger in the hole to plug it. Water is slowly poured into the sink, the finger removed, and the sink is carefully set over the bucket. Matchsticks are added. The water, very slowly drains and the matchsticks barely move. Then the whole enterprise is moved about twenty feet away into the Northern Hemisphere. The sink is plugged, filled from the bucket and water in the sink is allowed to settle down. Then the sink is set down and once again, matchsticks are added to the water. The matchsticks rotate counterclockwise. Moved twenty feet into the Southern Hemisphere, the matchsticks rotate clockwise. After the demonstration we’re given the golden opportunity to purchase a certificate commemorating our witnessing of the Coriolis effect, so we can prove to our friends, who may never have a chance to visit the equator, that we saw one of the wonders of the world.
Alas, the truth always gets in the way of good stories. The secret for this deception is in the shape of the sink and a little choreography. For the first demonstration right at the equator, the water in the sink behaves as it should, with no discernible matchstick rotation in either direction. For the northern part of the demonstration, the pan was filled as the demonstrator faced the equator. He then turned to his left, walked around the bucket, turned to his left again, before he pulled the plug of his finger and added matchsticks. He’s just induced counter-clockwise rotation in a non-circular pan – because of drag, water will turn as the pan does. For the Southern hemisphere he repeated his actions, but turned to the right instead of left.
Clever, eh? But, no worries. Half the world believes that sinks drain differently in different hemispheres. It fooled Michael Palin, too, on a PBS show, no less. And it’s actually true that you can demonstrate the effect with draining water, but you need a kid’s pool, 41 degrees of separation and synced cameras, like these dudes did:
There are only 20,000 lions left in the wild. Of the eight original species known in the Holocene, the age of man, one is extinct, 2 are critically endangered, and one lives on in captivity only: the Addis Ababa lion. Of the five remaining species that make up most of their population, I’ve been privileged to observe three: the Masai lion in Kenya and Tanzania; the Southwest African lion in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia; and the Transvaal lion, found in and around Kruger National Park in South Africa. I’ll post a photos of them until World Lion Day.
This Masai lion has a wonderful mane, marking him as an older lion. Male Masai lions have a great range of mane types, from nonexistent to luxurious, from red to black. A Masai male lion grows up to 9 feet long. The Ghost and the Darkness, the famous lions who killed 35 railroad workers in 1848 were Tsavo lions, a maneless variation of the Masai lion with a reputation for aggressiveness.
Although the media world’s attention has been focused on the trophy hunt of Cecil in Zimbabwe, there hasn’t been much attention paid to the dwindling number of lions in the wild – the lions isolated in the pockets of national parks and game reserves. One could argue that those bits of the wild also function as natural zoos, since they are usually far apart. What a dwindling population does mean is that the 20,000 lions left in the wild are also genetically isolated, splintered into populations that do not have contact with each other. Each breeding lion removed from such populations reduces their genetic fingerprint further. There are 8 subspecies of lions. I have seen three. The lifespan of a lion is 10-14 years in the wild. All the lions in my photos, except for the ones I’ll post last, are dead, hopefully of natural causes, since they were all observed in game reserves. But, as the story of Cecil illustrates, lions are not easily lured out of their protected areas.
A female in the flowers, subspecies Masai or E. African lion, photographed in Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya, 2002.
Continuing series of photographs of elephants. Big male, collared and studied by Ian Douglas-Hamilton in the Samburu area of Kenya. So handsome his name is Apollo.
A continuing photographic series on the daily lives of elephants. Samburu elephants gain their distinctive color from the reddish mud of the Ewaso Nyiro River and the region’s soil they dust over their bodies. I originally tinkered with this photograph in black and white, but the elephant to the far left disappeared into the background.
Continuing the photographic series on the daily lives of elephants. I’m often amazed at the colors and depth of field on old 35 mm. film. This photograph has such a pastoral feel to it. Kodachrome 400, elephants in the Samburu reserve, Kenya.
An ongoing series on the lives of elephants. Two relatives protecting a calf in the Samburu area of Kenya.
A series on the lives of elephants. Cow and calf eating. Samburu area, Kenya.
It takes a lot of foliage to sustain an elephant. Depending on its sex and size, elephants eat four to seven percent of its body weight each day – four hundred to six hundred pounds of vegetation. And sometimes they take offense if you disturb their meal.
(Currently, the Samburu area of Kenya is experiencing its highest level of poaching in 14 years. I hope this young cow has survived.)