Bloo werl n.
A swirling flame that appears in fuel floating on the surface of water and glows blue.
An unfortunate mix of electricity and bourbon has led to a new discovery. After lightning hit a Jim Beam warehouse in 2003, a nearby lake was set ablaze when the distilled spirit spilled into the water and ignited. Spiraling tornadoes of fire leapt from the surface. In a laboratory experiment inspired by the conflagration, a team of researchers produced a new, efficiently burning fire tornado, which they named a blue whirl.
To re-create the bourbon-fire conditions, the researchers, led by Elaine Oran of the University of Maryland in College Park, ignited liquid fuel floating on a bath of water. They surrounded the blaze with a cylindrical structure that funneled air into the flame to create a vortex with a height of about 60 centimeters. Eventually, the chaotic fire whirl calmed into a blue, cone-shaped flame just a few centimeters tall, the scientists report online August 4 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Firenadoes” are known to appear in wildfires, when swirling winds and flames combine to form a hellacious, rotating inferno. They burn more efficiently than typical fires, as the whipping winds mix in extra oxygen, which feeds the fire. But the blue whirl is even more efficient; its azure glow indicates complete combustion, which releases little soot, or uncombusted carbon, to the air.
The soot-free blue whirls could be a way of burning off oil spills on water without adding much pollution to the air, the researchers say, if they can find a way to control them in the wild.
SWIRLING FLAME Fuel burning on top of water produces a flaming tornado that transitions into a calmly spinning blue whirl.H. Xio, M.J. Gollner, E.S. Oran/Univ. of Maryland