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Ash and oil slicks—a fluid question

By Philip Ball   June 2010

Going with the flow

Which way is it heading? That has been the crucial question for both Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority and fishermen in Florida over the past two months, and the answer in both cases boils down to the same scientific issue: how well we can predict large-scale turbulent fluid flow. Fluid dynamics has never been the sexiest of disciplines, but suddenly it’s been thrust into the limelight.

Turbulence—the eddy-strewn, chaotic flow of fluids such as air and water—is notoriously one of the hardest problems in science. You can write down the equations, but solving them is a nightmare.…

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