Scientists Discover “Blue Whirl”


Scientists have identified a new kind of fire which burns more cleanly.

According to a recently published study from the University of Maryland (UMD), this phenomenon called a blue whirl, “evolves from a fire whirl and burns with nearly soot-free combustion.” Fire whirls are often vertical funnels of flames that whip up potentially dangerous, debris-carrying winds.

They also tend to be yellow in color because a lack of oxygen causes incomplete burning and the creation of soot. A blue flame, on the other hand, reflects “there is enough oxygen for complete combustion, which means less or no soot, and is, therefore, a cleaner burn.”

As a UMD press release states, “The Clark School team initially set out to investigate the combustion and burning dynamics of fire whirls on water.”

As they were especially interested in the whirls’ use in cleaning up oil spills, they added liquid fuel to water to create a pool fire. After manipulating the system upward with the help of tubes, the team noticed that the resulting fire whirl eventually turned into “a small, intensely whirling blue flame.”

While additional research is needed to determine the applications of this discovery, it could potentially decrease the number of pollutants released into the environment during the cleanup of oil disasters.