Thursday, November 30, 2006

Don't fight it, it's the Brazil Nut Effect

A friend who's a ski patroller shared the new theory of the Brazil nut with me. Now Lou Dawson is blogging about it, so there must be something to it.

It has to do with avalanches... and nuts.

Basically, the Brazil Nut Effect is the phenomenon in which the biggest particles end up on the surface when a granular material containing a mixture of objects of different sizes is shaken. In a jar of nuts it means the big ones eventually find their way to the top, which is why nasty old Brazil nuts are always getting in the way of cashews.

In an avalanche, it means you are probably going to end up near the surface. There is no need to swim, no need to struggle. The die is cast. Avalanche experts suggest you just cover your face and try to make an air space.

There is no guarantee a body will stay on or near the surface. Avalanches often are fatal, nut effect or no nut effect.

Europeans have come up with an air-bag device that will make a skier into an even bigger nut, helping to keep him or her on the surface. I have yet to talk to anyone who has tried it.

(In the meantime, Dave will simply try to become a bigger nut. -- editor Dena)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suspect this effect may only be true of 'granular objects' of more or less equal density. Depending on how light and fluffy or old and cruddy the snow is, a person may be much more or less dense than the snow.

An interesting theory though; and i certainly could be wrong (just going with my initial intuition). And trying to swim would probably be pretty futile anyway, so I'd agree that just trying to maintain an air pocket is probably the best way to go.