Archive for the ‘Hydrosphere’ Category

THE CORIOLIS EFFECT IN THE REAL WORLD – A TUTORIAL – PART 1


Some physicists prefer to use the term “Coriolis Effect” over Coriolis Force claiming that it is only an apparent force.  I tend to agree with that.

The Coriolis force is something that just about everyone in school learns about at one time or another.  To be sure, it is a topic in secondary school earth science and physics courses.  A low percentage of students enroll in the latter but a very large number are exposed to the former partly because in many school systems earth and/or environmental science is required.  Non-science majors in college enroll in earth and/or environmental sciences partly because it is perceived to be far easier than some of the other options – e.g. physics or chemistry.

The crux of the Coriolis force with regard to earth is that because our planet is rotating – objects and fluids in motion tend to deflect to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere.  The larger the circulation system the more there is likely to be an obvious response to the force.  Physicists, by the way, tell us that it is but an “apparent” force and that it is more accurate to call it the Coriolis “effect” which I intend to do from here on. There is no need to debate the term here but if you want to learn more about the Coriolis effect I suggest you use both terms in your search.

Earth’s period of rotation is once per day.  The rotational direction is from west to east.  If you looked at earth from “above” the north pole you would discover that the rotation is counterclockwise, and if you looked at the earth from “below” the south pole you would find a clockwise rotation.  If you have difficulty envisioning that “reversal” I recommend that you pick up an item and rotate it watching the rotation from one end of the axis.  Then continue rotating it in the same direction – don’t stop – but view it from the other end of the axis.  You should observe the reversal; from one end it will be counterclockwise and from the other end it will be clockwise.

SPECIAL NOTE: One of the greatest myths or misconceptions in physics is that the Coriolis effect determines the direction of rotation of water down a toilet or other drain.  That is absolutely untrue.  If you live in the United States and observe the direction the water moves down a toilet in your dwelling, then, crate it up and ship it to New Zealand and have someone install it there, upon flushing the water would go down the same way.

Next, look at the demonstrations shown on Quick Time at the following site.  Before you go there take note of this.  The first boy, wearing the blue headgear is rotating clockwise when the playground device is viewed from atop the axis of rotation so his setup is analogous to the southern hemisphere.  The other two boys (one with red headgear and the other bare-headed) are rotating counterclockwise so their setup is analogous to the northern hemisphere.

http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/213.web.stuff/ET_AL_web_site/movies.html

Hopefully you saw that the first boy’s ball went to HIS left as would be expected in the southern hemisphere (clockwise) and the other two experienced the opposite (to THEIR right) as would be expected for the northern hemisphere (counterclockwise).  You might want to scroll down a little further on that page and you will find a Quick Time animation of a ball deflecting to the right on a rotating table.  The rotation will not be apparent because the camera was fixed above the table and rotating at exactly the same period.  Since the ball deflects to the right you should correctly deduce that the rotation of the table was counterclockwise like the rotation of earth from the northern hemisphere point of view.

There are many examples of the Coriolis effect here on earth.  Cold air masses in the northern hemisphere rotate clockwise because of the right turn of the air which, after sinking toward the surface flows outward from the domal system’s high pressure core; this is a great example of an anticyclone.  But my favorite example of the Coriolis phenomenon, surprisingly, is not an atmospheric example.  It is the manner in which most of the water being carried by the oceanic gyres turns right in the northern hemisphere, especially when it reaches a continental margin and left in the southern hemisphere especially when it reaches a continental margin.  Observe the image below where I have removed all but the gyre components of oceanic surface circulation.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Though not discussed here, it is the general circulation of the atmosphere at or near the surface that creates these gyres and general circulation is guided by the Coriolis effect.  If you wish to learn more about the “general circulation” of the atmosphere, other terms are global circulation, planetary circulation, and large macroscale circulation.

Left click image to enlarge.

Have you noticed – I have not explained the earth’s Coriolis effect!  I have described it, I have linked you to visual evidence, I have described a meteorological example and shown you an oceanic example via a very generalized map of the 5 oceanic gyres.  But I have not provided an explanation other than indicating that it is caused by rotation of the earth. If you have stuck with me to this point, I want to entice you with an “issue” that has often remained unaddressed/overlooked by some teachers and learners of meteorology.  That is this:  If the Coriolis effect is an important influence in large scale weather systems, and since hurricanes are synoptic scale (a type of macroscale) system, why do hurricane winds turn left in the northern hemisphere and right in the southern hemisphere?  THAT WILL BE THE TOPIC OF MY NEXT TUTORIAL POST AND IT WILL BE COMING SOON.  Now, let’s look at a hurricane.

If you want a head start on understanding a hurricane’s circulation, read this repeat of a 9-9-2008 post using hurricane Ike as an example

CLOUDMAN23’s WEB-LOG – AN INTRODUCTION

For an explanation of this photo please go to the “Assorted Pics” page; the tab is near the top of this page.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the information on this site is published close to “real-time”  particularly as it applies to tropical weather;  so – check the posting date carefully.  It is important to remember that this web-log is not an “official” source of environmental information.  Please do not make any decisions based solely on the information found on this site or any other sites that are recommended here – unless they are official. Listen to your local authorities when conditions are life-threatening or there might be loss of (or damage to) property.

Caution – I often leave “dated” posts available because of certain potential tutorial value.  I apologize if this causes you any inconvenience.  Also, I do not recommend this site for comprehensive coverage of weather.  There are times when I do not address significant storms.  Above all, do not consider me to be an authority.


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