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Name: Stephanie
Status: student
Age: 15
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001


Question:
What does the spin of the earth have to do with convection currents?


Replies:
Stephanie,

I'm not sure what you mean by convection currents, but the spin of the Earth (a rotating system) causes a weak non-inertial force (i.e. acceleration) that meteorologists call the Coriolis Force, after the French mathematician G. G. Coriolis, who first described it. This force is at work in the oceans and the atmosphere (which are both fluids). The Coriolis Force causes motions to turn to the right of a straight line if the surface is rotating counterclockwise (the Northern Hemisphere) and turn to the left on a surface that is turning clockwise (the Southern Hemisphere). That is why high (and low) pressure systems turn in opposite directions in the two Hemispheres of earth.

This has nothing to do with convection currents, which come in a variety of scales, from small convection cells that produce cumulous clouds, to the large scale that produces low-pressure areas and hurricanes. Convection in the large weather systems is more a result of air wanting to move from high to low pressure. When this happens, the air converges at the center of the low-pressure system and must rise (since it can't go into the ground).

David Cook
Meteorologist
Argonne National Laboratory


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