In regards to atmospheric circulation, what is the Coriolis effect? How does it affect the atmosphere?

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bandmanjoe | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The Coriolis effect is the curving an object or thing takes when it would normally take a straight path.  When I was a child, we used to have a playground ride called a merry-go-round, which had places to stand and handles to hold on to while you pushed the ground with one foot to get it to spin.  If you tried to walk across it while it spun, you had a tendency to curve your path instead of walking in a straight line.  It is this spinning, circular motion that produces the Coriolis effect.  The normal trajectory of winds is to come from the north or south poles towards the equator in a straight line pattern.  But since the Earth is rotating, we get a curving pattern to the wind.  This can be illustrated on a globe with a piece of paper and a marker.  Tape the paper to the north pole, so the paper hangs down.  Have someone turn the globe slowly as you try to draw a line from the top of the paper to the bottom.  The result will be a smooth curve, which is what the Earths winds do.


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