Pressure Belts and Wind System - Coriolis force
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Pressure Belts and Wind System
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Pressure gradient force
Coriolis force
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Coriolis force

The rotation of the Earth creates another force, termed Coriolis force, which acts upon wind and other objects in motion in very predictable ways. According to Newton's first law of motion, air will remain moving in a straight line unless it is influenced by an unbalancing force. The consequence of Coriolis force opposing pressure gradient acceleration is that the moving air changes direction. Instead of wind blowing directly from high to low pressure, the rotation of the Earth causes wind to be deflected off course. In the Northern Hemisphere, wind is deflected to the right of its path, while in the Southern Hemisphere it is deflected to the left. The magnitude of the Coriolis force varies with the velocity and the latitude of the object (see Figure 6). Coriolis force is absent at the equator, and its strength increases as one approaches either pole. Furthermore, an increase in wind speed also results in a stronger Coriolis force, and thus in greater deflection of the wind. Coriolis force only acts on air when it has been sent into motion by pressure gradient force. Finally, Coriolis force only influences wind direction and never wind speed.


Figure 6: The strength of Coriolis force is influenced by latitude and the speed of the moving object.


Centripetal acceleration is the third force that can act on moving air. It acts only on air that is flowing around centers of circulation. Centripetal acceleration is also another force that can influence the direction of wind. Centripetal acceleration creates a force directed at right angles to the flow of the wind and inwards towards the centers of rotation (e.g., low and high pressure centers). This force produces a circular pattern of flow around centers of high and low pressure. Centripetal acceleration is much more important for circulations smaller than the mid-latitude cyclone.

The last force that can influence moving air is frictional deceleration. Friction can exert an influence on wind only after the air is in motion. Frictional drag acts in a direction opposite to the path of motion causing the moving air to decelerate (see Newton's first and second laws of motion). Frictional effects are limited to the lower one kilometer above the Earth's surface.


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