Coriolis force

In physics, the Coriolis force is an inertial force (also called a fictitious force) that acts on objects that are in motion relative to a rotating reference frame. In a reference frame with clockwise rotation, the force acts to the left of the motion of the object. In one with anticlockwise rotation, the force acts to the right. Though recognized previously by others, the mathematical expression for the Coriolis force appeared in an 1835 paper by French scientist Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis, in connection with the theory of water wheels. Early in the 20th century, the term Coriolis force began to be used in connection with meteorology. Deflection of an object due to the Coriolis force is called the 'Coriolis effect'.

Newton's laws of motion describe the motion of an object in an inertial (non-accelerating) frame of reference. When Newton's laws are transformed to a rotating frame of reference, the Coriolis force and centrifugal force appear. Both forces are proportional to the mass of the object. The Coriolis force is proportional to the rotation rate and the centrifugal force is proportional to its square. The Coriolis force acts in a direction perpendicular to the rotation axis and to the velocity of the body in the rotating frame and is proportional to the object's speed in the rotating frame. The centrifugal force acts outwards in the radial direction and is proportional to the distance of the body from the axis of the rotating frame. These additional forces are termed inertial forces, fictitious forces or pseudo forces. They allow the application of Newton's laws to a rotating system. They are correction factors that do not exist in a non-accelerating or inertial reference frame.

Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis published a paper in 1835 on the energy yield of machines with rotating parts, such as waterwheels. That paper considered the supplementary forces that are detected in a rotating frame of reference. Coriolis divided these supplementary forces into two categories. The second category contained a force that arises from the cross product of the angular velocity of a coordinate system and the projection of a particle's velocity into a plane perpendicular to the system's axis of rotation. Coriolis referred to this force as the "compound centrifugal force" due to its analogies with the centrifugal force already considered in category one. The effect was known in the early 20th century as the "acceleration of Coriolis", and by 1920 as "Coriolis force".

In 1856, William Ferrel proposed the existence of a circulation cell in the mid-latitudes with air being deflected by the Coriolis force to create the prevailing westerly winds

The Coriolis force exists only when one uses a rotating reference frame. In the rotating frame it behaves exactly like a real force (that is to say, it causes acceleration and has real effects). However, the Coriolis force is a consequence of inertia, and is not attributable to an identifiable originating body, as is the case for electromagnetic or nuclear forces, for example. From an analytical viewpoint, to use Newton's second law in a rotating system, the Coriolis force is mathematically necessary, but it disappears in a non-accelerating, inertial frame of reference. For example, consider two children on opposite sides of a spinning roundabout (Merry-go-round ), who are throwing a ball to each other. From the children's point of view, this ball's path is curved sideways by the Coriolis force. Suppose the roundabout spins anticlockwise when viewed from above. From the thrower's perspective, the deflection is to the right. From the non-thrower's perspective, deflection is to the left. For a mathematical formulation see Mathematical derivation of fictitious forces. In meteorology, a rotating frame (the Earth) with its Coriolis force provides a more natural framework for explanation of air movements than a non-rotating, inertial frame without Coriolis forces. In long-range gunnery, sight corrections for the Earth's rotation are based upon the Coriolis force. These examples are described in more detail below.

The Rossby number is the ratio of inertial to Coriolis forces. A small Rossby number indicates a system is strongly affected by Coriolis forces, and a large Rossby number indicates a system in which inertial forces dominate. For example, in tornadoes, the Rossby number is large, in low-pressure systems it is low, and in oceanic systems it is around 1. As a result, in tornadoes the Coriolis force is negligible, and balance is between pressure and centrifugal forces. In low-pressure systems, centrifugal force is negligible and balance is between Coriolis and pressure forces. In the oceans all three forces are comparable.

An atmospheric system moving at U = 10 m/s (22 mph) occupying a spatial distance of L = 1,000 km (621 mi), has a Rossby number of approximately 0.1.

A baseball pitcher may throw the ball at U = 45 m/s (100 mph) for a distance of L = 18.3 m (60 ft). The Rossby number in this case would be 32,000.

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