What is the Coriolis effect? Discoverer, history and applications

In the field of physics and meteorology, the Coriolis effect is very used, as it is very important to understand which are the forces that provoke the Earth’s rotation and what effects it provokes depending on its location on the planet. The Coriolis effect permits to us know where there is a risks of tornados or hurricanes being provoked and where it will move to.

What is the Coriolis effect?

The Coriolis effect is a force that is generated due to the movement of rotation of the Earth in the space. This force diverts the trajectory of the objects that are thrown straight line in the Earth’s surface, either to the right in the north hemisphere or to the left in the south hemisphere. The Coriolis effect is also known as the Coriolis force. The Coriolis force has two components: one that is tangential and the other that is radial, which are linked with the relation of the movement of a body. The symbol of the Coriolis effect is Fc.

The Coriolis force acts mainly onto the forces of water and air of our planet, just as the objects which are thrown in a straight trajectory, no matter if its thrown through water or air. The Coriolis effect can also explain the formation and movement of hurricanes, cyclones and tornados formed in the north and south hemisphere. This effect helps us to prevent where the tornados will go through, and evacuate the implicated cities as fast as possible.

Its discoverer

Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis was the engineer and the mechanic that discovered the Coriolis effect. Gaspard-Gustave was of French origin, and was born in Paris in 1792.

He was teacher of geometric analyse and general mechanic in the Central School of the Arts and Manufactures in Paris, the city in which he was born. During his life he investigated many scientific themes. He carried through many investigations related with the differential equations of the rotation movement, the mechanic power and the kinetic energy. Thanks to his investigation into the deferential equations and the rotation movement, he discovered what, after was called, and coming from his name, Coriolis effect. Many of the articles about his investigation were published in the Industry Dictionary.

The history of this effect

The Coriolis force was described for the first time in 1835 by the French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis in his article about the equations of the relative movement of the bodyes systems. In the article this effect is presented as a centrifugal force of a moving body which is relative to a referential system in rotation.

The concept of “Coriolis effect” is present in the meteorological and oceanography literature in the XIXth century, and only in the next century, the XXth century, this effect will be considered as Coriolis effect.

Its applications

The Coriolis force is very present in the nature, and it is for that reason that, our knowledge about this force helps us to understand many phenomenons of the nature. Some of these cases in which the Coriolis effect permits us to understand some phenomenons are the following:

  • In the ocean, the Coriolis force makes that the sea currents not to go parallel from the wind, but make an angle with it.
  • In the icebergs shift, the Coriolis effect directs its trajectory to the right or the left depending on the hemisphere in which they are situated. In the north hemisphere they go to the right and in the south hemisphere to the left.
  • In the atmosphere, the Coriolis force affects on the formation of clouds and winds, creating storms.
  • the Coriolis effect acts onto the mass flowmeter, a device that measures the mass flow of a liquid, creating a force in the tube which is perpendicular to the two directions. This permits us to measure the vibration and direction of the current.


Two situations where the Coriolis effect is very evident, it is the ballistic field and in the direction of the water in the hemispheres and in the Equator.

The Coriolis effect in the ballistic

As I said before, the Coriolis force acts onto the objects that are thrown on the air and water masses. In the field of ballistic, the projectiles are also affected by the Coriolis force depending on the distance that the bullet has to cover before arriving to its objective. If the distances to cover are long, for example a sniper that shoots in a kilometre distance, the projectile will deviate from his trajectory and, a thing that wouldn’t happen if he shoots from a smaller distance.

This deviation is also present in the aviation. A plane that took off in a straight line to his destination, he will find his direction affected by the Coriolis effect. For this reason, the plane has to go modifying his trajectory with the purpose to correct the deviation that the Coriolis force provokes on it.

The Coriolis effect on the water

La way in which turns the water when it falls into a drainpipe is an example of the Coriolis effect. In the north hemisphere, the water turns in a clockwise direction, and, in the south hemisphere, it goes down counterclockwise.

It is important to mention that in the Equator, the Coriolis effect doesn’t take place. For that reason, in this part of the planet the water falls down without turning. It is also for that reason that in the Equator neither tornados or cyclones form, because these movements and spins of the water and air masses don’t take place.

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