Coriolis Effect Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Catherine Brennan

Katie has taught elementary school science and has a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

The Coriolis effect is a force that affects the weather we see each and every day. It also affects how planes move from one location to another. Read on to explore the Coriolis effect and how it affects our lives.

What Is the Coriolis Effect?

Melissa was excited as she sat down to take her first ever plane ride. While she was waiting for the plane to take off, she watched a video showing how the plane would travel from Washington to their destination in Florida. The plane's flight path was rounded rather than a straight line. She asked her mom why the plane does not fly in a straight line. Her mom responded that it was because of the Coriolis effect.

Also known as the Coriolis force, the Coriolis effect is a force that affects an object that's moving over something that's rotating. (Rotation is when something spins around an axis or an invisible pole, like the Earth does.)

The Coriolis effect causes the dot to move from its original location due to the rotation of the sphere.
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For instance, if the plane flew in a straight line from Washington to Florida, the plane would land in a completely different place than intended. That's because, by the time the plane would have arrived, Florida would have moved from its original location due to the rotation of Earth.

Demonstrating the Coriolis Effect

The Coriolis effect was developed in the mid-1800s by Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis, a French engineer and mathematician. Originally, he came across the concept when observing the way that energy transfers in waterwheels and other rotating systems for creating energy. But soon, scientists began to realize that the Coriolis effect applied to much more, including wind patterns.

When Melissa got to Florida, she tried an experiment to better understand how the Coriolis effect works. She blew up a balloon to represent Earth. She took a marker and placed the tip at the top of the balloon, then she began to rotate the balloon while moving the marker straight down to the bottom of the balloon. What was the effect? The line did not come out straight--it came out as a curve.

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