7
$\begingroup$

Suppose an aircraft is flying from Kenya (which lies on the equator) to UK (which lies in the northern hemisphere). Does the Coriolis force veer the aircraft to the right? Do pilots have to correct their flight route because of this?

$\endgroup$
21
$\begingroup$

Yes, the effect is there, and (auto-) pilots have to compensate for it, but the direct impact of the Coriolis force is insignificant compared to the impact of any wind forces.

This has been discussed on Physics SE: Coriolis force on bullet vs airplane

On the other hand side, the Coriolis force (seemingly) deflects moving air masses and causes the global wind patterns as we now them. Through the resulting wind forces on aircrafts, the Coriolis force has a very significant indirect impact on aircraft travel.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Though this answer is accurate in its main point, I think it is a stretch to say that the Coriolis force "drives" the wind system. Imagine a planet exactly like the Earth, with liquid water and an atmosphere. Now magically remove it to interstellar space but keep it spinning on its axis. An aircraft traveling on that planet would need to correct for the Coriolis force, but wind effects would be minimal compared to the real Earth. Wind is driven by uneven solar heating, not by the Coriolis effect. $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Nov 14 at 22:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Now, if your point is that the large-scale shape of the world's weather systems is heavily influenced by the Coriolis force, then I would agree with you. Without that force there would be no polar vortex, we would not have cyclonic and anticyclonic storm systems depending on northern vs southern hemisphere and so on. $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Nov 14 at 22:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @EricLippert You're definitely correct that uneven solar heating provides the energy for (at least most of) Earth's wind. On the other hand, though, if not for the Coriolis Effect, wouldn't we mostly just have relatively mild poleward winds at high altitudes and relatively mild wind toward the equator at lower altitudes? Jet streams and such wouldn't exist without the Coriolis Effect, would they? $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 14 at 23:12
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @reirab: That's a good point. It's really hard to tease these things out because of course the Coriolis effect is simply the observation that the Earth spinning has consequences. Asking "what would happen if the Coriolis effect did not exist?" is tantamount to asking "what if the Earth did not spin?", in which case weather would be profoundly different because that uneven heating would stop being on a period of a day and start being on a period of a year. $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Nov 14 at 23:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @EricLippert Right. Either, "What would happen if Earth didn't spin?" or "What would happen if some magical force exactly opposed to the Coriolis Effect happened?" (Which would then presumably come with its own set of additional problems resulting from violating Conservation of Momentum and probably Conservation of Mass-Energy.) $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 14 at 23:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.