Oceanic Segment II: the Coriolis Effect

Hello there!

Today I think it would be cool to look into the Coriolis Effect. While it is not limited to the ocean/waters of the world, it is of such badass effect that it is worth thinking on!


Now, I ain’t no mathematician, so I can’t break it all down for y’all, but I shall relate the effects of Coriolis on the oceans.

The Coriolis Effect vibishly (‘member I am NOT all mathematicallated!) is this:

Things in motion on (or gravitationally affected by) a revolving sphere such as the Earth have a tendency to ‘want’ to move to the right or left as they go.

It seems really simple once I dumb it down, but I am pretty sure the math is hardcore!!

On earth, things in the southern hemisphere ‘want’ to go left (was I predestined to be a leftist from birth?), and things in the northern hemisphere ‘want’ to go right.

So imagine that in a circle. In the north, where things want to go to the right, you get circles traced in a clockwise motion, while in the south the opposite occurs!! Hence the famous ‘it drains the other way in Australia’ thing. (But I have read that Coriolis is not very strong at such small scales as your bathtub or toilet, and that local geography such as the orientation of taps to drains etc has a much bigger effect, but let’s not spoil the effect!!).

Now think of the ocean (let’s go with my beloved Pacific) as a big bath tub or toilet or whatever. Let’s focus on the North Pacific.

Now, the winds as well as ocean currents are affected by Coriolis. On large scales, the two mainly interact to reinforce each other, so we will ignore the wind.

Let’s say you are some water, newly arrived at the surface somewhere off Japan, maybe even sunny, tropical Okinawa.


You wanna move! You can’t sit still, it is all too cool! So as you set out to explore, Coriolis dictates that you want to move to your right. Next thing you know, one way or another, you end up somewheres off the coast of British Columbia! Ain’t no other way to go! So you keep right on cruising- Coriolis seems to know what it is doing, and you are young and without purpose so why not?! So you find yourself kicking it down the sundrenched California coastline. But just as you start to get over your shyness and join the party in Los Cabos, the nagging ‘must go right’ thing drags you away from shore. You will never know the shame that Coriolis just saved you from! Then you take the easy way home across to Japan where it all began.

So you can see how Coriolis, as well as keeping stuff moving right along, defines cells and bodies of water within the oceans, as it adds structure to what could (without the Thermohaline circulation system and the Eckman spiral, etc, both coming soon!) otherwise be an aimless and uniform ocean. Unfortunately it also makes an eddy in the center of the North Pacific as all the currents circle around the center. This eddy is now home to a patch of plastic refuse the size of Texas, in which few organisms can live. So Coriolis combined with our plastic cups = 😦

It also makes you realise that all that cold water off CA was once tropical waters, and will be again, and again, and again. Coriolis is the natural, living embodiment of the Speed Levitch quote; “life is a circle wrought with destinations.”

Shine on you crazy star!


~ by maoctopus on November 9, 2010.

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