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Activity: The Coriolis Effect

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:

Materials

  • Globe with a clean, smooth surface
  • 2 erasable markers of different colors

Procedure

  1. Without moving the globe, predict the path of an air mass traveling from the equator to the North Pole. The tip of the marker represents the air mass. Draw the predicted paths on the globe with one color marker when:
    1. the globe is not spinning.
    2. the globe is spinning from west to east and you travel from the equator to the North Pole.
    3. the globe is spinning from west to east and you travel from the equator to the South Pole.
       
  2. Test a simulated path of an air mass traveling from the equator to the North Pole when the globe is spinning.
    1. Practice spinning the globe from west to east on its axis.
    2. Using a different colored marker and using as little pressure on the maker as possible, draw a line from the equator straight up toward the North Pole while the globe is spinning.
       
  3. Repeat procedure 2 and trace the path of an air mass traveling from the equator toward the South Pole.
     
  4. Repeat procedures 1, 2, and 3, and trace the path of air masses moving toward the equator from both poles.

 

Activity Questions: 
  1. How do the paths of air masses on a stationary globe compare with the paths of air masses on the spinning globe?
     
  2. Describe the path taken by an air mass moving from the equator toward the North Pole and from the equator toward the South Pole. Explain why you think the air mass moved in this path.
     
  3. How do the paths of air masses moving north to south compare to those moving from south to north?
     
  4. Why do you think the velocity of the earth’s rotation is greater at the equator than near the poles?
     
  5. The Coriolis effect explains why air masses do not move in a straight line between the poles and the equator. In your own words, based on your knowledge of how the rotation of the earth affects the movement of air masses, define the “Coriolis effect”.

Table of Contents:

Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.