Ocean currents and Coriolis

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Dear Tom,
Ocean currents rotate clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, but you also speak of counterclockwise winds. Is the difference caused by the Coriolis force?
Pete Fenzier
Dear Pete,
“Clockwise” and “counterclockwise” refer to a sense of rotation around a center, when viewed from above. Don’t confuse those terms with the Coriolis deflection that, in the Northern Hemisphere, is always directed to the right of the motion. This applies to anything that moves. When air blows inward toward a central point (toward a low pressure center, for example), the rightward Coriolis deflection causes a counterclockwise inward spiral. When air blows outward from a central point (from a high pressure center), the rightward Coriolis deflection causes a clockwise spiral outward. Ocean currents, driven by wind and water density differences, experience the same kinds of deflection.


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