The Coriolis force, named after French mathematician Gaspard Gustave de Coriolis (1792–1843), has traditionally been derived as a matter of coordinate transformation by an essentially kinematic technique. This has had the consequence that its physical significance for processes in the atmosphere, as well for simple mechanical systems, has not been fully comprehended. A study of Coriolis's own scientific career and achievements shows how the discovery of the Coriolis force was linked, not to any earth sciences, but to early nineteenth century mechanics and industrial developments. His own approach, which followed from a general discussion of the energetics of a rotating mechanical system, provides an alternative and more physical way to look at and understand, for example, its property as a complementary centrifugal force. It also helps to clarify the relation between angular momentum and rotational kinetic energy and how an inertial force can have a significant affect on the movement of a body and still without doing any work. Applying Coriolis's principles elucidates cause and effect aspects of the dynamics and energetics of the atmosphere, the geostrophic adjustment process, the circulation around jet streams, the meridional extent of the Hadley cell, the strength and location of the subtropical jet stream, and the phenomenon of “downstream development” in the zonal westerlies.

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