convection, mode of heat transfer in fluids (liquids and gases). Convection depends on the fact that, in general, fluids expand when heated and thus undergo a decrease in density (since a given volume of the fluid contains less matter at a higher temperature than at the original, lower temperature). As a result, the warmer, less dense portion of the fluid will tend to rise through the surrounding cooler fluid, in accordance with Archimedes' principle. If heat continues to be supplied, the cooler fluid that flows in to replace the rising warmer fluid will also become heated and also rise. Thus, a current, called a convection current, becomes established in the fluid, with warmer, less dense fluid continually rising from the point of application of heat and cooler, denser portions of the fluid flowing outward and downward to replace the warmer fluid. In this manner, heat eventually may be transferred to the entire fluid. Convection currents are widely observed in both liquids and gases. Many aspects of weather are connected with convection currents. For example, when a portion of the atmosphere becomes heated by contact with a warm area of land, it rises into the cooler, higher altitudes, with the result that some of the moisture carried with it may be condensed to form clouds and precipitation. Convection currents have been used for heating and ventilation since ancient times. Both hot-air and hot-water heating systems use convection to transfer heat through the entire structure being heated. Convection currents also assist in the ventilation of mines.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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