What is convection heating & cooling?

Written by reece robbins
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  • Introduction

    What is convection heating & cooling?

    Understanding the science of convection heating and cooling can be an intimidating topic to wrap your head around at first glance. However, when it is broken down into relatively easy to understand chunks, it is a subject anyone can learn.

    Hot air rises because of convection, lifting the balloon. (Hot air balloon image by MAXFX from Fotolia.com)

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    What is Convection?

    Convection heating and cooling is the process by which fluids (which includes gases) move due to an increase or decrease in temperature. Most elements expand and increase in buoyancy when they increase in temperature, rising away from the source of heat where they then cool, contract, become more dense and sink back down.

    Convection causes hot steam to rise into the air until it cools, condenses and sinks back down. (steam image by Dave from Fotolia.com)

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    Why Does Convection Occur?

    Convection is essentially the movement of heat from one area to another. Heat always moves to areas that are less hot. In reality, there is no such things as cold, only the absence of heat. Since heat is really the movement of molecules, you can imagine convection as active molecules bouncing around into other less active molecules which in turn bounce into other molecules until they have used up all of their energy and all of the molecules slow down, returning to a cold, or inactive state.

    Ice is water that has very little heat energy. (ice image by Pali A from Fotolia.com)

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    Convection in Weather

    Convection is all around you, all the time. The universe is a dynamic place and things are always in motion due to the gain and loss of heat energy. As the sun heats air, it rises, where it cools and condenses and then sinks back down. This is one of the main causes of wind currents and weather patterns.

    The wind is largely caused by convection. (IN THE WIND image by brelsbil from Fotolia.com)

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    Convection Cooling in Your Home

    Your refrigerator uses convection to keep your food cold. It does this by forcing a gas, either HFC or CFC, through a network of tubes that run in and out of your refrigerator and freezer. This gas is moved by a compressor and as it travels through your fridge it condenses and absorbs any heat that may be present. It then travels outside where it expands and radiates heat away. This is why the back of your fridge is warm and the inside is cool.

    A fridge keeps your food cold through convection. (kuehlschrank image by Stefan Häuselmann from Fotolia.com)

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    Convection Under Your Feet

    You may not be aware of it but convection occurs right beneath your feet every day. The mantle of the Earth, the layer beneath the crust which we live on and the core, is formed of semi-liquid molten rock which moves in great convection currents over millions of years. As the rock is heated by the higher temperature and pressure at the core, it rises up where it eventually cools and sinks back down to repeat the cycle.

    The Earth's mantle is formed of molten rock which moves in convection currents. (pile image by Maxim Vdovichenko from Fotolia.com)

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