What is the Difference Between Natural and Forced Convection

Natural and forced convection are two different methods of heat transfer involving the movement of fluids such as air or water. The main difference between natural and forced convection lies in what drives the movement of the fluid.

What is the difference between natural and forced convection? Natural convection occurs due to temperature differences within a fluid, causing it to move and transfer heat on its own. In contrast, forced convection uses an external force like a fan or pump to circulate the fluid and enhance heat transfer.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Natural Convection
      – Definition, Features, Uses
2. What is Forced Convection
      – Definition, Features, Uses
3. Similarities Between Natural and Forced Convection
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Natural and Forced Convection
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Natural and Forced Convection
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Natural Convection, Forced Convection, Convection

Difference Between Natural and Forced Convection - Comparison Summary

What is Natural Convection

Natural convection, also known as free convection, is a heat transfer process where the movement of fluid (liquid or gas) is caused by density differences arising from temperature variations, not by any external force. When a fluid is heated, it expands and becomes less dense. This difference in density creates buoyancy forces. This less dense fluid rises, while the cooler, denser fluid near the surface sinks. This continuous circulation loop transfers heat throughout the container. There are no pumps, fans, or stirrers involved. The movement happens naturally due to the interplay of temperature and density.

Natural Convection

Feeling warm air rising near a radiator, hot air balloons working (heated air is less dense), and the circulation of air in your house are all due to natural convection. Natural convection is used in building design in terms of ventilation and in electronics to design heat sinks.

What is Forced Convection

Forced convection is a method of heat transfer where an external force, like a fan or pump, makes a fluid (liquid or gas) flow over a surface. This increases the rate of heat transfer significantly compared to natural convection.

The following details explain how it works.

External Force: A pump, fan, or even a moving object can push the fluid. Imagine a car moving through air – that’s forced convection.

Increased Flow Rate: The forced movement disrupts the stagnant layer of fluid that naturally forms near a hot surface. This layer acts like an insulator, slowing heat transfer. By increasing the flow rate, this layer is thinned, allowing for faster heat exchange.

Enhanced Efficiency: Faster moving fluid carries away heat more efficiently, making forced convection ideal for many applications.

Forced Convection

There are many examples of forced convection around the surroundings. A simple household fan uses forced convection to circulate cool air. In your car, the radiator uses a fan to pull air through its fins, removing heat from the engine. Power plants rely on forced convection to cool down turbines and generators.

Forced convection offers greater control over heat transfer compared to natural convection. By adjusting the flow rate, we can regulate how quickly heat is added or removed. This makes it essential in various engineering applications, from designing efficient heat exchangers to optimizing cooling systems in electronics.

Similarities Between Natural and Forced Convection

  1. Both rely on the movement of a fluid (liquid or gas) to transfer thermal energy between a solid surface and the fluid.
  2. The driving force for both is a temperature difference.

Difference Between Natural and Forced Convection


  • Natural convection is convection driven by natural means, like changes in density due to temperature variations, while forced convection is convection driven by external forces like fans, pumps, or wind.

Mechanical Device

  • Forced convection always uses a mechanical device like a fan or pump to move a liquid or gas, whereas natural convection does not use a mechanical device.

Heat Transfer Rate

  • Natural convection generally has a lower heat transfer rate, while forced convection generally has a higher heat transfer rate.


  • Examples of natural convection include hot air rising above a radiator, smoke rising from a fire, and boiling water in a pot (before bubbles form and create a strong circulation). Examples of forced convection include cooling a car radiator with a fan, circulating air in a room with a ceiling fan, and pumping coolant through an engine block.


In conclusion, the difference between natural and forced convection lies in the driving force of fluid movement: natural convection is propelled by density differences due to temperature changes, while forced convection relies on external forces like fans or pumps. Both methods transfer thermal energy through fluid movement, driven by temperature disparities.

FAQ: Natural and Forced Convection

1. Which is better, forced convection or natural convection incubator?

In larger incubators, forced convection is generally preferred over natural convection because it provides better temperature uniformity. The use of fans or blowers in forced convection circulates air evenly, making sure that there are consistent temperature and humidity levels throughout the chamber.

2. What are 4 examples of forced convection?

4 examples of forced convection are:

  • Air blown over a hot cup of coffee to cool it
  • A fan blowing air across a radiator to cool it down
  • Water pumped through a car engine to regulate its temperature
  • A hairdryer using a fan to blow hot air and dry hair

3. What are some examples of natural convection?

Some examples of natural convection include hot air rising above a fire, sea breeze or land breeze caused by a difference in pressure, ocean currents, and melting of ice.

4. Is convection natural or forced?

Convection can be either natural or forced. Natural convection occurs when heat transfer is driven by buoyancy forces, such as when warm air rises and cooler air sinks without the aid of any mechanical device. Forced convection, on the other hand, involves an external mechanism like a fan or pump to circulate the fluid and enhance heat transfer.


1. “Natural Convection – An Overview.” Science Direct.
2. “Forced Convection.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Thermal circulation” By Sciencia58 – Own work (CC0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Schneekanone” By Roland Zumbühl, Arlesheim – picswiss.ch (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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