The word "tides" is a generic term used to define the alternating rise and fall in sea level with respect to the land, produced by the gravitational attraction of the moon and the sun. To a much smaller extent, tides also occur in large lakes, the atmosphere, and within the solid crust of the earth, acted upon by these same gravitational forces of the moon and sun. Additional nonastronomical factors such as configuration of the coastline, local depth of the water, ocean-floor topography, and other hydrographic and meteorological influences may play an important role in altering the range, interval between high and low water, an times of arrival of the tides.
The most familiar evidence of the tides along our seashores is the observed recurrence of high and low water - usually, but not always, twice daily. The term tide correctly refers only to such a relatively short-period, astronomically induced vertical change in the height of the sea surface (exclusive of wind-actuated waves and swell); the expression tidal current relates to accompanying periodic horizontal movement of the ocean water, both near the coast and offshore (but as distinct from the continuous, stream-flow type of ocean current).
Knowledge of the times, heights, and extent of inflow and outflow of tidal waters is of importance in a wide range of practical applications such as the following: Navigation through intracoastal waterways, and within estuaries, bays, and harbors; work on harbor engineering projects, such as the construction of bridges, docks, breakwaters, and deep-water channels; the establishment of standard chart datums for hydrography and for demarcation of a base line or "legal coastline" for fixing offshore territorial limits both on the sea surface and on the submerged lands of the Continental Shelf; provision of information necessary for underwater demolition activities and other military engineering uses; and the furnishing of data indispensable to fishing, boating, surfing, and a considerable variety of related water sport activities.
Go to Chapter 2 of "Our Restless Tides"
Revised: February, 1998