1902 Encyclopedia > Tides > [On the Nature of Tides] Definition of Tides

(Part 1)


1. Definition of Tide


When, as occasionally happens, a ship in the open sea meets a short succession of waves of very unusual magnitude, we hear of tidal waves; and the large wave caused by an earthquake is commonly so described. The use of the term "tide" in this connexion is certainly incorrect but it has perhaps been fostered by the fact that such waves impress their records on automatic tide-gauges, as, for example, when the wave due to the volcanic outbreak at Krakatoa was thus distinctly traceable in South Africa, and perhaps even faintly at Brest. We can only adequately define a tide by reference to the cause which produces it. A tide then is a rise and fall of the water of the sea produced by the attraction of the sun and moon. A rise and fall of the sea produced by a regular alternation of day and night breezes, by regular rainfall and evaporation, or by any influence which the moon may have on the weather cannot strictly be called a tide. Such alternation may, it is true, be inextricably involved with the rise and fall of the true astronomical tide, but we shall here distinguish them as meteorological tides. These movements are the result of the action of the sun, as a radiating body, on the earth.

Atmospheric Tides

Tides in the atmosphere would be shown by a regular rise and fall in the barometer, but such tides are undoubtedly very minute, and we shall not discuss them in this article, merely referring the reader to the Mécanique Céleste of Laplace, bks. i. and xiii. There are, however, very strongly marked diurnal and semi-diurnal inequalities of the barometer due to atmospheric meteorological tides. Sir William Thomson in an interesting speculation [Footnote 353-1] shows that the interaction of these quasi-tides with the sun is that of a thermodynamic engine, whereby there is caused a minute secular acceleration of the earth’s rotation. This matter is, however, beyond the scope of the present article. We shall here extend the term "tide" to denote an elastic or viscous periodic deformation of a solid or viscous globe under the action of tide-generating forces. In the technical part of the article by the term "a simple tide" we shall denote a spherical harmonic deformation of the water on the surface of the globe, or of the solid globe itself, multiplied by a simple harmonic function of the time.


353-1 Société de Physique, September 1881, or Proc. Roy. Soc. of Edinburgh, 1881-82, p. 396.

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