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The Magnitude and Effects of Tidal Ranges

The range of the tides is the difference in sea level between high and low tides. Spring tide, having the maximum range, occurs during the full moon when the earth is between the moon and the sun, and new moon when the moon is between the earth and the sun. At these times in the lunar cycle when the moon, earth, and sun are aligned the condition is known as syzygy. The term king tide is used in some regions to describe the highest tides of the year. Neap tide, having the minimum range, occurs during the moon's first and last quarters, when the moon, earth, and sun form a right angle. The typical tidal range in the open ocean is 2 ft (0.61 m) but is much greater near the coast. Tidal ranges vary around the world and average about 6 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m). The world's widest tidal range occurs in the Bay of Fundy, in E Canada, where the sea level changes by 40 ft (12 m) during the day, while the Mediterranean, Baltic, and Caribbean Seas are relatively tideless.

As the tides change, currents must flow to redistribute the ocean's water. Near the coast, the direction of the current changes every 61/4 hr from toward the shore (flood current) to away from the shore (ebb current). In the open ocean, the tidal currents are rotary, shifting through all directions of the compass in a period matching that of the local tide. When tidal currents flow into the mouth of a river, they speed up. In extreme cases, the tidal rise advances up the river as a solid wall of water often several feet high, a rare phenomenon called a tidal bore. During times of high tide accompanied by high wind and low pressure, as during a hurricane, a tidal surge can occur, causing coastal erosion, flooding, and damage to coastal cities.

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

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