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WavesandTides

Prof.M.Natarajan,Er.K.MohanandProf.T.Balasubramanian
CentreofAdvancedStudyinMarineBiology
AnnamalaiUniversity

Waves
ithoutwaves,theworldwouldbeadifferentplace.Wavescannot
exist by themselves for they are caused by winds. Winds in turn
arecausedbydifferencesintemperatureontheplanet,mainlybetween
the hot tropics and the cold poles but also due to temperature
fluctuationsofcontinentsrelativetothesea.Withoutwaves,thewinds
wouldhaveonlyaverysmallgriponthewaterandwouldnotbeable
tomoveitasmuch.Thewavesallowthewindtotransferitsenergyto
the waters surface and to make it move. Currents and eddies mix the
layers of water which would otherwise become stagnant and less
conducivetolife.Nutrientsarethuscirculatedandreused.

In its simplest scientific form, a wave is an expression of the


movementorprogressionofenergythroughamedium.Suchwavesare
oftencalledprogressivewaves,acategorythatincludesseismicwaves,
sound waves, light waves and ocean waves. As energy is transmitted
through a fluid, the particles in the fluid may move up and down and
backandforthinakindoforbitalmotionasasinusoidalline,i.e.,asa
sine wave. From our experience observing waves in nature, we know
thatrealwavesaremuchmorecomplex.
The winds cause waves on the surface of the ocean (and on
lakes). The wind transfers some of its energy to the water, through
friction between the air molecules and the water molecules. Stronger
winds (like storm surges) cause larger waves. Waves of water do not
move horizontally, they only move up and down (a wave does not
representaflowofwater).Tsunamis(sometimescalledtidalwaves)are
different from surface waves; they are usually caused by underwater
earthquakes,volcaniceruptions,orlandslides.

33 Waves and tides

Anatomyofawave

STILLWATER LINE The level of the ocean if it were flat


withoutanywaves.

CRESTThehighestpartofthewaveabovethestillwaterline.

TROUGHThelowestpartofthewavebelowthestillwaterline.

WAVEHEIGHTTheverticaldistancebetweenthecrestandthe
trough.

WAVE LENGTH The horizontal distance between each crest or


eachtrough.

WAVE PERIOD The time it takes for two successive waves to


passaparticularpoint.

WAVEFREQUENCYThenumberofwavesthatpassaparticular
pointinagiventimeperiod.

AMPLITUDETheamplitudeisequaltoonehalfthewaveheight
orthedistancefromeitherthecrestorthetroughtothestillwater
line.

Characteristicsofdifferentwaves
Thetablebelowdescribessomeofthecharacteristicsofdifferentwaves.

Wave
Capillary
Chop
Swell

Period
<0.1
sec

Wavelength
<2cm

WaveType
deepto
shallow

Cause
localwinds

110
sec
1030
sec

110m

deepto
shallow
deepor
shallow

localwinds

uptohundreds
ofm

distantstorm

M. Natarajan, K. Mohan and T. Balasubramanian 34

Seiche
Tsunami

Tide

10min
10hr
1060
min

12.4
24.8hr

uptohundreds shallowor
ofkm
intermediate
uptohundreds shallowor
ofkm
intermediate

thousandsof
km

shallow

wind,tsunami,tidal
resonance
submarinedisturbance
i.e.earthquakesor
volcaniceruptions
under(ornear)the
ocean
gravitationalattraction
ofsunandmoon

WindandWaves
On a perfectly calm sea, the wind has practically no grip. As it slides
over the water surface film, it makes it move. As the water moves, it
forms eddies and small ripples. Ironically, these ripples do not travel
exactlyinthedirectionofthewindbutastwosetsofparallelripples,at
angles7080tothewinddirection.Theripplesmakethewaterssurface
rough,givingthewindabettergrip.Theripples,startingataminimum
wave speed of 0.23 m/s, grow to wavelets and start to travel in the
direction of the wind. At wind speeds of 46 knots (711 km/hr), these
double wave fronts travel at about 30 from the wind. The surface still
looks glassy overall but as the wind speed increases, the wavelets
becomehighenoughtointeractwiththeairflowandthesurfacestarts
to look rough. The wind becomes turbulent just above the surface and
startstransferringenergytothewaves.Strongwindsaremoreturbulent
andmakewavesmoreeasily.
The rougher the water becomes, the easier it is for the wind to
transferitsenergy.Thewavesbecomesteepandchoppy.Furtheraway
from the shore, the waters surface is not only stirred by the wind but
alsobywavesarrivingwiththewind.Thesewavesinfluencethemotion
of the water particles such that opposing movements gradually cancel
out, whereas synchronising movements are enhanced. The waves start
tobecomemoreroundedandharmonious.Dependingondurationand
distance(fetch),thewavesdevelopintoafullydevelopedsea.
Anyonefamiliarwiththesea,knowsthatwavesneverassumea
uniform, harmonious shape. Even when the wind has blown strictly
from one direction only, the resulting water movement is made up of
various waves, each with adifferentspeed andheight. Althoughsome
waves are small, most waves have a certain height and sometimes a
waveoccurswhichismuchhigher.

35 Waves and tides

Surfbreakersareclassifiedinthreetypes:

Spilling breakers: result from waves of low steepness (long


period swell) over gentle slopes. They cause rows of breakers,
rolling towards the beach. Such breakers gradually transport
water towards the beach during groups of high waves. Rips
running back to sea, transport this water away from the beach
during groups of low waves. When caught swimming in a rip,
do not attempt to swim back to shore because such rips can be
verystrong(upto8km/hr).Swimparalleltothebeachtowards
wherethewavesarehighest.Thisiswherewatermovestowards
the beach. The next group of tall waves should assist you to
swim back to shore. However, when launching (rescue) boats,
thisisbestdoneinaripzone.

Plunging breakers: result from steeper waves over moderate


slopes.Theslopeofabeachisnotconstantbutmaychangewith
thetide.Somebeachesaresteeptowardhightide,otherstoward
lowtide.Aplungingbreakerisdangerousforswimmersbecause
its intensity is greatly augmented by backwash from its
predecessor. This strong backwash precludes easy exit from the
breakerzone,particularlyfordivers.Oftenasteepbankofloose
sandpreventsonefromstandingupright.Inordertoexitsafely,
waitforagroupoflowwaves.

Surging breakers: occur where the beach slope exceeds wave


steepness.Thewavedoesnotreallycurl andbreakbutrunsup
against the shore while producing foam and large surges of
water. Such places are dangerous for swimmers because the
rapidlymovingwatercandragswimmersovertherocks.

When waves break, their energy is absorbed and converted to


heat. The gentler the slope of the beach, the more energy is converted.
Steep slopes such as rocky shores do not break waves as much but
reflectthembacktosea,whichsheltersmarinelife.
The interrelationship between the wind and the waves is so
important to skippers that a completely new classification system was
designed as a guideline incorporating both wind speed and the wave
conditions most readily found at those speeds. This system, called the
BeaufortScale,wasdevelopedin1805byAdmiralSirFrancisBeaufort
oftheBritishNavy.Itisaguidelineforwhatcanbeexpectedincertain
conditions and a weather classification system. It assumes open ocean
conditionswithunlimitedfetch.

M. Natarajan, K. Mohan and T. Balasubramanian 36

Beaufortscale:

Force
0
1

WindSpeed
0
13knots

Description
Calm
LightAir

46knots

LightBreeze

710knots

GentleBreeze

1116knots

ModerateBreeze

1721knots

FreshBreeze

2227knots

StrongBreeze

2833knots

NearGale

3440knots

Gale

4147knots

StrongGale

10

4855knots

Storm

11

5663knots

ViolentStorm

12

6471knots

Hurricane

SeaConditions
Smooth,likeamirror.
Small ripples, like fish
scales.
Short, small pronounced
waveletswithnocrests.
Large wavelets with some
crests.
Increasingly larger small
waves,somewhitecapsand
lightfoam.
Moderate
lengthening
waves, with many white
capsandsomelightspray.
Large waves, extensive
whitecapswithsomespray.
Heaps of waves, with some
breakers whose foam is
blowndownwindinstreaks.
Moderately high waves of
increasing length and edges
of crests breaking into
spindrift (heavy spray).
Foam is blown downwind
wind
in
wellmarked
streaks.
Highwindwithdensefoam
streaks and some crests
rolling over. Spray reduces
visibility.
Very high waves with long,
overlapping crests. The sea
looks white, visibility is
greatly reduced and waves
tumblewithforce.
Exceptionally high waves
that may obscure medium
size ships. All wave edges
areblownintofrothandthe
sea
is
covered with patches of
foam.
The air is filled with foam
and spray, and the sea is
completelywhite.

Waves
0
1/4
1/2
1/4
1/2
2
4

10
14

18

23

29

37

45

37 Waves and tides

Aside from just wind speed, the temperature is also a factor in


creating waves. Warm air (which rises) moving over water has a less
acute angleofattackonthesurfacethandoescoolair(whichsinks).A
cold front moving across open water will create much steeper waves
andhencecreatebreakerssoonerthanawarmfrontmovingatthesame
speed.
Also,a changein winddirectionover existingwavescancreate
confusionandhencelargerwaves.Ifawindhasbeenblowingnortheast
over an open body of water for three days and suddenly switches to
northwestoverthatsamebodyofwater,newwaveletswillformwithin
theexistingsystemofwaves.Theenergyofbothsystemswillmultiply
tocreatelargerwaves.
Whenawavesystemmeetsacurrentflowoneoftwothingscan
happen. If the wind and current are both going the same direction, it
tendsto smoothoutthewaves,creatinglong swells. Ifthe currentand
windaremovingincontradictingdirections,itwillcreatemuchsteeper
andmoreaggressivewaves.
WaveClassification

Oceanwavescanbeclassifiedinvariousways.Oneclassification
uses the forces which generate the waves. In ascending order of wave
lengthswehave:
1. Meteorologicalforcing(wind,airpressure);seaandswellbelong
tothiscategory.

M. Natarajan, K. Mohan and T. Balasubramanian 38

2. Earthquakes;theygeneratetsunamis,whichareshallowwateror
longwaves.
3. Tides(astronomicalforcing);theyarealwaysshallowwateror
longwaves.
Another classification is based on the frequency spectrum
representationofalloceanicwavesanddistinguishesbetweencapillary
waves,gravitywaves,longperiodwavesandtides.
TIDES
Inoceanography,tidesarecommonlydefinedastheperiodicvariations
in sea level that occur as a result of the gravitational forces of the Sun
and the Moon. We most commonly observe tides along the coast but
tidesoccurintheopenoceanaswell.
Tides are a planetary phenomenon, caused by the gravitational
attraction of other planetary bodies on Earthnamely the Sun and the
Moon.Theforceofthisattractioncreatesaverypredictableriseandfall
of sea level as the Earth rotates on its axis. When sea level is at its
greatestheight,thetideissaidtobehigh.Whensealevelisatitslowest
extent, the tide is said to be low. High tides bring water far up on the
shore. When wave action is high, these high tides may damage homes
and undercut coastal cliffs. On the other hand, low tides expose great
expanses of the beach. Low tides are ideal for activities like observing
tidepools or digging in the mud for clams. Many marine organisms
synchronizetheirbehaviortothetides.Themassspawningofcoralsin
the Great Barrier Reef, the swarming of bioluminescent palolo worms,
thereleaseofsporesbykelpandthelayingofeggsonthebeachbythe
California grunion occur at times governed by the tides. The daily
alternatingsubmergenceandexposureofrocksontheshore,combined
with the action of the waves and heat from the sun, accelerate
weatheringanderosionalongthecoast.
Knowledgeoftidesandtheirpatternsdatesbacktoatleast2300
BCintheruinsofcoastalcitiesalongtheGulfofCambayinIndia.Here
archaeologists have uncovered evidence of tidal docks, structures that
allowboatstoenterathightideand,bymeansofagate,trapthewater
and keep the boat afloat when the tide recedes. Indian religious texts
from300400BCsuggestalinkbetweenthetidesandthephasesofthe
moon,ahighlyadvancedclaimforitstime.Becausetidesmayriseand
fallinexcessof30feet(10meters)inthisregion,theyobviouslyplayed
animportantroleinthecultureandcommerceoftheseancientpeople.

39 Waves and tides

Severalnotablescholarsadvancedtheoriesofthetides,including
Galileo, but the first complete and fundamentally correct explanation
was publishedin 1687 bySir Isaac Newton(16421727) in hisPrincipia.
In his epic work, Newton introduced the Law of Gravitation which
states that the gravitational attraction between two planetary bodies is
theproductoftheirmassesdividedbythesquareoftheirdistance,times
the gravitational constant. Differences in gravity at different points on
Earthssurfacecauseverticalandhorizontalforcesbuttheverticalforces
aremuchtoosmalltogeneratetides.Thetidecausingforcesresultfrom
thehorizontalforcesactingalongthesurfaceoftheEarth(i.e.,tangential
to the surface), causing motions of water towards points directly
beneath and on the opposite side of the Moon (and Sun.) Newtons
equilibrium theory of the tides remains the most popular, albeit often
misstated,theoryoftidalforcesinmoderntextbooks.
Despite these theoretical developments, the measurement of
tidesremainedachallenge.Averticalmeasuringdevicelikeayardstick
worked easily enough but determining the exact time and height of a
loworhightidewiththecomplicationofwavesandstormsmadeearly
tide measurements highly subjective. In 1831, the first tide gauge was
deployedintheThamesEstuary.Thedevice,afloatonarodthatraised
and lowered a pen across a rotating drum of paper, provided the first
continuous record of the tides over a 15day period, the springneap
cycle(seebelow).Floatgaugesremainedinuseformorethan150years
untilacousticsensorsandpressuresensorsbegantotaketheir placein
the1990s.

M. Natarajan, K. Mohan and T. Balasubramanian 40

Anoceantidereferstothecyclicriseandfallofseawater.Tides
are caused by slight variations in gravitational attraction between the
Earthandthemoonandthesuningeometricrelationshipwithlocations
on the Earths surface. Tides are periodic primarily because of the
cyclicalinfluenceoftheEarthsrotation.
Themoonistheprimaryfactorcontrollingthetemporalrhythm
andheightoftides.Themoonproducestwotidalbulgessomewhereon
the Earth through the effects of gravitational attraction. The height of
thesetidalbulgesiscontrolledbythemoonsgravitationalforceandthe
EarthsgravitypullingthewaterbacktowardtheEarth.Atthelocation
on the Earth closest to the moon, seawater is drawn toward the moon
because of the greater strength of gravitational attraction. On the
opposite side of the Earth, another tidal bulge is produced away from
themoon.However,thisbulgeisduetothefactthatatthispointonthe
Earththeforceofthemoonsgravityisatitsweakest.Consideringthis
information, any given point on the Earths surface should experience
twotidalcrestsandtwotidaltroughsduringeachtidalperiod.
The timing of tidal events is related to the Earths rotation and
therevolutionofthemoonaroundtheEarth.Ifthemoonwasstationary
inspace,thetidalcyclewouldbe24hourslong.However,themoonis
in motion revolving around the Earth. One revolution takes about 27
daysandaddsabout50minutestothetidalcycle.Asaresult,thetidal
periodis24hoursand50minutesinlength.
The second factor controlling tides on the Earths surface is the
suns gravity. The height of the average solar tide is about 50 % the
average lunar tide. At certain times during the moons revolution
around the Earth, the direction of its gravitational attraction is aligned
with the suns. During these times the two tide producing bodies act
togethertocreatethehighestandlowesttidesoftheyear.Thesespring
tidesoccurevery1415daysduringfullandnewmoons.

Fig.1.Forcesinvolvedintheformationofaspringtide

41 Waves and tides

When the gravitational pull of the moon and sun are at right
angles to each other, the daily tidal variations on the Earth are at their
least (Figure 2). These events are called neap tides and they occur
duringthefirstandlastquarterofthemoon.

Fig.2.Forcesinvolvedintheformationofaneaptide

TypesofTides
ThegeometricrelationshipofmoonandsuntolocationsontheEarths
surfaceresultsincreationofthreedifferenttypesoftides.
InpartsofthenorthernGulfofMexicoandSoutheastAsia,tides
have one high and one low water per tidal day (Figure 3). These tides
arecalleddiurnaltides.

Fig.3.Cyclicaltidalcyclesassociatedwithadiurnaltide

Semidiurnaltideshavetwohighandtwolowwaterspertidal
day (Figure 4). They are common on the Atlantic coasts of the United
StatesandEurope.

M. Natarajan, K. Mohan and T. Balasubramanian 42

Fig.4.Cyclicaltidalcyclesassociatedwithasemidiurnaltide

Many parts of the world experience mixed tides where


successive highwater and lowwater stands differ appreciably (Figure
5).Inthesetides,wehaveahigherhighwaterandlowerhighwateras
well as higher low water and lower low water. The tides around west
coastofCanadaandtheUnitedStatesareofthistype.

Fig.5.Cyclicaltidalcyclesassociatedwithamixedtide

ThemapinFigure6showsthe geographicdistribution ofthese


threetidetypesontheEarth.

Fig.6.Globaldistributionofthe threetidaltypes.Mostoftheworldscoastlines

havesemidiurnaltides.

43 Waves and tides

Tidalobservationandprediction
From ancient times, tides have been observed and discussed with
increasing sophistication, first noting the daily recurrence, then its
relationshiptotheSunandMoon.EventuallythefirsttidetableinChina
wasrecordedin1056A.D.primarilyforthebenefitofvisitorstoseethe
famoustidalboreintheQiantangRiver.InEuropethefirstknowntide
tableisthoughttobethatofJohn,AbbottofWallingford(d.1213),based
onhighwateroccurring48minuteslatereachday,andthreehourslater
at London than at the mouth of the Thames. William Thomson led the
first systematic harmonic analysis to tidal records starting in 1867. The
main result was the building of a tidepredicting machine (TPM) on
usingasystemofpulleystoaddtogethersixharmonicfunctionsoftime.
It was programmed by resetting gears and chains to adjust phasing
andamplitudes.Similarmachineswereuseduntilthe1960s.
The first known sealevel record of an entire springneap cycle
wasmadein1831ontheNavyDockintheThamesEstuary,andmany
largeportshadautomatictidegagesstationsby1850.
William Whewell first mapped cotidal lines ending with a
nearly global chart in 1836. In order to make these maps consistent, he
hypothesizedtheexistenceofamphidromeswherecotidallinesmeetin
themidocean.Thesepointsofnotidewereconfirmedbymeasurement
in 1840 by Captain Hewett, RN, from careful soundings in the North
Sea.
Thesametidalforcinghasdifferentresultsdependingonmany
factors,includingcoastorientation,continentalshelfmargin,waterbody
dimensions.
In mostplacesthereisadelay betweenthe phasesoftheMoon
and the effect on the tide. Springs and neaps in the North Sea, for
example,aretwodaysbehindthenew/fullMoonandfirst/thirdquarter.
Thisiscalledtheageofthetide.

Theexacttimeandheightofthetideataparticularcoastalpoint
is also greatly influenced by the local bathymetry. There are some
extreme cases: the Bay of Fundy, on the east coast of Canada, features
thelargestwelldocumentedtidalrangesintheworld,16metres(53ft),
because of the shape of the bay. Southampton in the United Kingdom
has a double high tide caused by the interaction between the different
tidalharmonicswithintheregion.Thisiscontrarytothepopularbelief
thattheflowofwateraroundtheIsleofWightcreatestwohighwaters.
The Isle of Wight is important, however, as it is responsible for the

M. Natarajan, K. Mohan and T. Balasubramanian 44

Young Flood Stand, which describes the pause of the incoming tide
about three hours after low water. Ungava Bay in Northern Quebec,
north eastern Canada, is believed by some experts to have higher tidal
rangesthantheBayofFundy(about17metresor56ft,butitisfreeof
pack ice for only about four months every year, whereas the Bay of
Fundyrarelyfreezes.
ThereareonlyveryslighttidesintheMediterraneanSeaandthe
Baltic Sea owing to their narrow connections with the Atlantic Ocean.
Extremely small tides also occur for the same reason in the Gulf of
MexicoandSeaofJapan.OnthesoutherncoastofAustralia,becausethe
coast is extremely straight (partly due to the tiny quantities of runoff
flowingfromrivers),tidalrangesareequallysmall.