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NDBC Science Education Pages

What are tides?

Tides are the periodic (occurring at regular intervals) variations in the surface water level of the oceans, bays, gulfs, and inlets. Tides are the result of the gravitational attraction of the sun and the moon on the earth. The attraction of the moon is far greater than the attraction of the sun due to the close proximity of the earth and the moon. The sun is 360 times further from the earth than the moon. Therefore, the moon plays a larger role than the sun in producing tides. Every 27.3 days, the earth and the moon revolve around a common point. This means that the oceans and other water bodies which are affected by the earth-moon system experience a new tidal cycle every 27.3 days.

Because of the physical processes which occur to produce the tidal system, there are two high tides and two low tides each day. Because of the angle of the moon with respect to the earth, the two high tides each day do not have to be of equal height. The same holds true for the two low tides each day. Tides also differ in height on a daily basis. The daily differences between tidal heights is due to the changing distance between the earth and the moon.

Scientists use measurements of the height of the water level to examine tides and the various phenomena which influence tides, such as hurricanes and winter storms.

What do you think a graph of tide data looks like?

Answer