Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean


Photo is courtesy of @Seawitch ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Trinity University Press; 1st Edition edition (January 31, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595348050
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595348050
These are the prizes the book has won or been a finalist for. This screenshot is taken from the book author's website:

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You're going to love this book.

If you have any interest in ocean tides and how they work, you want to read this book. It's a fascinating and deep dive into the science of ocean tides. Filled with interviews, anecdotes, maps, photos, and diagrams, the book will educate and entertain you, while you're saying, "wow" or "really?" on every other page.

The book's author, Jonathan White, is passionate about the sea. He grew up in southern California near the ocean and has logged over a 100,000 miles sailing in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The genesis for writing the book was an incident some years ago when the author was sailing his 65-foot schooner off of Alaska with a group of people. During a storm, his boat went aground during high tide. As he contemplated how that was even possible and what he could possibly do to save the schooner before it became hopelessly trapped in the mud, he vowed to learn as much as he could about tides.

Don't worry, with some help from the Coast Guard, the boat was saved. After a few days of repairs, she was off to continue sailing.

The first thing I learned that I definitely didn't know what that laymen refer to tides as three different types: vertical, horizontal, and wave tides, also known as tidal bores. He explains that at Hall's Harbour in the Bay of Fundy on the east coast of Canada, it's a vertical tide, because the shore slopes off steeply.

The Bay of Fundy, apparently is the second deepest vertical tide in the world with a difference between high and low tide of 54.6 feet. Only Ungava Bay, 1200 miles to the north has a more significant vertical tide.

Now I know that the tide here at Comox Harbour in British Columbia, near where I live would be called a horizontal tide. And that's because the shores have a very shallow slope, and at low tide, there are miles a mud flats readily visible with birds landing and picking off whatever goodies they can find buried in the mud.

The author travels to the Ungava Bay in northern Canada where there is the largest vertical tide in the world. He goes with a local Inuit hunter to collect blue mussels under the ice during low tide, a hair-raising experience if ever there was one. The Inuit hunter warns him not to make any noise because the vibrations can cause the ice above them to collapse.

As the tide is rising at about one foot every twenty minutes, the author nervously collects some mussels and hopes he'll get out of that cave under the ice before he drowns.

A wave tide or tidal bore is, according to the book, when the rising tide floods upriver as a single wave. Who knew that? And that the largest tidal bores in the world are in China and in Brazil with those cultures having to deal with that on a regular cyclical basis.

The author travels to China to participate in their Bore-Watching Festival where more than a million tourists come each year to see the tidal bore on the Qiantang River, one of the largest tidal bores in the world. During certain phases of the moon, the bore can be 25-feet high, a massive destructive force.

As you read the book, you will come across all kinds of facts that will likely be new to you. It's clear that indigenous cultures around the world have had a good understanding of tides throughout history, even if they didn't have the technical language to describe them. Like the Inuit hunter mentioned above, understanding the tides often meant the difference between life and death.

There's an interesting passage on how the rising tide is much different in a place like the Georgia Strait--near me--between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island because of the jagged coastline geography than it is where the coast is smooth. The author explains that nothing stops the rising tide, so when it has to face a jagged coastline with lots of narrow inlets and passages, the rise is much more violent and white-capped.

White looks at the history of our understanding of the tides and current research on them. There is even a chapter on the science of whether we can harness the tremendous energy of tides and use it, and if so, how can we do that?

There is also a chapter on resonance and how interconnected bodies of water influence tides.

Tide science is extremely complex, and in the beginning of the book, the author talks to David Greenberg, a famous tide modelling scientist at the Bedford Oceanographic Institute in Nova Scotia, Canada. When asked to describe an "aha!" moment, Greenburg says, "I don't have 'aha' moments in this field, only 'oh god' moments when I find something that makes no sense."

As a marine aquarist, with a keen interest in marine life and recreating a closed, captive marine environment, I urge you to read this book.

Low tide at St. Peter Ording, Germany, which borders the North Sea.

Photo courtesy of @Seawitch from Storyblocks. ©2019 All Rights Reserved.


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Author Profile: Cynthia White

Cynthia received her BA in English from NYU a long long time ago. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. Now she is a writer and editor on staff at R2R, where her forum nickname is @Seawitch. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and three special-needs dogs. She's going to study the tide tables for her area today.