Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Bringing the Thunder

The last two weekends in Maryland have started out with very powerful Friday evening storms. The derecho that took place last week was crazy.  Strong winds and powerful thunderstorms surged as they moved from the midwest to the Mid-Atlantic coast.  But I was inland for it.  I can only imagine what it was like here at the beach.  During a bad, long lasting storm, consistently strong winds would cause swells which, upon reaching the shore, could generate extremely high surf.  The energy generated by the wind is expended along the shoreline as the wave reaches it, so the higher the winds, the greater the damage that could occur.  But winds and weather aren't the only thing that have an impact on the coastline.  I was reminded of that the other night as I observed a beautiful full "Thunder Moon" over the Atlantic Ocean, and thought of the powerful effect it has on the Earth's tides.

The gravitational force that holds the earth and the moon together is generated from a common center of mass located in the earth.  But because this point is different from the center of the earth, it causes a slight wobble in the earth-moon system. The centrifugal force caused by this motion causes the water on the surface of the earth to bulge out on the side that is furthest from the moon. On the side closest to the moon, the gravitational pull from the moon itself is strong enough to counteract this centrifugal force, and so the water on this surface of the earth bulges out as well. Water underneath either of these bulges would naturally be deeper than the water that was located away from them, and as the earth spins on its axis, a point on the planet's surface will go from being underneath a bulge to not being underneath a bulge, respectively causing high and low tides.  

But the moon is not the only body in the solar system that has an effect on the tides.  The sun also has the same effect on the tidal bulges as the moon, and when the sun and the moon are in line with one another as they are during a new moon and a full moon (like the one that occurred just a few days ago), the effects combine to create even higher tidal ranges.  This rise and fall in sea level is a twice-daily reminder of how connected we are to things outside of our world.  Tide goes in, tide goes out.  Never a miscommunication.  You can't explain that.  Oh, wait, I think I just did.

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