How the Tides Really Work

Have you ever wondered how do the tides really work?  Well, you’re not the first person. This question has fascinated society for thousands of years.


In less than 3 minutes we’ll explain exactly how they work so you’ll never have to wonder again.


The tides have a huge impact on our lives, especially those who live close to the coast. And if you live near the coast in Ireland, chances are you check two things almost daily: The tides and the weather. 😊


So if you ask someone how the tides work, they might say something like this.


“The gravitational pull of the moon causes a bulge on one side that we know as high tide.”


A natural follow up question you might ask is “How do we get high tide on the other side of Earth then? Well……


Let's pause for a second and consider some astronomy.


Newton’s Law of Gravitation states that every object in the universe attracts every other object with a force called gravity. Take Sir Iassac Newton, he discovered gravity by watching an apple fall to the ground. This means that not only does Earth pull the apple down but the apple pulls on Earth a tiny bit too. The strength of this pull depends on two things.


1: How much stuff (or mass) the object has. Bigger objects like Earth have a stronger pull than the smaller apple does.

2: How far apart the objects are. The closer they are, the stronger the pull.


So even though your apple and the Earth pull on each other, Earth is so much bigger, so it’s pull is much stronger and that’s why your apple falls down.


So now, imagine the Earth as a big beach ball floating in a bathtub, and the Moon is a smaller ball nearby. The water in the tub represents the ocean.


  1. Moon's Pull: The Moon has its own gravity and it pulls on everything on Earth, including the water in our oceans. Because of this pull, the water bulges or stretches out towards the Moon. This bulge is what we call a "high tide."


  1. Opposite Side: Now, on the side of Earth opposite to where the Moon is, there's another high tide. This might seem weird, but think of it this way: the Moon is pulling Earth a bit towards itself, leaving some of the water behind. It's like squeezing the middle of a squishy toy and watching both ends bulge out.


  1. Spinning Earth: Earth spins around once every day. As it spins, different parts of the coast move through these two bulges of water, creating two high tides and two low tides each day in most places.


  1. Sun's Role: The Sun also affects the tides, but not as much as the Moon. When the Sun, Moon, and Earth are all in a line (like during a full moon or new moon), the Sun's pull adds to the Moon's pull. This creates even bigger high tides and lower low tides, called "spring tides." When the Sun and Moon are at right angles (first and third quarter moons), their pulls sort of cancel each other out a bit, leading to smaller differences between high and low tide, called "neap tides."


So, in simple terms, the tides are like big waves that rise and fall because the Moon (and a bit of the Sun) are tugging on Earth's oceans!


Now that you understand how tides affect oceans, you might wonder if rivers are affected by tides? And yes they are. If a river is close to an ocean and when the tide in the ocean rises, this will naturally increase the water levels temporarily. The river’s size, shape, depth and distance from the ocean determine how much water levels will be impacted by the tides.


You can check the tides in your area through apps like Surfline, Magic Seaweed or just a plain old Google search.


So the next time you hear someone ask how the tides work, you’ll know exactly how to answer.


Visit one of our 4 stores in Westport, Galway and Killarney. You’ll find everything you need to enjoy the water no matter what the tides are.


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