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King tide is a popular term for an especially high tide, such as a perigean spring tide. ‘King tide’ is not a scientific term, nor is it used in a scientific context. Use of the term ‘king tide’ originated in Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific nations to refer to an especially high tide that occurs only a few times per year. The term has now come to be used in British Columbia and the United States as well.
King tides are simply the very highest tides. Conversely, the low tides that occur at this time are the very lowest tides. They are naturally occurring, predictable events. Tides are actually the movement of water across Earth’s surface caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of Earth which manifest in the local rise and fall of sea levels. Tides are driven by the relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, the elliptical orbits of the celestial bodies, land formations, and relative location on Earth. In the lunar month, the highest tides occur roughly every 14 days, at the new and full moons, when the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun are in alignment. These highest tides in the lunar cycle are called spring tides. The proximity of the Moon in relation to Earth and Earth in relation to the Sun also has an effect on tidal ranges. The Moon moves around Earth in an elliptical orbit that takes about 29 days to complete. The gravitational force is greatest when the Moon is closest to Earth (perigee) and least when it is farthest from Earth (apogee – about two weeks after perigee). The Moon has a larger effect on the tides than the Sun but the Sun’s position also has an influence on the tides. Earth moves around the Sun in an elliptical orbit that takes a little over 365 days to complete. Its gravitational force is greatest when Earth is closest to the Sun (perihelion – early January) and least when the Sun is farthest from Earth (aphelion – early July).
The king tides occur when the Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned at perigee and perihelion, resulting in the largest tidal range seen over the course of a year. Alignments that are ‘near enough’ occur during approximately three months each winter and again for three months in the summer. During these months, the high tides are higher than the average highest tides for three or four days. The predicted heights of a king tide can be further augmented by local weather patterns and ocean conditions. Winter king tides may be amplified by winter weather making these events more dramatic. In the northern hemisphere, the term king tide is used to describe each of these winter high tide events. On Australia's East Coast, the highest of each of these periods (i.e., one in winter and one in summer, totaling two per year) are known as the king tides. In this region of the world, the winter king tide usually occurs at night and therefore goes unnoticed. Consequently the summer king tide usually catches the most attention.
- NOAA National Ocean Service
- Tides and water levels, NOAA
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- King tides photo initiative - Australia
- King tides photo initiative - New South Wales, Australia
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