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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

JUNE, 1909




THE TIDES: THEIR CAUSES AND REPRESENTATION
By ROLLIN ARTHUR HARRIS

THE UNITED STATES COAST AND GEODETIC SURVEY, WASHINGTON, D. C.

Historical Note on the Tidal Problem

THE so-called problem of the tides has for ages engaged the attention of observing and thinking men. Before Newton established the law of universal gravitation, the whole subject was surrounded with an air of mystery, although the fact had long been recognized by many that in some manner the tides are governed by the moon or the moon and sun. Such views were held by Pytheas of Massilia, Seleucus of Babylonia, Posidonius the Stoic philosopher, Cæsar, Cicero, Strabo, Seneca, Pliny the elder, Lucan, Claudianus and Macrobius.

The ancients say little as to the agency whereby the moon is enabled to exert an influence upon the waters of the globe; but winds produced by the moon, vapors surrounding the moon and the special power of the moon to replenish moist bodies, are severally mentioned as being the probable means.

However, before Newton's great discovery, several philosophers had gone so far as to suggest or assert that the tides are due to an attractive force of the moon analogous to magnetic attraction. Among these were Scaliger, Gilbert, the College of Jesuits at Coimbra, Antonio de Dominis, Stevin and especially Kepler.

Of course, not all ancient or medieval theorists admitted the moon to be the cause of the tides. Some of the many other causes brought forward were: The discharging of rivers into the sea; variations in depths and densities of the sea; the surface of the sea not being everywhere upon the same level; the respiration of the earth; submarine caverns; submarine heat; submarine vapors, exhalations, or fermentations; power exerted by a supernatural being; whirlpools and eddies; and the non-uniform motion of the earth or of its various parts.