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Arctic Tides: Encyclopedia Arctica 7: Meteorology and Oceanography
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Arctic Tides

EA-Oceanography
(Jonas Ekman Fjeldstad)

ARCTIC TIDES

The first attempt to give a survey of the tides in the arctic regions
was made by Rollin A. Harris in his “Arctic Tides” (1911). But the available
tidal information was at that time very meager, and the results naturally
uncertain, since no Observations from the Siberian coast were known. The pat–
tern of cotidal lines which he drew for the Arctic Sea has not been confirmed
by later observations.
Important tidal information was gathered by the Norwegian North Polar
Expedition with the Maud , 1918-1925. The scientific leader of the expedition,
Dr. H. U. Sverdrup, made tidal observations at Cape Chelyuskin, Aion Island,
Cape Serdts Kamen, and Four Pillar Island, and besides these observations the
expedition also carried out numerous observations of tidal currents, and some
attempts were also made to determine tidal range on the shelf by means of
hourly soundings.
The observations from Cape Chelyuskin and Aion Island showed conclusively
that the cotidal map of Harris could not be correct. A new system of cotidal
lines was constructed by the present writer in 1923, and H. U. Sverdrup also
drew a system of cotidal lines for the shelf. Still the tidal information
from the arctic regions is very incomplete, and it is not safe to draw cotidal
lines across the Polar Sea. Some details of the propagation, however, may
be given.

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

Semidiurnal Tides in the North Polar Sea
The semidiurnal tide-producing potential vanishes at the Pole and obtains
only small values in the whole Polar Basin, for which reason the tides orig–
inating in the Arctic Sea will be small and almost negligible. The observed
semidiurnal tides, therefore, must be due to waves propagated from adjacent
waters. Since Bering Strait is too narrow to be of importance, the tides
from the North Pacific will not be perceptible except in the vicinity of Bering
Strait and the semidiurnal tides in the Polar Sea must be closely related to
the tides of the North Atlantic.
The North Atlantic and the Polar Sea are in communication through Baffin
Bay, through the wide opening between Greenland and Spitsbergen, and through
the Barents Sea. The tidal wave which propagates through Baffin Bay will
possibly control the tides in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, but is not likely
to be of much importance in the Polar Sea itself. The Barents Sea is shallow
and almost cut off from the Polar Basin by the shallow banks which extend from
Spitsbergen to Franz Josef Land and on to Novaya Zemlya. Furthermore the de–
flecting force of the earth’s rotation tends to concentrate the tidal wave
along the northern coast of Russia. The wave that passes between Novaya Zemlya
and Franz Josef Land will, therefore, be unimportant, as is seen by comparing
the tides at Cape Flora and Teplitz Bay. The tidal hours are 5.97 h. and 2.06 h.,
respectively. The tidal hour at Cape Flora indicates that the tide at this
place is connected with the branch of the tidal wave which passes across the
Bar e nts Sea. This is seen if we compare the tidal hour at Cape Flora with the
tidal hours at places in Novaya Zemlya, where at Byellushya Bay we find 5.74 h.
and at Krestovaya Bay 5.53 h. The tidal wave at Teplitz Bay, on the other hand,

EA-Oc. Fjeldatad: Arctic Tides

is evidently connected with the tide on the north coast of Spitsbergen.
The deep and comparatively wide opening between Greenland and Spits–
bergen is the chief communication between the Atlantic and the Polar Sea.
It is, therefore, certain that the semidiurnal tide which is observed in
the Polar Sea is almost entirely derived from the tidal wave which is
propagated through this opening.
The propagation of the semidiurnal tidal wave can be seen by a com–
parison of the tidal hours at different places. The tidal hour means
Greenwich time for high water of the component in question. It is found
by dividing the phase angle X by 30 and adding the West Longitude of the
place expressed in time. In Table 1 we have collected the tidal hours of
the components M 2 and S 2 together with the phase difference S ° 2 - M ° 2 . The
table is divided into four different sections. In the first part of the
table we follow the increasing values of the tidal hours from the northern
coast of Spitsbergen to Maud Harbour, Cape Chelyuskin. In the second part
are represented the tidal data belonging to the Kara Sea branch of the tidal
wave. The tidal hours seem to indicate that the tidal wave here comes from
the north. The third part of the table shows the propagation of the Norden–
skiöld (Laptev) Sea branch of the tide to the Lena Delta.

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

Table 1
Station M 2 M ° 2 S 2 S ° 2 THM 2 THS 2 S ° 2 -M ° 2
Port Virgo 41.4 38° 14.3 70° 0.55 h. 1.6 h. 32°
Mosel Bay 35.0 87 13.1 121 1.82 3.0 34
Treurenberg Bay 28.0 99 10.7 150 2.16 4.9 51
Sveanor 25.1 92 11.1 138 1.85 3.4 46
Brandy Bay 28.0 83 10.0 135 1.47 3.2 52
Teplitz Bay 15.5 178 6.4 229 2.06 3.8 51
Maud Harbor 12.6 324 5.0 3 3.76 4.1 39
Zarya Harbor 17.7 26 8.2 99 6.53 9.0 63
Port Dickson 8.55
Nerpalakh Lagoon 7.3 25 4.6 91 3.90 5.9 66
Sagastyr 9.30
Bykhov 7.1 316 4.2 14 1.90 3.9 58
Tiksi Bay 11.8 15 8.9 65 3.90 5.6 50
Dashka Island 3.0 55 2.1 102 5.30 6.8 47
Bennett Island 35.0 137 6.61
Flaxman Island 6.7 354 2.7 37 9.53 11.6 43
Point Barrow 5.2 336 2.1 16 9.65 11.0 40
Aion Island 1.7 347 0.9 35 0.33 2.0 48
Four Pillar Island 1.0 60 0.5 110 3.17 4.8 50
Pitlekai 2.5 184 1.0 240 5.71 7.6 56
Cape Serdtse Kamen 3.9 221 1.5 307 7.81 9.7 77

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

In the last part of the table we follow the increasing values of the tidal
hour from Bennett Island to the northern coast of Alaska and across the
Siberian shelf to Aion Island and Four Pillar Island. We see that the wave
is propagated very rapidly across the deep Polar Basin from Spitsbergen to
Cape Chelyuskin so that the time interval between high water at Port Virgo
and Maud Harbor is 3.2 hours. The distance between the two places is 1,965 km.,
giving an average velocity of propagation of 165 meters per sec. If we
compare this with the simple formula <formula>c = √(gh)</formula> we find that the velocity cor–
responds to a mean depth of 2,770 m. In reality the depths must exceed 3,000 m.
Such depths were also found by Nansen.
The difference between the tidal [: ] hours of Port Virgo and Point Barrow
is 9 hours. This is more than we should expect, for the distance between Port
Virgo and Point Barrow is about 3,200 km., and the time of propagation would
be only 6 hours if the wave were propagated across an uninterrupted deep polar
basin with a depth of about 3,000 m. This point was one of Rollin A. Harris’
strongest arguments for the assumption of a large tract of land in the Polar Sea.
The time difference between Port Virgo and Aion Island is 11.8 hours. At
Four Pillar Island high water takes place 2.8 hours later than at Aion Island.
These tidal hours are best explained if we assume that the tidal wave is
propagated across the shelf in a southwesterly direction.
On the other side of the polar basin along the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
few observations of the tide have been made.
From the northern coast of Greenland and Grant Land we have some observa–
tions made by Peary’s expedition. The tidal hours vary, with apparent ir–
regularity, probably indicating the influence of the tidal wave from Baffin Bay

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

through Kane Basin and Robeson Channel. The two stations lying farthest away
from the entrance to Robeson Channel are Cape Morris Jesup, on the northern
coast of Greenland, with the tidal hour 0.68 h., and Cape Aldrich, on Grant
Land, with the tidal hour 0.31 h.
The Canadian Arctic Expedition under the leadership of V. Stefansson, 1913-1918,
observed the tide at several points along the coast of the continent eastward
frost Alaska to Amundsen Gulf, and also on the open shores of the Polar Sea on
Banks Island and in the vicinity of Ellef Ringnes Island (3). The results are:
Collinson Point: spring range, 0.60 ft.; neap range, 0.20 ft.; establishment
of port, 0 h.18 m.. Demarcation Point: spring range, 0.72 ft.; establishment,
12 h.14 m.. The tidal hours are 9.95 h. and 9.23 h., respectively. The ob–
ervations at Cape Kellett gave as results: spring range, 0.43 ft.; neap range,
0.40 ft.. The establishment could be determined only approximately and the
result was 9 h.50 m.. If this be correct, the tidal hour is 5.63 h.
The propagation of the tide on that part of the Siberian shelf to the
north of the New Siberian Islands can be followed by the results of the hourly
soundings. In Table 2 we have arranged the results according to increasing
values of east longitude.
Table 2
Lat. M 2 M ° 2 TH Remarks
I 76°39 139°40 50 cm 31° 3.7h July 23-25, 1924
II 76 16 142 15 51 58 4.4 July 12-16, 1942
III 75 46 143 25 (55) - (5.0) Fade e vski Isl. Aug. 13, 1924
IV 76 30 143 58 49.7 89 5.4 July 2-3, 1924
V 76 18 144 08 72 95 5.6 July 6-8, 1924
VI 76 41 149 05 35 137 6.61 Bennett Isl., 1881
VII 74 40 166 29 11 159 6.2 May 1-2, 1923
VIII 74 26 167 45 13 153 5.9 April 25-26, 1923

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

In this ta lb bl e are also included the results from Bennett Island and the result
of an observation from Fadeevski Island, which serve as a check on the results
of the hourly soundings. We remark that the results from station I, II, and IV
agree completely in regard to the amplitudes, and that the result from Fadeevski
Island also confirms these results, which give larger tidal ranges than those
found elsewhere in the Polar Sea. Station V gives a still greater amplitude,
but this may possibly be erroneous, and to some degree be a result of the
ship’s motion above a sloping bottom.
The table indicates that the tidal hours change rapidly in this region.
This fact is easily explained when we take into account that the depth on
this part of the shelf is only some 20 meters.
The direction of propagation in this region is about S. 80° E., as indi–
cated by the results of current measurements.
In the region to the east of Bennett Island the direction of propagation
is more southerly, and across the shelf the direction must be toward the south–
west.
In the East Siberian Sea the direction of propagation must also be toward
the southwest. The tidal wave is here stron g ly affected by frictional resistance
and the amplitude in reduced from 12 cm. at the edge of the shelf to about 2 cm.
at Aion and only 1 cm. at Four Pillar Island. The time necessary to cover the
distance across the shelf to Aion Island is 6 hours. The distance is about
530 km. and so the velocity of propagation will be about 24 m. per sec..
Diurnal tides
In Table 3 we have compiled all the available harmonic constants relating
to the components K 1 and O 1 in the arctic regions. In the first column of the

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

table is given the western longitude of the station expressed in time. The
first part of the table gives the harmonic constants for places along the
eastern side from the northern part of Norway, Svalbard, and Siberia to
Alaska. The other part of the table gives the harmonic constants for some
places along the coast of Greenland and Grant land.
Table 3
Station Long. K 1 K ° 1 0 1 0 ° 1 THK 1 THO 1
Bodø 23.04 10.3 208° 3.9 32° 12.91 h. 1.17 h.
Kabelvåg 23.03 10.5 212 3.9 54 13.16 2.63
Bear Island 22.72 5.4 230 4.4 66 14.05 3.12
Port Virgo 23.29 2.7 225 1.2 12 13.62 0.08
Mosel Bay 22.93 7.0 245 2.7 72 15.26 3.73
Treurenberg Bay 22.88 7.3 270 2.1 70 16.88 3.43
Sveanor 22.78 8.7 271 1.2 78 16.85 3.98
Teplitz Bay 20.14 3.0 26 1.2 49 21.85 23.42
Zarya Harbor 17.66 3.6 3 2.4 8 17.86 18.19
Maud Harbor 16.97 4.8 24 2.0 4 18.16 17.25
Nerpalakh Lagoon 14.86 0.6 293 0.3 350 10.39 14.19
Four Pillar Isl. 13.17 0.6 12 0.4 76 13.97 18.24
Aion Island 12.81 0.4 355 0.4 12 12.48 13.61
Pitlekai 11 . 57 1.5 53 1.2 63 15.10 15.79
Cape Serdtse Kamen 11.44 1.5 77 1.3 64 16.57 15.70
Point Barrow 10.44 1.5 347 1.5 20 9.55 11.76
Flaxman Island 9.77 2.4 7 2.7 45 10.25 12.72

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

Station Long. K 1 1 0 1 1 THK 1 THO 1
Jan Mayen 0.56 3.4 97 6.1 49 7.00 3.85
Denmark Isl. 1.75 8.7 65 9.3 35 6.08 4.08
Little Finsch Isl. 1.41 11.8 75 7.6 25 6.41 3.08
Cape M. Jesup 2.24 7.6 340 5.7 312 0.93 23.03
Cape Bryant 3.70 9.8 286 4.3 262 22.77 21.15
C. Sheridan 4.08 4.9 298 2.7 278 23.95 22.63
Polaris Bay 4.12 12.2 246 4.6 209 20.51 18.04
Fort Conger 4.32 8.5 222 5.8 199 19.12 17.59
Cape Aldrich 4.67 5.2 311 3.4 281 1.36 23.36
If we fix our attention on the component 0 1 we see that the phase is
everywhere less than 90° for the stations along the coast from Alaska to
Svalbard. The tidal hour increases from about 12 hours at Point Barrow to
18 hours at Maud Harbor, and 23.5 hours at Teplitz Bay. [Pitlekai and Cape
Serdts Kamen are situated near Bering Strait, and the tide here is possibly
influenced by the tidal wave entering the Polar Basin from the North Pacific.
These places are, therefore, not taken into account in the following discussion.]
The difference of approximately 12 hours between the tidal hours of Point
Barrow and Svalbard indicates that the wave is mainly generated in the Polar
Basin itself and that it is a somewhat retarded equilibrium tide. In a circum–
polar basin like the Arctic Sea the ideal tidal hours will differ little from
the western longitude of the place expressed in time. From the table we see

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

that the tidal hours and the longitude run nearly parallel for 0 1 .
The great value of the phase angle 76° which we find at Four Pillar
Island is explained by the location of the island. The sea here is very shal–
low and, owing to frictional resistance to the currents, the wave will probably
b e of a progressive character across the shelf. The difference between the
tidal hours at Aion Island and Four Pillar Island is too great, but we have
to bear in mind that the tide here has a very swell amplitude so that the
results are probably affected by relatively large erro r s.
The tidal hour for the stations on the northern coast of Greenland and
Grant land show the influence of the tide wave from Baffin Bay, which enters
the Polar Basin through Kane Basin and Robeson Channel.
For the component K 1 the tidal hour and the longitude correspond fairly
well along the coast from Point Harrow to Teplitz Bay, but from there to Port
Virgo we again find decreasing values of the tidal hour. Thus we find for
Treurenberg Bay 16.88, Mosel Bay 15.26 and Port Virgo 13.62.
These tidal hours are closely connected with the tidal hours in the Nor–
wegian Sea. The diurnal wave K 1 enters the Norwegian Sea through the passage
between Scotland and Iceland, and another branch enters through Denmark Strait
between Iceland and Greenland. The observations are too few to trace the
propagation of these two waves in detail, but the principal progress of the
waves can be seen. The tidal hour for K 1 at Thorshavn, Faroe Islands, is
9.5 h., at Bergen we find 10.98 h., at Bodø 12.90 h., and Port Virgo 13.62
hours, These figures indicate that the wave is mainly of a progressive char–
acter. The other branch of the wave may be traced at Denmark Island, Little
Finsch Island, and Jan Mayen, where the tidal hours are 6.08, 6.41, and 7.00,
respectively.

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

These two waves must Interfere in the strait between Svalbard and Green–
land, and so the tidal hours at Port Virgo, and possibly also at Cape Morris
Jesup, are influenced by this. The tidal hour at Cape Morris Jesup may also
be influenced by the wave which enters through Robeson Channel.
Tidal Currents.
The shelf region north of Siberia presents unique conditions for the
investigation of tidal currents. In the winter time the rigid ice cover is
only slightly affected by the tidal motion, and there are no disturbances by
surface waves. The Maud was in possession of a number of Ekman current meters,
but these instruments were not well suited for use in the Arctic during the
very low winter air temperatures. Dr. Sverdrup, with the assistance of the
aviator, Odd Dahl, succeeded in constructing an electric registering current
meter, which could be left in the sea for weeks at a time, and which regis–
teredd the velocities and the direction of the currents on deck. This current
meter was put in operation in the spring of 1923, and during spring and summer
they obtained several long series of current measurements from a fixed depth.
The hydrographic conditions on this part of the shelf are characterized
by nearly homogenous water from the surface down to a depth of same 30 meters.
Then comes a transition layer with rapidly increasing densities, and a bottom
layer with more homogeneous water. The frictional resistance caused by the
ice cover reduces the velocities in the upper layer, so that the greatest
current velocities ordinarily are found in the transition layer. Near the
bottom the velocities are again reduced by frictional influence.
The current meter was operated in depths where from experience the greatest
velocities were to be expected.

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

In Table 4 we give the results of some of the measurements during the
spring and summer 1923.
Table 4
Series Lat. N. Long. E. V 1 V 2 T X TH
1 74°12′ 168°50′ 16.4 −14.8 260° −75° 9.4
2 74 20 168 33 14.6 −13.0 243 −83 8.9
3 74 24 168 12 9.9 −8.0 241 −66 8.8
4 74 40 166 24 18.6 −14.3 236 −94 8.8
5 75 24 166 00 8.7 −8.3 243 −78 9.0
In this table, V 1 is the maximum velocity and V 2 the minimum velocity of
the component M 2 . T is the phase angle and X the direction of the maximum
current. (−75° means S. 75° W.)
The results are naturally affected by relatively large errors with respect
to the angles T and X since the current ellipses are nearly circular.
At spring tide the velocities reach values of some 30 cm./sec.
In the summer of 1924 the Maud vas drifting with the ice along that part
of the shelf which lies to the north of the Hew Siberian Islands. Here the
tidal currents are considerably stronger and are able to break up the ice into
smaller ice floes which to some degree are carried along with the tidal cur–
rents. Measurements of the ice drift indicated the existence of tidal currents
which sometimes amount to more than 40 cm./sec.
The current measurements which were made during the summer of 1924 were
combined with measurements of the ice drift, and thus it was possible to find
the distribution of the velocities with depth.

EA-Qc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

We give here the results of three such series of current measurements
(Table 5). On June 30, 1924, at longitude 143°53′ E., latitude 76°34′ N.,
the depth of the sea was 36 meters and the Ekman current meter was working
at depths of 15, 23, and 31 meters. The measurements were continued during
one tidal period. It is seen that the velocities show a decrease toward the
bottom, indicating the influence of friction.
Table 5
Depth V 1 V 2 T X TH
0 17.2 −8.8 53° −6° 4.2
15 14.4 −9.0 42 −23 3.8
23 14.5 −7.2 71 31 4.8
31 10.1 −0.2 72 44 4.8
Observations made on July 23, 1924, at longitude 139°40′ E., latitude
76°39′ W., provide one of the few instances when the surface drift of the ice
and the surface elevation have been determined simultaneously. Thus it is
possible to obtain a comparison between the observed amplitude and the ampli–
tude which can be computed theoretically from the observed velocity.
Table 6
Depth V 1 V 2
0 26.5 −15.9 −5° −29°
12 24.1 −14.2 −7 −27
20 14.3 −8.1 −12 −22

EA-Oc. Fjeldstad: Arctic Tides

The computed velocities agree fairly well with the observed values.
The computed angles can not be directly compared with the observed values,
since the angle in the theoretical solution is reckoned from the time of
high water, and the orientation of the current ellipse is reckoned from the
direction of propagation of the tidal wave.
The influence of the stratification of the sea on the tidal currents
is demonstrated by a series of current measurements in the region to the
east of Bennett Island in May 1923. The current meter was shifted at sev–
eral depths and the currents thus determined. It was found that the
velocities were strong at a depth of 40 meters, but decreased rapidly toward
the surface and toward the bottom.
Sverdrup explained this distribution of velocity by assuming that the
eddy viscosity was great in the upper layer, where the water was homogeneous,
and also in the bottom layer, but that the viscosity nearly vanished in the
transition layer, where the stability is great. But the stratification is
also favorable for the formation of internal waves, which might to some degree
be responsible for the velocity distribution. The conditions for studying
the dynamics of tidal waves and currents are very favorable in the shelf
region of the Arctic, and one might wish that new arctic expeditions would
take up such investigations.
Jonas Ekman Fjeldstad
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