Tides vs Waves: Difference and Comparison

Oceans cover about 71% of the earth.  They are never still.  If you are looking towards the sea from land, it will look like the ocean is stagnant. But this is not the truth! The ocean is continuously in motion.

The oceans are great reservoirs of minerals, energy, and gases. Water can hold heat much more efficiently than air.  Thus, ocean water absorbs 90% of the energy it receives.

Oceans are very complex and are less understood than the weather. The main reason we can know so little about the sea is that it is more difficult to explore than land.

The principles of physics and chemistry create ocean movements. Different types of movements are influenced by temperature, density, salinity, etc. The sun, moon, and winds also affect ocean water movements.


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Some of the major movements of ocean water are:

  1. Waves
  2. Tides
  3. Ocean Currents

Key Takeaways

  1. Tides are long-period water level changes caused by the gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun. In contrast, waves are the periodic movement of water particles in an oscillatory motion.
  2. The coastline’s geography influences tides and the depth of the water body, while the wind generates waves, and the size of the waves depends on the wind’s strength.
  3. Tides can be predicted accurately based on astronomical data, while wave prediction is more challenging and relies on wave height measurements, wind speed, and direction.

Tides vs Waves

Tides are regular, cyclic changes in the level of the ocean caused by gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun. Waves are disturbances propagating through a fluid, such as water or air, and energy transformation. Factors, including wind and earthquakes, cause ocean waves.

Tides vs Waves

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonTidesWaves
DefinitionTides are the rise and fall of ocean water caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moonWaves are formed because of the winds blowing over the surface of the ocean.
LocationTides are seen at the deep oceanWaves are seen in shallow areas of the sea
FormedTides occur because of the rise and fall of sea levelsWaves occur because of factors connected to wind and water and their interactions with each other
Place of occurrenceTides happen only in oceansWaves happen in any water body
Time of occurrenceTides occur twice a dayWaves occur every time because of the movement of the wind
IntensityAffected by the position and location of the Sun and Moon concerning the EarthAffected by wind strength

What are Tides?

Just as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west and stars come out at night, the ocean waters will rise and fall along the shores of the water body.  Tides are one such phenomenon which is the most reliable in the world.

Tides are the rise and fall of ocean water, which are caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Moon. This rise and fall of tides play a vital role in nature and affects maritime activities.

Tides originate in the oceans and proceed towards the coastline, where they appear to rise and fall regularly on the sea’s surface. 

The movement of the tides depends on the forces exerted by the Moon and Sun. It also depends on the position of the Sun and the Moon about the ocean when the Earth is rotating on its axis.

Tides can be of two types of tides-High Tides and Low Tides.  The wave’s highest part(crest) is called a high tide when it reaches a particular location, and the lowest part(trough) corresponding to this is called the low tide.

A cycle of tide takes about 24 hours and 50 minutes.  Certain places have only one low and one high tide in a cycle. High tides sometimes happen before or after the Moon is in a line overhead. It occurs on a new moon day or a full moon day.   

Tides are caused by the Moon’s gravitational pull, which generates tidal force. This is because the Moon is much closer to the Earth and thus has more power to pull the tides.

The tidal force bulges out the Earth and its water to the faces closest and farthest from the Moon.  Such bulges of water are called high tides.

The position of the Sun around the Moon also has a role in causing tides. When the Sun and the Moon are in the same line, they strengthen each other’s gravitation and thus create larger tides known as spring tides.

Smaller tides are called neap tides.  These happen due to the Sun’s gravitational force when it is at a right angle with the Moon. 

Tides can be tracked to predict when a high or low tide will occur.  Nearshore water level gauges use networks.


What are Waves?

Waves occur when the wind moves across the water’s surface.  The friction between air and water molecules sculpts the seawater into crests transmitting energy from the wind to water, thus causing waves.

When waves touch down on the shore, they impact the land by moving huge amounts of sand and shaping out rocky coastlines. Huge waves like Storm waves can move boulders above, thus leaving a huge mass hundreds of feet inland.

Waves form a series of crests and troughs.  The peaks of the waves are the crests, and the low valleys are troughs. The wavelength, wave period, and wave frequency describe a wave.  Water moves in a circular motion when a wave travels.

The size of surface waves depends on the wind’s speed, how long it blows uninterrupted, and the area over which the wind is blowing. Waves come in all shapes and sizes. Small waves are called ripples which grow less than one foot high. 

Large waves happen on big expanses of water, which affect the wind.  These large waves are an attraction for surfers, even though occasionally, the waves become just too big to surf.

Some places famous for large waves are Waimea Bay in Hawaii, Mullaghmore Head in Ireland, etc.

Some big waves which don’t happen near the land are Rogue waves.  They are formed during storms and are extremely unpredictable.  They look like huge walls of water to the sailors, and no one knows how and what causes these rogue waves.

Tsunami waves occur when a disturbance on the earth’s surface, like an earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption, reaches the sea’s surface. When the tsunami reaches the shore, it slows down the contact with the bottom of the sea floor. 

The leading part of this slowing down causes the remaining waves to pile up behind it, causing an increase in the height of the wave. 

Tsunami waves are only a few feet high and travel through the deep ocean.  Their speed and wavelength cause a change in the heights when they slow down at the shore.


Main Differences Between Tides and Waves

  1. The basic difference between Tides and Waves is in their definition itself.  Tides are the rise and fall of the water on the surface of the sea influenced by the gravitational forces of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.  Waves are formed by the movement of wind on the wave’s surface and the transfer of energy by the friction between the air and water molecules.  
  2. Tides are influenced by the Sun, Moon, and the Earth, whereas Waves are influenced by the action of wind on the surface of the sea.
  3. The intensity of Tides is based on the gravitational force of the Sun and the Moon when the Earth is rotating on its axis. Still, Waves’ intensity depends on the wind’s speed, the wind, the duration of the wind, and the area across which the wind is blowing.
  4. The energy generated in Tides is kinetic and potential, whereas the energy generated in Waves is kinetic.
  5. The height of Tides could range from 0-52 feet, whereas the height of Waves could range from 1-30 feet.
  6. Waves occur almost throughout the day because of the movement of the wind, whereas Tides occur mostly twice a day with a duration of 12 hours 35 minutes.
Difference Between Tides and Waves
  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=41dSAAAAcAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA243&dq=tides+and+waves&ots=yKh4T6-LNN&sig=DrKcIvFyMiqKasuZyYQikKa7TA4
  2. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rsta.1971.0091
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