Tides: A Scientific History



If you ask most oceanographers what a Proudman function or a Doodson number is, you are likely to be met with blank looks—and yet these are terms central to the oldest concern of oceanography, the tides. Indeed, at one time tidal science was sufficiently prominent that those who studied it were called “tidalists,” a term coined by the same person (William Whewell) who invented the term “scientist,” and who was himself a tidalist.

The long and varied history of this part of geophysics has been examined by its leading expert, David Cartwright, in a narrative that extends from ancient Greek and Chinese ideas (already based on an impressive amount of empirical knowledge) to the latest results from satellite altimetry. As Cartwright points out, satellite data have essentially solved the long-standing problem of mapping the global ocean tides, and thus have in some ways brought tidal studies, if not to an end, to a point from which a retrospective look is appropriate.