Reaching Across the Waters (Directions in Development)

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When a storm first moves over one of the lakes, typically the temperature drops and the wind changes direction. This disturbs the water in the lake and causes it to move in the same direction the storm is moving. For example, when a storm moves from west to east, water is moved from the western side to the eastern end of the lake.

The water level in the eastern end of the lake is raised. This is called a storm surge.

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A surge can cause a difference in water level of several feet between both ends of the lake. Storm surges may cause seiches. The water sloshes from one end of the lake to the other a few times until the water level is returned to normal. This sloshing back and forth is called a seiche. Often a seiche can be spotted because the water level will be high along the shore and within a relatively short period of time, the water level will then drop, sometimes leaving bottomlands exposed.

Small-scale seiches and surges may not be noticed, but those that have significant water movement can:. In addition to causing damage to shorelines and structures, storm surges and resulting seiches may impact biology of lakes by pulling nutrients from sediments into the nepheloid layer the nepheloid layer is a turbid, nutrient-loaded, particle-rich zone above the lake floor.

Lake Erie water levels are deep at Buffalo, which is at the eastern end of the lake. The shoreline rises quickly to high ground. This limits problems caused by storm surges at the eastern end of the lake. However, boats and docks that are tied up can become damaged when the water level rapidly rises and falls, causing the boats to move around and bang against the docks.

The water is shallow and the land surrounding the western end of the lake is flat and lies at about the same elevation as the lake surface. During a storm, water in Lake Erie can move toward Buffalo in a large surge.

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When this water displacement happens, a large area of Maumee Bay, near Toledo, can actually dry up. Recreational boats docked in Maumee Bay have been known to sit on the lake bottom when this happens. Commercial boating is disrupted and the water supply for some towns is cut off as well.

When the water comes rushing back into Maumee Bay, boats and docks may be damaged. The rushing water may push boats underneath docks. In addition, when a water surge is pushed toward Toledo, the western end of Lake Erie water will spill out of the lake, flooding the land. Such floods have caused a lot of damage to property around Toledo.

Series EP Ohio Sea Grant. Bonanza for Lake Superior: Seiches do more than move water. Website accessed February 3, Author: Korgen, B.

Surges and Seiches

Waves can also form when a rapid shift in ocean water is caused by underwater earthquakes, landslides, or meteors that hit the ocean. These waves, called tsunami Figure Tsunami have small, often unnoticeable wave heights in the deep ocean. However as a tsunami approaches the continental shelf, wave height increases.

The wave speed is also slowed by friction with the shallower ocean floor, which causes the wavelength to decrease, creating a much taller wave.

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Many people caught in a tsunami have no warning of its approach. Tsunami warning systems are important for protecting for coastal areas and low-lying countries. Waves break when they get close to the shore. That is due to the wave's interaction with the sea floor. When the wave hits the shore, the energy at the bottom of the wave is transferred to the ocean floor, which slows down the bottom of the wave.

The energy at the top of the wave, in the crest, continues at the same speed, however. Since the top of this wave is going faster than the bottom, the crest falls over and crashes down. Wind is the primary force that causes ocean surface waves, but it does not cause the tides. Tides are the daily changes in the level of the ocean water at any given place. The main factors that causes tides are the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun Figure How does the Moon affect the oceans? Since the Moon is a relatively large object in space that is very close to the Earth, its gravity actually pulls Earth's water towards it.

Wherever the moon is, as it orbits the Earth, there is a high tide 'bulge' that stays lined up with the Moon.


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The side of the Earth that is furthest from the Moon also has a high tide 'bulge'. This is because the Earth is closer to the moon than the water on its far side. The Moon's gravity pulls more on the planet than the water on the opposite side. These two water bulges on opposite sides of the Earth aligned with the Moon are the high tides.

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Since ocean water is pulled higher in the areas of the two high tides, there is less water in between the two high tides. These areas are the low tides Figure The tidal range is the difference between the ocean level at high tide and the ocean at low tide Figure Some places have a greater tidal range than others.


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High tides occur about twice a day, about every 12 hours and 24 minutes. The Moon's gravity is mostly responsible for our tides, but the Sun also plays a role Figure The Sun is much larger than our Moon.

It has a mass about 27,, times greater than the Moon. A very large object like the Sun would produce tremendous tides if it were as near to Earth as the Moon. However it is so far from the Earth that its effect on the tides is only about half as strong as the Moon's. When both the Sun and Moon are aligned, the effect of each is added together, producing higher than normal tides called spring tides.

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Spring tides are tides with the greatest tidal range. Despite their name, spring tides don't just occur in the spring; they occur throughout the year whenever the Moon is in a new-moon or full-moon phase, or about every 14 days. They occur exactly halfway between the spring tides, when the Moon is at first or last quarter. This happens because the Moon's high tide occurs in the same place as the Sun's low tide and the Moon's low tide is added to by the Sun's high tide. Wind that blows over the ocean water creates waves. It also creates surface currents , which are horizontal streams of water that can flow for thousands of kilometers and can reach depths of hundreds of meters.

Surface currents are an important factor in the ocean because they are a major factor in determining climate around the globe. Currents on the surface are determined by three major factors: the major overall global wind patterns, the rotation of the Earth, and the shape of ocean basins. When you blow across a cup of hot chocolate, you create tiny ripples on its surface that continue to move after you've stopped blowing.

Because water in the ocean holds a large amount of heat, the ocean has a major effect on climate. When air in contact with the ocean is at a different temperature than the sea surface, heat transfer by conduction takes place. The ocean also absorbs and stores energy from the sun, and when precipitation falls, it releases heat energy into the atmosphere. Resources in this section include interactive online quizzes.

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