The Tilting Tides of Fundy
When Linda and I went on our first anniversary tour as a couple, she was keen to take me to Fundy National Park where she had previously explored as a young child on camping trips with her family. One of the big draws then, and still is, the amazing high tides of the Bay of Fundy that occur twice a day. The twice a day occurrence of course is not unique but the height of the tides in the Bay of Fundy sure is. When Linda and I did our tour, we met up with a friend of ours, Derek Dunphy, who went to university with us and had just graduated from engineering school. As part of our reunion in the park, we decided to see what these high tides were all about and planned a day trip from the town of Alma to see how far we could go out on the flats after the tide went out. Being smart engineers and recognizing the trek could be long and tiresome, we took a six-pack of beer with us to ensure our thirst would be quenched along the way. After going quite a long distance [> 2 km out] in our rubber boots on a hot sunny day, we decided enough was enough and sat down for our first beer. With our thirst quenched, we stood up and proceeded back to Alma with one beer gone and another in our hands. As it was sunny, the walk back was slower, aided by the fact we had to have a swallow every now and then. After finishing the second beer, we decided it was time for a proper break and found an old log to sit on and tell some war [university stories]. After the third beer, we were getting a little giddy and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. That was until I looked behind us and saw water rapidly advancing towards us and headed for the beach. Alas, the tide was coming in and coming in fast. We had no choice but to pick up the pace and keep moving towards Alma. By the time we reached the town, we had a good sweat on. What appeared to be a tranquil resting place to share a beer was long under very deep water and we were tired. The moral of the story is don’t underestimate the speed and extent of the Bay of Fundy tides as they have stranded many an unsuspecting tourist. So, why are the tides so high you ask! Well, it goes like this:
As mentioned above, the tidal cycle occurs approximately twice daily, or every 12 hours and 26 minutes to be precise. The Bay of Fundy is shaped like a funnel so as the water enters the mouth of the Bay, it continues up the bay to the narrower part of the funnel and climbs higher up the shoreline as it goes. In addition, there is a phenomenon called the “seiche” effect that comes into play. If you put water on a shallow tray and start the movement of water from one end, it is magnified in height at the other end due to the momentum of the water as it travels across the confines of the tray. The Bay of Fundy is in essence, a rather long, shallow tray. Now here is the fascinating part. It just so happens that it takes about 6 hours and 13 minutes for water to travel from the mouth of the bay to the end of the Bay at the Minas Basin and Petitcodiac River just downstream of Moncton. In other words, it matches the natural tidal cycle between low and high tide. So what does the unsuspecting tourist see from this combination of natural forces at work. The tide rises and falls by as much as 53 feet at the inner part of the Bay. As Fundy National Park is a little more than halfway up the Bay of Fundy, tides in the order of 30 feet are quite common.
Linda’s Note: The tides are a wonder worth exploring. Take waterproof boots and dress for cool weather when you are on the windy flats. Keep track of your time and where you are. Many a tourist has had to frantically climb cliffs in order not to be swept away by the sea. Sometimes, sadly, they don’t make it. Currently both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are exploring ways to harness the massive energy power of these spectacular tides. Some companies have tried putting in turbines but the tides chewed them up and spit them back. The turbines are controversial because the Fundy tidal ecosystem is essential to an incredible variety of marine life. The Fundy sea bottom was once thought to be relatively devoid of life. Scientists have discovered (and you can too) a rich ecosystem uniquely adapted to salt water rushing in and out.