Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/497

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481
A GLIMPSE THROUGH THE CORRIDORS OF TIME.

flow which we call the tides. Even the children with their spades and buckets know how the flowing tide will fill their moats dug in the sand and inundate their mimic castles. In the ebb and flow of the tide we have a mechanical engine of mighty power. I hope this evening to point out the wonderful effect which tides have had on the earth in times past, as well as the effect they will exercise in the future. It is the tides which are to reveal to us a glimpse through the corridors of time.

The cause of the ebb and flow of the tide has long ceased to be a mystery. In the earliest times it was noticed that the tides were connected with the moon. Pliny and Aristotle both refer to the alliance between the tides and the age of the moon. It is well known that the tides on our coasts sometimes rise to an unusual height. Those who dwell on low ground adjoining tidal rivers are painfully aware of this fact by the floods which are often produced. Such occurrences generally take place at the time of new moon or of full moon. At first quarter or last quarter the tides are even below the usual height. A fisherman who has to regulate his movements by the tides will know full well that at certain times the tides rise higher and fall lower than at other times. He brings his boat out on the falling tide, he brings it back on the rising tide, and, when making the harbor after a night's fishing, it would be natural to hear him say, "Oh, we shall run in easily this morning, there is a strong tide, the moon was full last night." Or if he had to cross a dangerous bank he would soon learn the difference between the spring tide and the neap. Fishermen are not much addicted to abstract reasoning. For many centuries, perhaps indeed for thousands of years, observant men might have known that the moon and the tides were connected. But they did not know any reason why this connection should exist. I dare say they did not even know whether the moon was the cause of the tides or the tides the cause of the moon.

Nor is it easy to explain the tides. We were all taught that the moon makes the tides. Yet I can imagine an objector to say, If the moon makes the tides, why does it give Bristol a splendid tide of forty feet, while London is put off with only eighteen? The true answer is, that the height of the tide is largely affected by local circumstances, by the outline of the coasts, by estuaries and channels. It is even affected to some extent by the wind. Into such details, however, I do not now enter: all I require is, that you shall admit that the moon causes the tides, and that the tides cause currents. In some few places the currents caused by the tides are made to do useful work. A large reservoir is filled by the rising tide, and as the water enters it turns a water-wheel. On the ebbing tide the water flows out of the reservoir, and again gives motion to a water-wheel. There is here a source of power, but it is only in very exceptional circumstances that such a contrivance can be worked economically. Sir W. Thomson, in his ad-