Changing Tides: The Role of Natural and Anthropogenic Factors

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Annual Review of Marine Science

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Tides are changing worldwide at rates not explained by astronomical forcing. Rather, the observed evolution of tides and other long waves, such as storm surges, is influenced by shelf processes and changes to the roughness, depth, width, and length of embayments, estuaries, and tidal rivers. In this review, we focus on processes in estuaries and tidal rivers, because that is where the largest changes to tidal properties are occurring. Recent literature shows that changes in tidal amplitude have been ubiquitous worldwide over the past century, often in response to wetland reclamation, channel dredging, and other environmental changes. While tidal amplitude changes are sometimes slight (< 1%) or even negative, we identify two types of systems that are particularly prone to tidal amplification: (a) shallow, strongly damped systems, in which a small increase in depth produces a large decrease in effective friction, and (b) systems in which wave reflection and resonance are strongly influenced by changes to depth, friction, and convergence. The largest changes in amplitude occur inland, some distance from the coast, and can sometimes be measured in meters. Tide changes are a leading indicator that the dynamics of storm surges and river flood waves have also changed and are often associated with shifts in sediment transport, salinity intrusion, and ecosystem properties. Therefore, the dynamics of tidal evolution have major implications for coastal management, particularly for systems that are sensitive to changes in geometry induced by sea-level rise and anthropogenic development.


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