Philosophers, Mariners, Tides

in Tides of History

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780226709321
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226709338 | DOI:
Philosophers, Mariners, Tides

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This chapter traces England's initial commitment to the study of the littoral environment. After an initial surge of interest in tidal theory following the founding of the Royal Society of London, Isaac Newton formulated a general theory of the tides based on his law of universal gravitation. Edmond Halley then searched out the tides, beginning in the Thames estuary and extending his study to the Atlantic Ocean as master and commander of the Paramore. The study of the sea shifted to the Continent, especially France, where Pierre-Simon Laplace and others made significant advances on Newton's achievements, formulating a hydrodynamic theory that still serves as the basis of tidal analysis. Newton's general theory marshaled several sets of tidal observations for support, but as explorers spread across the globe, his theory rarely held, or was held up, as an explanation. Naval captains such as Henry More and James Cook gathered observations of tides that contradicted Newton's theory, while others such as Charles Vallancey, a colonial engineer, and John Abram, a teacher of navigation, offered theories that were explicitly anti-Newtonian.

Keywords: England; littoral; tides; Isaac Newton; Royal Society of London; Edmond Halley; hydrodynamic theory; Pierre-Simon Laplace; universal gravitation; tidal analysis

Chapter.  14248 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental History

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