What is a Proxigean Spring Tide?

The Moon follows an elliptical path around the Earth which has a perigee distance of 356,400 kilometers, which is about 92.7 percent of its mean distance. Because tidal forces vary as the third power of distance, this little 8 percent change translates into 25 percent increase in the tide- producing ability of the Moon upon the Earth. If the lunar perigee occurs when the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth, it produces unusually high Spring high tides. When it occurs on the opposite side from the Earth that where the Sun is located ( during full moon) it produces unusually low, Neap Tides. The High, High Tide is called the Proxigean Spring Tide and it occurs not more than once every 1.5 years. Some occurrences are more favorable that others.

A very interesting book "Tidal Dynamics" by Fergus J. Wood, published in 1986 by Reidel Publishing Company, talks at great length about these tides, and their environmental consequences.

Because of the gravitational nature of the interaction between the Earth, the Moon, and the water on the Earth, there is a curious amplification event called 'evection' that occurs when the Moon is at its closest 'perigee' distance called its 'proxigee'. The Moon draws even closer to the Earth than its ordinary perigee distance. Because of the complex dynamics of the Earth's oceans, their inertia, friction with the ocean floor, internal viscosity and the distribution of the continents, the maximum tides do not always coincide with the optimal times of proxigee. Still, these tides can produce enormous damage when all factors come together optimally. There are many recorded instances of unusually high storm or coastal flooding during the proxigean times. On January 9, 1974 the Los Angeles Times reported 'Giant Waves Pound Southland Coast".

During the last 400 years, there have been 39 instances or 'Extreme Proxigean Spring Tides' where the tide-producing severity has been near the theoretical maximum. The last one of these was on March 7 1995 at 22:00 hours Greenwich Civil Time during a lunar Full Moon. There were, in fact cases of extreme tidal flooding recorded during these particular spring tides which occur once every 31 years.

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