how-does-the-moon-cause-tides

How Does the Moon Cause Tides?

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

Water is a vital resource on Earth that composes over half of the human body. There is a finite quantity on the surface, appearing in various forms. Most of the water society interacts with derives from the ground or ocean.

The global ecosystem and the ocean are interconnected. Lunar cycles alter the tides, affecting various aspects of life. Before evaluating the ways tidal changes impact biodiversity, we must explore how the moon causes tides.

The Gravitational Pull

Most students learn about gravity in grade school. When you throw a ball up, it will always come back down. Like Earth, the moon has its own gravitational pull.

The moon’s pull is less effective than Earth’s, limiting its impacts on humanity. It is strong enough to move water, creating high and low tides. The oceans bulge in the direction of the moon, creating noticeable water displacement.

As Earth rotates, it also creates a parallel tide occurrence on the opposite side of the planet. The two high tide regions drain water from other parts of the ocean, creating low tides. Additionally, the sun plays a role in varying water levels.

The sun’s gravitational pull is stronger than the moons, and its extensive distances reduce its effects on Earth. When the sun and moon are in alignment during a full moon, both of their forces work together, creating extremely high spring tides. When the two make a right angle, they generate shallow neap tides during the first and third quarters.

Alternating tidal occurrences cause various effects on marine ecosystems. Species that reside in the intertidal zones experience extreme differentiations in habitat conditions throughout the day. The conditions influence the security of many plants and aquatic animals.

Intertidal Zones and Species

In the intertidal zone, species experience significant changes in moisture levels. The high tide may place plants and marine beings underwater for extended periods, challenging their adaptability. Low tides leave species in dry climates without protection from the sun for the remainder of the time.


Marine organisms and vegetation must remain flexible when it comes to their living conditions. Barnacles are an adaptable species that live in the intertidal zone. When the tide goes out, they trap water in their shells to survive above the waterline.  

Some fish also endure low tides by residing in tide pools. Rising global temperatures can decrease the reliability of the survival method. As the climate changes, the evaporation rate increases, depleting tidal pools and leaving marine animals without water.

Climate change derives from humanity’s interference with the environment. Other interactions also alter the tides, creating new tidal occurrences. As humans generate environmental degradation, the predictability of tides decreases.

Humanity’s Effect on Tides

The moon’s and sun’s gravitational pulls remain consistent as the Earth changes. When humans alter the planet’s topography, they interfere with the ocean’s ability to move freely. Dredging significantly changes marine environments, increasing the depth of rivers and other ship channels.

Altering the size of the ocean while water capacities remain consistent can change tidal occurrences. Widening the sea limits the water’s ability to bulge towards the moon. In some areas, the tidal range increases and coastal lines move underwater.

The Cape Fear River in North Carolina dredged its shipping canal, opening it up to more traffic. Deepening the channel doubled the tidal range in Wilmington, causing extreme high and low tides. The differentiation in water levels significantly impacts real estate and wildlife.

Expanding the intertidal zone may place certain species at risk of extinction if they are unable to adapt. High tides may also submerge beaches, flooding coastal homes and limiting livable regions. Fortunately, we can protect estuarial ecosystems and beachfront properties by preserving Earth’s natural tide cycles.

How We Can Protect Earth’s Natural Cycles

Society can reduce its adverse effects on tidal occurrences by increasing the eco-consciousness of infrastructural development and consumption patterns. We can minimize dredging by using Earth’s natural river compositions to support shipping. Additionally, we can decrease our reliance on outsourcing, limiting the need for shipping channels.

We may also increase the security of estuarial ecosystems by reducing the evaporation rate. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions improves the atmosphere’s stability. When we limit the enhanced greenhouse effect, the evaporation rate returns to its natural state.

Individuals can reduce their emissions by engaging in alternate forms of transportation. Fossil fuel-reliant vehicles produce air pollution during combustion. We can decrease emissions when using electric cars or human-powered transportation devices.

Using public transportation instead of personal vehicles also shrinks one’s footprint. Buses and trains generate air pollution, which is divided by each passenger, creating smaller environmental effects. When we reduce pollution in the atmosphere, we decrease the evaporation rate and preserve marine habitats.

Making a Change Today

Individuals can do their part to limit tidal changes by shrinking their carbon footprints. Working from home one day a week can significantly cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. You can also reach out to your local government officials, reducing future dredging projects.

The moon holds a significant amount of power over the tides. Human impacts are minimal, and they add up over time. Increasing your awareness of climate change effects can improve your preservation efforts, limiting environmental degradation.


Want more from Environment.co? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive our latest posts and exclusive content straight to your inbox.

About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.