Recently, there has been a lot of information about "King Tides" (i.e, perigean spring tides) on the news with a number of groups relating the peak king tide to future normal conditions (2050) under sea level rise scenarios along the east coast of the United States.

The effects on the magnitude of the tides are obvious when we compare normal tides (OSU model results for a day in 2010) http://earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/8508/the-motion-of-tides

with the recent tides for the entire planet (spring tides): October 19, 2016.

While most of the difference is associated with the spring tides, about 2-3% is associated with the relative position of the Moon.

My question is related to the recurrence interval of perigean spring times. Some sources mention that they occur 3-4 times a year. If that is the case, then why such a focus on the mid-October 2016 event?

Another related question, which constituent of the tide is associated with the perigean/apogean oscillations?

  • $\begingroup$ As you can see here there is no sygyzy on that date. $\endgroup$
    – user6402
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ spring tides do not happen exactly at sygyzy. There is always a delay. $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ Who said it was only a few hours? $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/8956/… $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 2:48

1 Answer 1


The perigean spring tides arise when the spring tide occurs during the time of shortest distance between Moon and Earth. As the full moon on October 15-16, 2016 occurred near perigee, then it can be consider a "supermoon" even if the difference in Moon size was not that great. The fact is that the October full moon was not even the largest of the year; that will occur in November:

The November 14, 2016 full moon – closest and largest full moon is 2016 – will also be the largest full moon thus far in the 21st century (2001 to 2100). It’ll be the closest encounter between the Earth and moon until November 25, 2034.

Thus, the mid-October was exceptional in a sense, but will be surpassed by the November event.

With regard to the effect on tides, the combination of the $M_2$ and $S_2$ tidal constituents gives rise to the spring/neap cycle. Meanwhile, the $N_2$ tidal constituent arises from the fluctuating distance of the Moon from Earth and its frequency is 1 cycle/month less than that of $M_2$ and 3 cycles/month less than that of $S_2$.

We can resynthesize a time series of tidal elevation maximum amplitude of tide based on only these three tidal constituents ($M_2$, $S_2$, and $N_2$). The resulting time series of amplitudes has an envelop that shows the size of the spring tides. As can be seen in the figure, even including only these three constituents, the resulting variability in the size of the spring tides (12 years shown) is pretty high. The problem is how to define "king tides". There are some spring tides that are larger than others, but even among the largest there is variability. This is where the uncertainty on the definition of the recurrence interval of the "king tides" comes from. Ultimately, it seems that having ~2 peaks ("king tides") per year is a good approximation. Including 3 constituents is a significant simplification and the entire series gets more complicated when additional constituents are included and defining a "king tide" is also more difficult.


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