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The (Bristol) tide machines: the role of machines in understanding, monitoring, and predicting the complex tidal rhythms of the earth's oceans for scientific, political and commercial purposes

Jones, O (2012) The (Bristol) tide machines: the role of machines in understanding, monitoring, and predicting the complex tidal rhythms of the earth's oceans for scientific, political and commercial purposes. In: RGS-IBG Annual Conference, 3 - 5 July 2012, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Abstract

Tides are fundamental and extraordinarily powerful forces which wash across the earth's oceans, having particularly marked effects in various coastal locations. Their poly-rhythmic flow and ebb - repeatedly inundating and revealing areas of intertidal terrain - has been critical to the evolution of life itself, to hunter-gather, agrarian, trading and industrial (coastal) communities. Tides affect coastal topography, sea navigation and terrestrial journeys, conquest and defence, urban and rural land use. They pose challenges to coastal management, flood protection, resource extraction, landscape/ecology conservation, and provide key ecological, recreational commercial assets through ecosystem services. Although the basics of tidal science developed rapidly after Newton's revelation of the forces of gravity and planetary motion, tides are dauntingly complex in process detail, and in detail of spatio-temporal variation due to interacting factors, such as prevailing atmospheric conditions, and thus, importantly, in terms of prediction. Various machines have been devised and deployed for recording tidal rise and fall as a means of longitudinal study of their multiple rhythms. One of the most famous operated in the port of Bristol (UK) in the mid-late 19th century. Results from this machine, delicate pencil lines plotted on huge rolls of paper, were critical to developing understandings of tides and related phenomena. A model of this machine now sits in storage in Bristol's Science Museum, while other modern tide recording devices remain at work in the city (as elsewhere). The paper explores how the Bristol tide machines, and other tide recording/tracking devices (such as tide clocks), have been embedded in scientific/commercial networks in pursuit of ever more precise understandings and predictions of tidal patterns. A series of examples will be drawn upon, illustrating the precise tidal predictions needed in a number of historic and contemporary engineering/logistical/military/planning processes. The machines struggle to tame the liveliness and unruliness of this, at the broad scale, very predictable, rhythm of nature, monitoring and calibrating it for the purposes of hybrid engineering of the social.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
Date Deposited: 26 May 2015 12:36
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2016 13:28
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