The Bay of Fundy in eastern Canadahas the highest tides in the world, anything up to 16 metres differencebetween low tide and high tide. And the effects of that show upin a few places around here. Like Hopewell Rocks, where I’m notstanding on a beach right now, I’m standing on the ocean floor. That’s how far the tide is out. Actually, I’m kind ofsinking into it. But in a few hours’ time, those rocks will behalf-way underwater,.
And if I stuck around, I would be drowning in very cold,very fast and very deep ocean. But I’m not going to do that! Instead, I’m going to go about40km that way, to– –Moncton. It’s the next morning,it’s very cold, and I’m flying a drone to try andget a shot of the tidal bore. This is one of the few places inthe world where, every high tide, a wave of water washes upstreamagainst the current. But the most obvious sign of the tidesaround here is in–.
–Saint John, at the Reversing Falls, where a massive rivermeets the Bay of Fundy at a narrow channelfilled with rocks and snags. This isn’t just a tidal river:it’s a tidal set of rapids. Calling it a “waterfall”is maybe a bit generous, but at low tide the waterdefinitely has a gradient, it drops a couple of metres in heightover a really short distance. And then a few hours later at– –high tide, the wholeflow reverses,.
And the river’s dropping a fewmetres in height the other way. And so the obvious question I had was: why has nobody turned that bayinto a power station yet? Actually, question number one:why are the tides so high here? To answer that, I’ll use thebathtub in my hotel room. For this “scientifically-rigorous”demonstration, the Bay of Fundy is representedby the bathtub, and the Atlantic tides and allthe unimaginable pressure created by megatonnes of wateris represented by…
…my arm. So. Moon pulls on the ocean, tidecomes in, pressure gets applied, and a wave heads down the bathtub,the Bay of Fundy, and bounces back. ‘Cos it’s not like the waterall rises simultaneously. It takes time, and yes, the scalehere is colossally different, but you still get a wave effect, a reflection, and a troughthat follows the wave. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. And that will always takeroughly the same time.
To go up and bounce back, it’ll be affected a little bit bythe weather and water temperature. So what happens when thenext tide comes in? If I time each push to go withthe wave that’s already there, then very quickly, you start seeinga resonant frequency, and a lot of power… Wah! That worked way betterthan I expected it to! The resonant frequency of theBay of Fundy is roughly 12½ hours,.
The same as the tidal cycle.Combine that with geography that’s less like a bathtuband more like a funnel, getting tighter and tighteras that wave comes in, and you have the highest tidesin the world, right there. The power is immenseand it’s obvious. And if it could be harnessed,then it’d be reliable and renewable. Intermittent, sure,but on a schedule that would be simple for the gridto predict and plan around. So why aren’t there tidal power stationsall around the Bay of Fundy?.
Well, the answer is: it’s been tried.A lot. Usually in the– –Minas Basin, where several companies have put millions and millions of dollarsbehind technical trials. And every time, the Bay of Fundybreaks the turbines! 2009: a turbine was “torn apart”. 2010: two blades “broken off”. 2018: “damaged beyond repair”. Turbines in these waters haveto be light enough to spin, but strong enough to resisthigh speed salt water.
That carries huge amounts of sedimentand big rocks along with it, and in winter, enormouschunks of sea ice. Oh, and that’s before we evenstart talking about the concerns from First Nations peoplesand commercial fishing operations that maybe putting a load ofgiant spinning things in the water might cause some problems for fish. But people are still trying, there aremore experimental turbines planned. Can it be done? Maybe.
I thought about doing long interviews with the tidal power companiesand their opponents around here, but those interviews would havesounded the same twenty years ago. And the result would have just beena much longer way of saying: maybe. If it can ever be done,safely and reliably, it’d be brilliant,I hope that happens. But there’s also a decent chancethat the Bay of Fundy is just going to tear theturbines apart again,.
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