The dynamics of an energetic tidal channel, the Pentland Firth, Scotland

Matthew Easton, David Kevin Woolf, Peter Bowyer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    52 Citations (Scopus)


    Shelf tidal stream velocities are accelerated by nearshore geographic features, such as headlands and islands. In the search for sustainable forms of electrical energy generation, such locations may become attractive for tidal stream power developments. For some prospective tidal stream energy sites, however, little is known about the intricacies of the local tidal dynamics: knowledge which is crucial to the understanding of the resource and the potential environmental consequences of its extraction. In this paper a two dimensional hydrodynamic model is used to investigate a complex tidal strait, the Pentland Firth (Scotland, UK). This channel, considered one of the most promising tidal stream energy sites in the world, is set for extensive development over the coming decade. We show that the tidal stream velocities that regularly occur within, and up to 20-km beyond the Pentland Firth, are accelerated above that of a free shallow-water wave. The primary mechanism for these accelerations is hydraulic in nature, associated with a large shift in tidal phase. Tidal streaming around headlands and islands further promotes conversion from potential to kinetic energy. We calculate a mean energy flux into the Pentland Firth from the North Atlantic Ocean of 8.97 GW. Changes in tidal amplitude and phase along the strait are associated with a reduction in energy flux, such that the majority (~60%) of the incoming energy is lost within the Pentland Firth through bed friction. Localised geographical factors complicate the tidal dynamics of the Pentland Firth, therefore detailed modelling is the only means with which to accurately characterise the environmental conditions in this channel. Of more general oceanographic significance, this example shows that high levels of tidal energy dissipation are associated with energetic tidal straits. Energy losses in these straits may contribute significantly to balancing the energy flux onto the continental shelf from the deep seas.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)50-60
    Number of pages11
    JournalContinental Shelf Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012


    • tidal dynamics
    • Pentland Firth


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