Difference Between Waves,Tides, and Currents (With Table)

Our Mother Earth is covered with 71% of water present around the later landmasses. The presence of water on Earth is in its different forms, such as – rivers, lakes, sea, glaciers, oceans, etc. They are the sources of freshwater, saline water, brackish water, etc. The movement and flow of water in the different water bodies determine the various movements of oceans such as – Waves, Tides, and Currents. These are majorly dependent on the movements of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.

Waves vs Tides vs Current 

The main difference between waves, tides, and current is that waves are mainly influenced by the wind, tides are influenced by the gravity forces between the Sun, Earth, and Moon, while Currents are influenced by the temperature difference on the ocean surface.

Waves are known to be some oscillatory movements that result in the rise and fall of water. They may occur in the horizontal directions of the ocean also. Waves are mainly the energy produced by the winds. And the water particle of the ocean surface moves in a circular motion.

Tides are caused and influenced by the gravitational forces between the Sun, Earth, and the Moon. The pull and the centrifugal force which acts upon the Earth’s surface is the major cause of the tides forming twice a day. Tides are categorized on various bases such as frequency, magnitude, the position of the three-celestial body – Sun, Moon, and the Earth.

Currents in the oceans are formed because of energy produced by the winds, and the direction of their flow to a larger distance is known as ocean currents. The major factors leading to the formation of these oceanic currents are – winds, the difference in density, temperature, gravity, salinity, etc. Also, the Earth rotating on its axis, which causes the currents to move in an anti-clockwise manner in Southern Hemisphere and a clockwise manner in Northern Hemisphere. This effect is also known as Coriolis Effect.

Comparison Table Between Waves, Tides and Current

Parameters of Comparison





It can be stated as the energy that flows above the water surface.

It is defined as the changing level of the sea (rise and fall).

It is defined as the direction of the flow of the water body.


These are formed due to the wind that exerts forces on the water surface.

Formed because of the gravity forces between the Sun, Earth, and Moon.

As a result of temperature difference on the ocean surface.


These are influenced by wind factors.

These are influenced by the location and position of the Earth.

These are influenced by the winds, difference in temperature, and oceans’ surface topography.


Occurs regularly

Tides are formed twice a day.

Currents like El Nino occur after every few years.


Side to side

Up and Down

Counter-clockwise in Southern Hemisphere and vice-versa in Northern Hemisphere. Also, the effect is known as Coriolis Effect.

What are Waves?

Waves are only the energy that travels above the water bodies like – rivers, oceans, lakes, sea, etc. Waves can be measured by the length of their crest and trough. They are influenced by speed, distance, duration, height, etc. Waves are of various types to be mentioned – capillary waves, ripples. These waves travel at a long distance and sometimes take up to a height of 90cm. The disturbance in the influential factors leads to higher waves, tsunamis, etc., which affects humans and infrastructure.

It is said that no two waves are the same, and if they are considered to be the same, they share a common trait of height which can be measured with crest and trough.

What are Tides?

Tides are defined as the rise and fall of sea level, which is formed by the gravitational and centrifugal force between the celestial body – the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The reason behind the occurrence of these tides is the gravitational pull of the Moon when the Earth rotates. This leads to the rise of water levels in the water bodies. To be in brief, when the Moon rotates around the Earth, it feels some gravitational force, and the area experiencing the same is said to be hit by higher tides and vice-versa.

Tides can be distinguished on a varied basis such as – frequency, number of high and low tides, magnitude, and height, etc. And the factors responsible for these tides are the coastline shape, how is the alignment of the Sun and the Moon, and the tidal movement pattern.

What are Currents?

Currents are to be defined as the direction of the water flow. These currents occur in open water bodies such as – oceans, lakes, seas, etc. They are measured in terms of knots and meters per second. The major factor influencing these currents are the wind, thermocline difference, and the rise-fall of the tide.

Water sources that are present near the poles are said to have cold water than the water sources present at the equator. This difference in temperature is the cause of the currents formed. This is because the cold water sinks towards the equator, and the warm water currents move outwards and move from the equator to the poles replacing sinking water. 

Thus, the mixing of these warm and cold currents helps in restoring oxygen moving from one hemisphere to another hemisphere.

Main Differences Between Waves, Tides, and Current

  1. Waves are said to be the wind the moves across the water surface, tides are the rise and fall in the water level of the sea where on the other hand, currents are just the direction in which the water flows of the water body. 
  2. Waves are formed due to the wind, while Tides are formed due to the gravity forces between the three celestial bodies Sun, Earth, and the Moon. On the other hand, Currents are formed due to temperature differences above the ocean surface.
  3. Waves are influenced by the winds, Tides are influenced by the location and position of Earth, while Currents are formed because of the difference in densities, temperature, topography, etc. 
  4. Waves happen to occur regularly while Tides occur twice a day, and the Currents like El Nino are formed after every few years.
  5. Waves are directed sidewards; Tides are directed up and down while Currents are directed clockwise and anti-clockwise. 


Oceans are full of life. Many life forms exist within the oceans, river bodies. Oceans, the sea, is the greatest source of saline water, while Glaciers, Lakes, Rivers, etc., are the greatest forms of freshwater available. The various movements in the ocean are categorized as – Tides, Currents, and Waves. All three things are entirely different from each other. Their formation condition, and also, they are influenced by different factors.

The determination and measurement of waves, tides, and currents help the fishing person, fluent sailing of ships, boats, etc. Waves are more noticeable than the other two. And the occurrence of these are sidewards, up and down, and clockwise, anti-clockwise.


  1. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2011JC007387
  2. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jgrc.20146
  3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1243/14750902jeme50