© 2000 Ellen J. Prager with Sylvia A. Earle
Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, constituting a vast and largely unknown world of its own — vitally important to ours, but scarcely explored and barely understood. Beneath the placid (but sometimes storm-tossed) surface lay valley with depths that have never been plumbed; volcanic mountains; great beasts whose size staggers the imagination, and creatures so bizarre that they could just as easily hail from another world. The Oceans is a brief but substantial introduction to this fascinating and vitally important element of our planet.
Life began in the oceans, albeit in very different waters from the ones we delight in today. Prager opens the book with a history of ‘evolution’s drama’, following the growth and divergence of life through th Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, ending with our own Cenozoic. The oceans have been home to a marvelous variety of life throughout the ages, and the authors devote the rest of the book to understanding the current oceanic environment, examine its chemical, geologic, and biological aspects in turn. Even those of us who don’t live near a coast experience the ocean’s effects on our lives, through weather; a separate section covers hurricanes, monsoons, El Niño effects, sea level changes, and the increasing impact of global warming. Given how much of our economies — indeed, planetary life itself — depends on the health of the seas, an understanding of them is crucial, especially for those in political and economic leadership. Unfortunately, humans — not known for being the most farsighted of creatures — have been steadily destroying that environment for decades. In “A Once-Bountiful Sea”, the authors examine the kinds of damage being done, but offer some encouragement in the fact that some governments are taking the issue seriously, if only out of economic reality and not out of concern for the global environment. The final chapter looks to the future of oceanography, for what we know is dwarfed by what we don’t; only 95% of the ocean have been explored. The best is yet to come.
While the subject is fascinating by itself, and utterly relevant, Ellen Prager also proves to be an excellent guide through the oceans, not drowning the reader in details but still delivering depth. She proves talented at explaining fundamental processes in a lucid way — for instance, showing how waves worth. She’s the author of several other books (Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: the Ocean’s Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter; Furious Earth: the Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis, among others), and I’ll definitely be looking into them in the future.
- Virtually anything by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.