Probably the most famous scientific sea voyage was that of Charles Darwin in the _Beagle_ from 1831 to 1836. Darwin's findings, after many years of cogitation and hesitation, were the foundation of his _Origin of Species_, but the _Beagle_'s voyage was not one primarily dedicated to science. It was by a naval ship bound for exploration but also for territorial annexation. From 1872 to 1876, however, HMS _Challenger_ circumnavigated the globe for no purpose other than getting scientific information, especially about the sea. In _The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger_, Richard Corfield has told the story of this remarkable voyage, but has also taken extraordinary leaps into the science the voyage sparked well into our current century. It is an inspiring story of the importance of pure science.
_Challenger_ was originally a warship, but for its new endeavor, most of its guns were removed to make way for laboratories. The corvette was changed to the first scientific exploration vessel the world had seen. It was a ship on the cusp, with both sails and steam. There was a naval staff to run the ship and the sounding and dredging apparatus, and also the "scientifics," the boffins who were to make the scientific investigation and documentation. There are many first findings reported here, like the "manganese nodules" (which are composed of more than manganese), balls of metallic rock which litter the sea floor like potatoes. The way such stones are formed is still a matter of dispute, but they are of serious interest now to oceanic mining conglomerates. Professor Corfield has told the story of the voyage in sequence, but, as with his section on plate tectonics, he frequently jumps ahead for a century to tell what has been found since the _Challenger_. Just when the reader might be close to an overdose of scientific detail, Corfield lightens the story with quotations from the journals of the members of the crew to reflect on the danger or the tedium of the work.
The official report of the voyage of the _Challenger_ occupied 50 volumes, the last published in 1895. Corfield explains that the voyage laid the foundations for current theories of climate change, global warming, continental drift, and much more. "Its importance can hardly be exaggerated," he says, and part of the appeal of this volume is that _Challenger_'s legacy of discoveries in the twentieth century are so well laid out. But Corfield stresses also that _Challenger_ was a milestone in the history of humanity, a first voyage for knowledge for its own sake. One of the most appealing characteristics of our species, the quest for satisfaction of curiosity, was manifest on this first voyage. It was the start of a grand tradition of oceanic and aerospace exploration.