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The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger Hardcover – 29 Aug 2003
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_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.
"The Silent Landscape" outlines the voyage of the HMS Challenger, one of the most important sea voyages to date. Not only does Corfield outline the voyage, he stops along the way, and punctuates the discoveries of the Challenger crew with brilliant descriptions of the technology used at the time, the personal trials undertaken by the crew, and the conditions of life aboard the ship.
Students of oceanography will no doubt be familiar with the Challenger. Anyone with even the remotests interest in the subject would do well to read this book. Not only informative, Corfield's writing style is pleasant and the layout of the work economical and extremely well done.