Book Review: “Mapping the Deep” by Robert Kunzig

“Mapping the Deep” is a book which draws you in to the realm of the deep sea – far from shore. Imagine looking out of the window into a sky filled with the sea, we are taken into the world of the abyss. The author describes the book as a portrait of our understanding of the sea- with its distinct focus on the distant and the unfamiliar making it such a pleasure to discover. Laurence Madin of WHOI describes this popular science book as “The best account of discovery in oceanography I’ve ever read” and the chapters which follow are just as inspiring to read.

mappingthedeep Space and the Ocean narrates the meeting of oxygen to hydrogen and the story of Albert Cheung, the graduate student who first observed water in space. The birth of the solar system and the possible role comets played in bringing water and organic matter onto the Earth are discussed to explain the origins the earth and its ocean basins. Then we start of on a wonderful narrative about the history of early bathymetric mapping and charting in Sounding the depths – from Charles Bonneycastle to the Challenger Expeditions to Atlantis. Introducing marine geologists Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen’s discovery of the V-shaped notch at the top of The Rift in the Atlantic and Hess’s concept of seafloor spreading; the chapter leads to a paradigm shift in earth science to the theory of plate tectonics. Their first bathymetric map of the ocean and its geological features are described in A Map of the World. Turbidity currents and their extraordinary impact on the abyss and the early remote sensing satellites prior to the advent of sonar lead to  Sandwell and Smith’s famous map of the oceans.The Seafloor at Birth goes on to discuss the history of multibeam sonar and the mapping of the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the quest to understand the birth of the seafloor.

From history of deep sea ecology and Edward Forbes to the Porcupine and Challenger Expeditions to discovering the deep sea trenches, all can be found in Kingdom of the Holothurians. Islands in the Deep is the chapter on seamounts and their biology as discovered by Alvin and deep sea scientists. Life at hot springs and hydrothermal vents are discussed with a string of discoveries of chemosynthetic organisms in Life on a Volcano. Fantastic, Glistening Jellies discovers the pelagic realm and together with Animal Lights discuss the discoveries of mid-water biology. Greening the Ocean discusses the “paradox of the plankton”and man-made iron fertilization. Anthropogenic impacts are discussed leading on to the problem of over fishing in The Twilight of the Cod, which provides a comprehensive overview of cod fisheries collapse off Newfoundland and New England. Where the Water Goes discusses thermohaline circulation and research cruises which have taken place to further understand these water masses. The Climate Switch dives into the realm of climate science and without giving away the ending, Time and the Ocean looks at the lifespan of the oceans and the biosphere in time.

Overall, this book is a must read for oceanographers of any discipline. Personally, I first read this book as a first year undergraduate student in Marine biology with oceanography and have very fond memories of it. It opened up a whole world full of deep sea oceanography, preparing me for lectures and the field. The book also provides a vibrant account of key developments in the field of marine geology, marine ecology and despite being over 15 years old it largely remains current account. It is highly recommended to popular scientists, students of oceanography and anyone who loves the sea. A Winner of Aventis Prize for Science Books 2001, Royal Society

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