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REVIEWS: THE SILENT LANDSCAPE

The Sunday Times



In Deep Waters

The Sunday Times
Published May 23, 2004



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: IN THE WAKE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    John Murray, £20, 285 pages
    
    
    In 1872 the steam corvette HMS Challenger set out from Portsmouth on an ambitious quest to explore the oceans.
    The distinguished marine scientist Richard Corfield now recounts the facts of the journey again - the loss of crew overboard (as well as desertions and diseases), the adventures in ports of call, the storms of the Southern Ocean, the glassy waters of the Pacific. He gives a good sense of the ship's main task: the dredging and the trawling, the endless running out and hauling in of thousands of feet of piano wire.
    Such is his enthusiasm for marine science that Corfield does not limit himself to Challenger's legacy. He cannot resist a digression into the Gulf Stream and how it works, or the mass of floating sargassum kelp that gives the Sargasso Sea its name. He also explores the strange phenomenon of methane hydrates.

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The Times Literary Supplement



Cruising for Crinoids and Cucumbers

The Times Literary Supplement
Published February 25, 2005



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: IN THE WAKE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    John Murray, £20, 285 pages
    
    
    If all the Richard Corfield had done was to present the Challenger expedition to the modern reader by clever editing of contemporary accounts, he would have written a good book and inspired a new generation of oceanographers. What makes The Silent Landscape outstanding is that he has interspersed the accounts of Challenger's long-dead heroes with chapters that bring their legacy fully up-to-date.
    Richard Corfield provides many such examples of the mighty edifice which grew from the sure foundation's laid by the iron men crammed into Challenger's wooden hull. A parable of the talents for the 21st century, The Silent Landscape is a book of which Wyville Thomson would been proud.

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Nature



Making Waves

Nature
Published May 13, 2004



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry/John Murray, $24.95/£20, 304 pages
    
    
    Richard Corfield has elected to give us a short, readable volume that combines an abbreviated version of the expedition, snapshots of personal accounts of some of its participants, modern perspectives on selected scientific problems, and reflections on modern research vehicles in ocean drilling and space that have adopted the Challenger's name.
    The book is an entertaining and informative combination of history and modern science.
    One characteristic of a successful book is that one puts it down longing for more …The Silent landscape is indeed successful. It provides the history and excitement of an epic voyage in the context of modern developments. It does so in a brief and readable form, and leaves ample scope for deeper explorations of such rich historical material.

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Oceanography



The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger

Oceanography
Published June, 2004



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press, $24.95, 272 pages
    
    
    In The Silent landscape, scientist and science writer Richard Corfield relates the story one of most important scientific expeditions of the 19th century, an expedition that would forever change the way we view the world's oceans. The story concerns the three-and-one-half year voyage (1872-1876) of HMS Challenger, the incredible scientific discoveries made during the voyage, and the triumphs and tragedies of Challenger's bold and dedicated crew. It is a wonderful story, and the author knows how to spin and good yarn.
     In writing his book, Corfield draws upon the astonishingly comprehensive 50-volume scientific report of the expedition, as well as the personal diaries and memoirs of a cross-section of the crew members including a terrestrial naturalist, a junior engineering officer, an navigation officer, a British aristocrat, and an assistant ship's steward. From these accounts, Corfield is able to recreate the personal, and human side, of this remarkable expedition. The result is a great adventure story, one that captures the insatiable and sometimes reckless curiosity of the 19th century spirit.
    The Silent Landscape is not meant to be a scholarly text, but rather an engaging collection of essays about the nature the world's oceans, written for the general reader. By tying these essays to the narrative history of the Challenger expedition, the author places the expedition in the context of 20th-century ocean discovery will crafting a book that is both informative and entertaining.
    As a practising scientist and researcher, Corfield has worked extensively investigating the influence of climate change on the geologic record and on the evolution of oceanic microplankton. In the Silent Landscape however, he focuses on communicating the fun and a mystery of science to the nonscientific public.

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Science



First Views of the Depths

Science
Published November 7, 2003



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: THE SCIENTIFIC VOYAGE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press, $24.95, 272 pages
    REVIEWED BY WILLIAM A. BERGGREN
    
    Portsmouth, England, provides many obvious reminders of Britain's rich maritime heritage, including the Royal Naval Museum; the Victorian navy's crown jewel, HMS Warrior; Admiral Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory; and Henry VIII's favourite warship, the Mary Rose. But visitors may overlook another link between the city and naval history, the December 1872 departure of HMS Challenger on her 3.5 year circumnavigation of the globe for "the primary purpose of gathering scientific information." In The Silent Landscape, Richard Corfield presents an engaging account of this epochal voyage, which was to forever change our view of the nature and history of the oceans.
    To weave his intriguing tale, Corfield (an Earth scientist and writer based Oxford University) draws on the voyage's 50-volume scientific report and the diaries and memoirs of the ships crew and researchers. He sketches the science-politics that led, in under two years, to the approval, funding, and staffing of the expedition. Of the voyage's several objectives, Corfield suggests that the most important may have been to find support for Darwin's theory of descent with modification by proving his idea that living fossils inhabit the ocean depths. This goal may help explain why the Challenger expedition had the same significance for the English Victorians is the Apollo moon landings had for Americans a century later.
    Perhaps the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of this slim volume is the deft manner in which Corfield alternates between the expedition's many original discoveries and our present understanding of the same phenomena. (The latter relies heavily on findings from the Deep Sea Drilling Project, 1968-1983, which used the vessel Glomar Challenger, and the subsequent Ocean Drilling Program.) For example, dredging - a tedious drudgery that eventually lead to desertion of a quarter of the original 269 crew members - quickly revealed the presence of a plethora of life forms well below the 300-fathom (approximately 550 m) limit to life postulated by Edward Forbes, a finding that permanently laid to rest the "azoic" theory of a barren, lifeless, seafloor. After discussing this discovery, Corfield presents a condensed history of oceanographic instrumentation: thermometers, water flasks, dredges and beam trawls for collecting seafloor sediments and biota, and a succession of devices for determining ocean depths (from weighted piano wire to modern multibeam sonar).
    Corfield follows the course of the voyage to Gibraltar; back and forth across the north Atlantic; south and east to Cape Town, Antarctic waters, Australia, and New Zealand; north to Japan; across the Pacific to Hawaii and Chile; and home by the Straits of Magellan. He takes up various topics as they are raised (or approached) by the Challenger's findings. Three seminal discoveries came from the traverse of the north Atlantic: the first was manganese nodules, which are now known to form extensive deposits at depths below 3 km. The second was the Mid-Atlantic Plateau (now Ridge), which elicits a felicitous digression by Corfield on plate tectonics and continental drift. The third was the shallow-to-deep order of "pteropod ooze," "globigerina ooze," and red clay. Although the researchers could not explain this pattern, they had documented the calcium carbonate compensation depth and depth-controlled role of carbonate dissolution in the geographic distribution of sedimentary facies on the seafloor. Charles Wyville Thomson, the expedition's chief scientist, believed that the globigerina ooze formed in situ. But by the end of the cruise, the young naturalist John Murray had convinced him that globigerinids live in the surface waters, their shells sinking to the bottom after they died. Having introduced the reader to planktonic foraminifera, Corfield then briefly reviews their use in palaeoceanographic and palaeoclimatic studies (from the observations of Wolfgang Schott in the late 1920s to the CLIMAP project of the 1970s and 1980s).
    At several points along the journey, Corfield digresses from the ship's course. Although Challenger did not enter the Mediterranean, the author recounts the desiccation of that sea 5.5 million years ago (a 1970 discovery of GLOMAR Challenger). Wyville Thomson and his colleagues were turned back by icebergs after reaching 61 degrees south, but Corfield continues south to discuss the vast (10,000 sq km) Lake Vostok, buried under 4 km of ice in Antarctica. For there, he proceeds to the search a possible life in the ice-covered ocean of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Later, the Onycophoran Peripatus that the expedition collected in New Zealand provides the author with a link to the Cambrian Burgess Shale fauna.
    After describing the Challenger's discovery of the deepest part of the world's ocean (now known as the Challenger deep in the Mariana trench), Corfield recounts the exploits of William Beebe's bathysphere and Auguste and Jacques Piccard's deep submergence vehicle Trieste. As he approaches the end of the voyage, the author discusses the French-American FAMOUS project of the 1970s and its discovery of hot vents along mid-ocean ridges. He also summarises the story of the Mohole Project and its eventual evolution into the Deep Sea Drilling Project (which early in its history proved beyond doubt the reality of continental drift and seafloor spreading, the framework of plate tectonics).
    Corfield concludes with a short summary of the post-return lives of the expedition's main figures. After Wyville Thomson's early death, John Murray edited the entire official report of the scientific results. Murray paid considerable sums from his own fortune to see the report's conclusion. This may have been appropriate, as much of his money came from the guano deposits he had noticed on Christmas island in the Moluccas. Before his death in 1914, his company paid royalties to the British government that surpassed the entire cost of the Challenger expedition. The sad fate of the ship itself is one of the many interesting topics that the author covers on his website.
    The meticulously edited text shows careful attention to detail... I heartily recommend The Silent Landscape to all persons, professional and lay alike, who have an interest in maritime history or the Earth or ocean sciences – or who simply possess an abiding intellectual curiosity.

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    The reviewer is in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA and the Department of Geological Sciences at Rutgers University, NJ.

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The Los Angeles Times



No Sweat: The Adventure Under Our Feet

The Los Angeles Times
Published February 3, 2004



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: THE SCIENTIFIC VOYAGE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press, $24.95, 272 pages
    
    
    In December 1872, HMS Challenger steamed out of Portsmouth, England, on an epic four-year circumnavigation of the globe, armed with a mandate to reveal the mysteries of the silent landscape beneath her fragile keel.
    Drawing upon diaries of both the "scientifics" and the humble "bluejackets" below decks, Corfield augments his tale of Challenger's research with 20th century developments in oceanography, biology, physics and paleontology. Discoveries abound. We deconstruct the riddle of the Bermuda Triangle and the kelp-choked Sargasso Sea, decode the messages of bioluminescent deep-sea denizens and unravel clues to Earth's "library of time" locked in the fossil-rich ooze of abyssal sediments.
    Modern studies of volcanism, continental drift, tectonic plates and global warming -- today's hot Big Science -- derive from the groundwork laid by a handful of dedicated men aboard a small sailing ship named Challenger, proving that exploring natural science may be the grandest adventure of all.

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The Seattle Times



The Seattle Times
Published November 23, 2003



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: THE SCIENTIFIC VOYAGE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press, $24.95, 272 pages
    REVIEWED BY DAVID B. WILLIAMS
    
    Humans have been sailing around the oceans for thousands of years, but it was not until the 19th century that an expedition was organized to explore what lay beneath the surface, in particular, what lay at the bottom of the oceans. Beginning in 1872 when it sailed from Portsmouth, England, the crew of the HMS Challenger spent the next four years sailing more than 69,000 nautical miles, charting the depths of the seas. Their discoveries, including the deepest spot on the planet, an immense chain of underwater volcanoes and unexpected diversity of life, added more evidence to the validity of the theory of evolution and laid the groundwork for one of the other great theories of science, plate tectonics.
    In "The Silent Landscape," geologist and science writer Richard Corfield mixes journal information from expedition members with details from the scientists' 20-volume report to tell the tale of the Challenger, whose expedition Corfield calls the world's first sea voyage devoted exclusively to science.
    Despite the fact that, unlike many recently popular books based on expeditions, few people die, no great errors occur and no heroic leaders emerge, Corfield's story still is engaging, although those with a scientific bent will find it more illuminating than others. In addition, he shows how the Challenger's discoveries influenced modern science by describing current theories and discoveries in oceanography and marine geology.
    The HMS Challenger expedition marked several turning points in the history of science and religion. It was the last great voyage of the Victorian era. It helped lay to rest "the belief that secular questions can be answered by religion." It showed that science and the search for knowledge were worthy of government funding. And it opened up nearly two-thirds of the planet to exploration that continues to this day. As such, the expedition deserves to be included on the short list of great British voyages. Corfield's book is the first step in that journey.

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The Washington Times


www.washingtontimes.com


Combing ocean floors for the planet's secrets

THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published September 28, 2003



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: THE SCIENTIFIC VOYAGE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press, $24.95, 272 pages
    REVIEWED BY DUNCAN SPENCER
    
    To the good maxim "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" might be added that too much knowledge is also a peril — such is the case in this extraordinary book about the ocean floor by Oxford professor Richard Corfield.
    There can be no doubt that Mr. Corfield knows about what he is writing — the remarkable mysteries of that unexplored majority of our world under the ocean. A few sentences like the following example will suffice: "Oxygen-isotope temperature measurements of foraminifera," he writes, "agreed well with the fauna-abundance method of temperature determination near the tops of cores but as one went deeper, significant discrepancies began to appear." Thanks, professor, as we say now, for sharing.
    In fact Mr. Corfield knows so much about the ocean floor and exploration of same that he seems hell-bent on driving home point after point, no matter how difficult to understand or even to translate from lab-talk.
    But it is the particular charm of "The Silent Landscape" that the wads of pure science can never quite bury what is a fascinating story, and a new one. The ocean floor has barely been probed by man; work over the next 100 years will undoubtedly double scientific knowledge of the planet's structure and history, knowledge which is now locked in that deep, undisturbed library far beneath the waves.
    Take the theory of continental drift — the idea that the land masses, apparently so solid, so terra firma, are themselves floating relatively free and moving all the time. As Mr. Corfield points out, and every schoolchild is told, the continents and the entire crust of the earth rides on a molten core not unlike molten lava. And where the masses meet and crash together, one slides under the other in accordance to certain laws. Luckily it is a process which takes hundreds of thousands of years.
    One side of this book, then is a scientific treatise; the other is the history of the first truly modern attempt to gather data and check theories about the "silent landscape" of the oceanic floor, the 1872 Challenger voyage, a British government program, an historic first. The British sent out a small ship, peopled with scientists, equipped with tools, and manned by Navy sailors, to see what could be found of the floor of the world. The Challenger's task, among others, was to try to prove or disprove Charles Darwin's hypothesis "that contemporary life arose from more primitive ancestors."
    Challenger also assembled data still useful in the study of today's hot topic, global warming, though the evidence is hardly as conclusive as adherents of the warming theory would like. Evidence from the glaciers of Antarctica and other information suggest that there have been a series of warming — and cooling — episodes in the long history of life on the planet, though the cause of each episode is not clear.
    Darwin, of course, was right, and his famous voyage on HMS "Beagle" will always overshadow the Challenger exploration, even though it was Challenger's accumulation of data that finally "Laid to rest the belief that secular questions can be answered by religion," Mr. Corfield writes.
    The linkage between these two stories - the first about the science of sub-aquatic exploration, the second being a narrative, written much like an expanded ship's log, of the Challenger's 69,000 mile, three and one half year voyage — is often abrupt and mannered, as if Corfield knew exactly how much science a reader could take before turning to the more hearty and human story of the men who sailed Challenger and their vicissitudes.
    Challenger literally scoured the oceans of the world, using miles of piano wire and a small dredge to retrieve samples of the ocean floor at every navigable latitude. Using crude devices, the "scientifics" on board and the sailors labored to sample and catalogue every depth and condition of the seabottom. It was a work of incredible tedium, combined with unavoidable terrors,as the ship was struck by gales, threatened by icebergs, its crew weakened by desertions and deadly accidents.
    The result, Mr. Corfield notes, was a mass or raw knowledge that laid the basis for most current continental theories, including such current subjects as plate tectonics, the discovery of vast undersea manganese deposits, climate change, warming theory and more. "In truth, its importance can hardly be exaggerated," he concludes.
    Yet the exploration of the ocean floor has never won the glamor of the exploration of space, even though it is clear that much more of immediate practical value to human life lies hidden under the water than in the void of the heavens. Result: a lively sense of jealousy and resentment between the two branches of science, with the undersea people grinding their teeth while government billions are spent to explore space.
    This is not a new phenomenon, as Mr. Corfield points out. The massive report of the Challenger voyage, 50 volumes written by John Murray, the most famous of the scientists involved, would have remained unfinished as the British treasury had tired of funding it a few years after the voyage ended successfully. Murray soldiered on alone, supporting the publication with his own fortune — a fortune he made as a direct result of the voyage.
    It turned out that Murray had noticed the high phosphate content of certain deposits in the Moluccas Islands. He acquired mineral rights and turned the deposits into fertilizer, and considerable wealth. On such twists and turns does the history of ocean science — and Mr. Corfield's unique telling of it — depend.
    
    Duncan Spencer is a writer in Washington.

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Natural History Magazine



The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger

NATURAL HISTORY MAGAZINE
Published October, 2003



THE SILENT LANDSCAPE: THE SCIENTIFIC VOYAGE OF HMS CHALLENGER
    By Richard Corfield
    Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press, $24.95, 272 pages
    REVIEWED BY LAURENCE A. MARSHALL
    
    The nineteenth century, no less than the age of Columbus and Magellan, is notable for its voyages of exploration. A search of Amazon.com returned nearly thirty entries for books about Darwin's travels with the HMS Beagle, and more than twenty for books about John Franklin's ill-fated expedition to the Arctic. Yet only two entries (one for this book!) featured the HMS Challenger, which carried out the most remarkable and influential maritime mission of the Victorian era. The obscurity of Challenger's voyage is understandable: no lands were claimed, no passage remained blocked by ice, no crews were decimated by frostbite, scurvy, or starvation. In fact, the voyage went pretty much as planned--which is to say it brought back scientific results of surpassing importance.
    HMS Challenger left Portsmouth, England, in December 1872 with an itinerary that had been drawn up, not by commercial explorers or adventure-seekers, but by the academicians of the British Royal Society. Its objectives were scientific, pure and simple: to circumnavigate the globe, to take soundings at regular intervals along the way, and to measure the physical and biological characteristics of the ocean, from surface to bottom. Aboard were twenty naval officers, a crew of 200, and a scientific staff of five. John Murray, one of the scientists, spent the remaining decades of the century compiling a fifty-volume report on the expedition's results. Challenger was the first great oceanographic research vessel, and its findings were to set in motion revolutions in earth science and biology for the next hundred years.
    When Challenger set sail, the prevailing wisdom was that ocean life could not exist below about 300 fathoms (1,800 feet). Yet virtually every time the dredge was hauled up from the deep, so many weird creatures came to light that scientists and crew alike quickly conceded that the ocean depths are a rich repository of primitive life-forms.
    By the time the ship had reached the West Indies, the expedition scientists had come upon a great range of undersea mountains running down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Two years later, on the other side of the world, their sounding lines revealed a chasm in the western Pacific more than five miles deep. Both features, and many others first recorded by Challenger's crew, are now recognized as part of the system of cracks and seams that connect the moving tectonic plates of our planet's crust.
    Richard Corfield draws not only on the voluminous records of the expedition's scientists, but also on the personal memoirs of its naval officers-most memorably, the candid and previously unpublished diary of a young ship's steward named Joseph Matkin. The book's real excitement, though, lies in the many technical digressions that Corfield, an earth scientist himself, includes from the perspective of modern science. Climatology, evolutionary biology, oceanography, and plate tectonics all got a jump start from Challenger's results. It's easy to understand why two great contemporary research vessels--the Glomar Challenger, the first oceanographic drilling vessel, and the late and much lamented space shuttle Challenger--both bore the name of a cramped and creaky sailing ship of a century gone by.
    
    Laurence A. Marshall, author of The Supernova Story, is the W. K. T. Sahm professor of physics at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

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