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The Silent Landscape

The Silent Landscape

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by Richard Corfield

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THE OCEANS MAKE UP more than two-thirds of the Earth's surface. But they are as mysterious for what they conceal as they are familiar for their ubiquity. Deep below the gentle swell of the waves lies an alien world that even today we have only begun to explore. The quest to know more about this secret domain began in earnest in 1872 when HMS Challenger set sail from Portsmouth, England, to map and sample the ocean floor.

Sailing three and half years and 69,000 nautical miles, the story of the Challenger is the stuff of legend. Scientists and crew alike braved the stifling heat of the tropics for months on end only to suffer the stupefying cold of the Antarctic, enduring danger on the high seas, and risking their very lives in the pursuit of knowledge. As the first sea voyage devoted exclusively to science, the Challenger expedition is perhaps the greatest oceanographic mission of all time, surpassing even Charles Darwin's celebrated passage aboard the Beagle. Indeed, among the more important objectives set before the crew of Challenger was the mandate to gather the evidence necessary to prove or refute Darwin's daring new theory of evolution. Put simply, many saw the Challenger expedition as the ultimate battle between God and science.

The undertaking was nothing short of a roaring success. Challenger dredged up hundreds of samples from the seafloor and mapped enormous areas of undersea terrain. Most startling of all, though, was the revelation that the ocean was much more than a barren graveyard that mutely reflected Earth's past--it was not a silent landscape after all. Instead, they found a gloriously complex ecosystem teeming with life, an ecological and geological treasure trove we could scarcely imagine from our landlocked perspective.

Relying on official documentation and the logs and journals of the ship's scientific staff, her officers, and crew, The Silent Landscape recounts the story of an extraordinary voyage. But neither science nor the seas remain static through the years -- and this book is more than a vivid historical yarn. In the 125 years since the Challenger explored the great oceans of the world, we have learned much more about the hidden mysteries of the deep. So the author, an earth scientist and marine geologist, also brings a 21st century perspective to bear on Challenger's research and discoveries, illuminating the science of that 19th century voyage with the most current oceanographic information available to us. As Challenger sails from the endangered coral reefs of the Caribbean to the trackless depths beneath the western Pacific, The Silent Landscape takes us on an epic journey across time.

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