Ocean: Reflections on a Century of Exploration

Ocean: Reflections on a Century of Exploration

Ocean: Reflections on a Century of Exploration

Ocean: Reflections on a Century of Exploration


The past one hundred years of ocean science have been distinguished by dramatic milestones, remarkable discoveries, and major revelations. This book is a clear and lively survey of many of these amazing findings. Beginning with a brief review of the elements that define what the ocean is and how it works--from plate tectonics to the thermocline and the life within it--Wolf H. Berger places current understanding in the context of history. Essays treat such topics as beach processes and coral reefs, the great ocean currents off the East and West Coasts, the productivity of the sea, and the geologic revolution that changed all knowledge of the earth in the twentieth century.


One of the major events celebrating the centennial year of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (2003) was a reunion and symposium commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Scripps’s great MidPac Expedition and its predecessor, Capricorn. I am afraid that my opening remarks may have dismayed the veteran scientists gathered there, for I ventured that their great research cruise brought the age of European geographic exploration, which started with Prince Henry the Navigator 500 years ago, to a definitive end. I borrowed a thought that John Maynard Keynes had applied to Isaac Newton: they were the last generation to look upon the world through the eyes of the ancients.

From our present vantage point in time, when every square meter of earth has been surveyed by satellite and can be “googled” at will, our challenge is no longer to discover what is there, but to understand how the many complex parts of the Earth’s systems interact. The challenge is not to push outward but to connect together.

The fact that oceanographers just then had become involved with hydrogen bomb tests already presaged that the world to come was to be very different. A few, especially Roger Revelle, saw where things were going.

We know now what the great pioneers did not: our civilization faces an entirely new situation. Humans have always altered their environment to suit their needs, but their impact reached global proportions only in the last 50 years. New words have since entered public discourse: biodiversity decline, disappearing fish, habitat fragmentation, deforestation, increasing drought, desertification, ozone hole, atmospheric brown cloud, retreating glaciers and mountain snows, melting Arctic ice, sea level rise, and the granddaddy of them all, global warming. The pristine state of nature, if it ever existed, has disappeared, and the world is going to be different tomorrow because of what we humans are doing today.

We also know as never before that Earth science has an unshirkable obligation to help preserve our civilization and the planet that has supported it so lavishly—thus far.

I sat down after my opening remarks wishing that someone would tell that story. I even had the momentary fantasy that I might, but it dissolved in the press of a busy director’s mundane affairs. So I greeted with great satisfaction Wolf Berger’s proposal to commemorate the centennial by telling the story of the great transition in our science. Wolf and his generation have had the never-to-be-repeated privilege of . . .

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