In 1872 HMS Challenger set sail from Portsmouth, England, to map and sample the ocean floor. This marked the birth of modern oceanography. By retracing Challenger s extraordinary voyage, we view our underwater landscape anew focusing on what 21st century science is now able to add to this incredible story.
The oceans make up more than two thirds of the Earth s surface. But they are as mysterious for what they conceal beneath their surfaces as they are familiar for their ubiquity. Deep below the susurrus swell of waves lies an alien world that we have only begun to explore. The quest to know more about this secret domain began in earnest in the late 1800s. In 1859, Charles Darwin s book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection set the scientific world abuzz with its radical theory of evolution, and sparked a feverish desire to know more about the workings of nature. Scientists became increasingly convinced that the ocean floor could provide proof or refutation of Darwin s theory of natural selection. They believed that the ocean floor was a haven for life that had long been extinct on land and that obscure fossil evidence culled from the depths could provide us with information on species that no longer existed topside. So an expedition was specifically designed and undertaken to investigate the natural history and geology of the ocean floor. With its emphasis on locating and retrieving fossil records that would test the new theory of evolution, Challenger s voyage was nothing less than a mission to choose between God and science.
Sailing three and half years and 69,000 nautical miles through burning tropical heat waves and stupefyingly cold Antarctic seas, and suffering further privations of hunger, storms, and sometimes crushing boredom between data-collecting surveys, Challenger dredged up thousands of samples from the sea floor and mapped enormous areas of undersea terrain. The final result was nothing short of a roaring success. So extensive were their findings that it was to take the scientists 19 years to completely examine and report on all their data. The final report, published in 1895, ran to fifty volumes. Most startling of all was the revelation that the ocean was not a silent landscape that serenely reflected Earth s past it was a gloriously vibrant ecosystem teeming with a variety and multitude of life on a scale we could scarcely imagine from our landlocked perspective.
Relying on the official documentation, logs, and journals of the ship s company, The Silent Landscape recounts the tale of an extraordinary voyage brought to life by 21st-century science. 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.
"Richard Corfield's book is a brilliant account of the fascinating voyage of HMS Challengers and her pioneering crew. It will captivate anyone interested in the real life adventures of science and exploration."
-- Philippe Cousteau, president of the Philippe Cousteau Foundation
"...[an] extraordinary book about the ocean floor... There can be no doubt that Mr. Corfield knows about what he is writing 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. ... 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."
-- The Washington Times, September 27, 2003
"An extraordinary tale comes to light..."
-- The East Oregonian, Northwest Books column, October 5, 2003
"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. ...[an] intriguing tale... 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 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."
-- SCIENCE, November 7, 2003
"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. It fits with the recent enthusiasm for books on historical geology, such as The Map that Changed the World (Viking, 2001) by Simon Winchester, and should appeal to the same audience. ... One characteristic of a successful book is that one puts it down longing for more. Within its chosen limits, 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."
-- Nature, May 13, 2005
"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 ... this expedition deserves to be included on the short list of great British voyages. Corfield's book is the first step in that journey."
-- The Seattle Times, November 23, 2003
"...Corfield does an admirable job of explaining the significance of Challenger's findings and the future science it inspired. ... the real power of this fascinating book is Corfield's adept weaving of Challenger's discoveries with today's scientific investigations -- especially the drilling of sediment cores. The discussion of the development of deep-sea diving spheres, and their evolution into manned and unmanned submersibles, is white-knuckle stuff. ... The Silent Landscape is worthwhile for those curious about the high-spots of oceanographic science -- historical discoveries and their relevance to modern scientific investigation, including space exploration. ... Corfield shines at joining together the history with the motives and politics of current efforts. His publisher, Joseph Henry Press, deserves kudos, too: this is a craft-built book, from paper to design."
-- Maritime Life and Tradition, Spring 2004
"It is a wonderful story, and the author knows how to spin a good yarn. ... 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. ... In his book, Corfield relates the more dramatic events and discoveries of the Challenger expedition, but like any good spinner of a yarn, he frequently strays from the main narrative to explore related side stories. He talks about the personalities of the major participants, and the stresses and challenges of 270 men living at sea, confined on a 200-foot long, 40-foot wide Royal Navy corvette (a type of warship), that had been converted into a floating laboratory. ... At times, the sidebar stories are barely related to the narrative, but they are always engaging. ... The result of all these intellectual peregrinations is a book that not only recounts the history of this remarkable expedition but also informs the reader of some of the peculiarities of the geology and natural history of the oceans, as well as the history of modern ocean discovery."
-- Oceanography, June 2004
"In his attractively written new book, Richard Corfield sets out to recount the events of the voyage, but also to give us more. ... Read as a narrative of the voyage, Corfield's account is a vivid depiction of what the ship and its men experienced..."
-- The Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin, March 2004
"A most amazing and engaging true story, The Silent Landscape is a welcome and enthusiastically recommended contribution..."
-- Wisconsin Bookwatch, November 2003
"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."
-- The Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2004
"For those of us who have sailed the oceans and been curious about its mysteries, as well as those who have general interests in the wonders of our natural world, this book should provide many satisfactions. The author has provided a very interesting look into the late nineteenth century voyage of a British naval vessel sent on a three-and-a-half year search for basic scientific knowledge about the world's oceans and fauna. ... All in all, the book is an easy read..."
-- Marine Technology, July 2004
"Richard Corfield, an Oxford University-based earth scientist is understandably strong on the science, teasing out the discoveries hidden in the deepsea sediments, as HMS Challenger roamed 69,000 nautical miles over three-and-a-half years, determined to prove or refute Darwin's new theory of evolution. ... when scientific endeavour and personal idiosyncrasy collide, the author is up to the job."
-- Lloyd s List International, October 8
"In The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger, Richard Corfield has told the story of this remarkable voyage, but has also taken extraordinary leaps into the science the voyage sparked well into our current century. It is an inspiring story of the importance of pure science. ... 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..."
-- The Commercial Dispatch, November 12, 2003
"Corfield takes a new tack and combines a fascinating narrative of the voyage with 'flash-forwards' to the present day, describing where the initial Challenger discoveries have led in both knowledge and research technique. The reader ends the adventure with a new respect for the early oceanographers and for how far we've come by standing on the shoulders of these giants."
-- Library Journal, 2003
"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."
-- Natural History, October 2003
"The reader is given some idea of what life on board was like for the 'scientifics,' as they were called by the crew, as well as for that crew, one-fourth of whom deserted by the end of the three and a half-year voyage. However, the larger portion of the narrative is devoted to Challenger's scientific findings and what they have lead to today. ...the author's style is such that the reader can glean enough information to make reading it worthwhile. ...if you're interested in history or science or if you're naturally curious about how we've come to know as much as we do about the oceans, you will probably find The Silent Landscape to be, at the very least, an excellent reference book and, at the most, a valuable asset to your personal library."
-- Good Old Boat Newsletter, February 2004
"The Silent Landscape is a journey full of mishaps and tragedy, but also of wonder. Corfield provides glimpses of sheer beauty, as on the night when Challenger cuts an arc of light through the equatorial Atlantic, the ship's hull igniting the natural bioluminescence of billions of single-celled plants. Tapping his own deep knowledge of oceans and the research of today's oceanographers--including scientists aboard the ship's modern-day doppelganger, the GLOMAR Challenger--Corfield explains this 'cold light' and many other phenomena, in the process revealing how the voyage of HMS Challenger shaped the course of scientific research for over a century."
-- Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City
"When HMS Challenger set out in 1872 to map and analyze the ocean floor none of its crew knew how long they'd be gone or if indeed they'd ever return. Richard Corfield has brought their story to the surface in a riveting account that blends pure science with sheer adventure."
-- Sherry Sontag, co-author of Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage
"The Silent Landscape is a fascinating journey through space and time. Corfield skilfully weaves together the story of the voyage of HMS Challenger with a wide-ranging history of oceanography. Written with the authentic voice of experience, it contains a wealth of intriguing detail."
-- David Sington, director of the acclaimed BBC-TV series Earth Story
"One hundred years to the day that HMS Challenger left Portsmouth, the Apollo 17 crew returned home after the Lunar Module Challenger had supported the 20th Century's last scientific exploration of the Moon s surface. The Silent Landscape adds a strong note of optimism that another "Challenger" will soon begin the scientific exploration of the Martian surface. And so what HMS Challenger started, continues."
-- Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 Astronaut and former U.S. Senator (NM)
"Among marine geologists, the voyage of HMS Challenger has become a legend. ... Corfield uses the expedition as a thread for stringing together lessons on oceanography and cannot help commenting on the Challenger's discoveries from his more enlightened, 21st-century perspective. ... If Challenger fails to oblige his lecture plans, no matter, Corfield describes what its scientists would have found had they ventured further, a hundred years later, armed with modern technology and current theory."
-- Publishers Weekly, July 7, 2003
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