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Reviews - January 2008

Seabed Fluid Flow: The Impact on geology, biology and the marine environment


Alan Judd & Martin Hovland
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 2007
ISBN: 0521819504
List price: £80.00
475 pp

This book could be a second edition of Seabed Pockmarks and Seepage by Hovland and Judd (1988), but the change in title reflects the expansion of interest and data availability over the last 20 years. This edition bears similarities to the first in its layout of chapters but modern publishing includes an accompanying website (address plus /0521819504) that reproduces the black and white figures from the book in colour. The website also displays location maps from the book and can be viewed at a higher resolution than might have been possible on a printed page. A particularly novel feature, emphasising the educative value of this publication, is the 15 PowerPoint presentations on various aspects of seabed seepage.

The time interval between the books has allowed a significant increase in images and data from hydrocarbon surveys, utilizing the latest geophysical techniques and allowing detailed studies in three dimensions of seepage features. Also there has been increased recognition of palaeo-seepage sites in diverse forms within the rock record, making the subject of wider importance.

The book provides an extensive compilation of features associated with fluid (gas and liquid) seepage at the seabed, including intertidal occurrences, detailing the processes (microbial and geological), their form and associated chemistry. It details methods used to identify seepage occurrences, and reviews occurrences all around the world - which is where the maps available on-line come into their own. There are some positional errors on some maps (e.g. the British Isles - the Plym and Tamar estuaries, Morecambe Bay) which trigger concerns about the veracity of the checking of the publication’s non-printed components, when it is obvious that the book itself has been thoroughly checked.

The review of the human implications of fluid seepage shows significant changes from the first edition, reflecting increased human usage of the seabed. Evaluation of seepage is used as a tool for hydrocarbon exploration, and many examples are provided where major oil fields have been found following the identification of fluid seeps. Maybe in the future deepwater metallic ores will follow suit. Seepage also plays an important role in geohazard assessment, and is important in understanding the benthic ecology of sites requiring protection under various international obligations, such as OSPAR and the EU’s Habitats Directive.

The website makes reading the book an interactive process, and serves to emphasise that it should be a constant reference on the shelves of those working offshore - just as the earlier volume has been for nearly 20 years. It also means that publication costs are controlled making for a very reasonable price for this very useful book.

Dave Long
British Geological Survey, Edinburgh


The Last Oil Shock


David Strahan
Published by: John Murray
Publication date: 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7195-6423-9
List price: £12.99
292 pp

This is a deeply disturbing book.

Most geologists will at least know of the ‘Peak Oil’ concept introduced by M. King Hubbert in 1956. Few would be able to summarise as succinctly as David Strahan either the evidence for the inevitable decline in global oil production, starting within the next 15 years, or the likely results. This book deals not only with the technical factors that will produce the decline, with a sideways look at the record of the USGS in predicting global and US production (see Geoscientist, April 2007), but also with the probable political consequences.

The meat of the book is to be found in Chapters 2 to 8. One of Strahan’s strengths is his respect for his readers, and if graphs and statistics are what readers need to understand a point, then this is what they get. Having introduced Peak Oil in Chapter 2, he uses Chapters 3 and 4 to dispose of any comfort that might be gained from current ratios of reserves to production and from the existence of alternatives to conventional oil. The role of oil in modern economies is then summarised, and the way in which oil reserves are stated is explained. Anyone who, like me, found Shell’s recent massive reclassification of its reserves as mystifying and unimportant will learn, firstly, that it was not mysterious and, secondly, that it was important. The vexed question of OPEC oil reserves has a chapter to itself, and this is followed by a discussion of possible scenarios, none of them reassuring, for the arrival of the peak.

Strahan’s view is too controversial to accept without question, and a review of Jerry Leggett’s Half Gone (Geoscientist, January 2007) suggested the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) website as a good place to find an alternative. The analysis presented there is much more optimistic, but is it valid? The site includes an extended summary of the CERA view prepared as recently as November 2006. Surprisingly, much space is devoted to criticising Hubbert’s early predictions for the ‘contiguous’ US, yet the evidence cited shows these to have been astonishingly accurate. To imply, with CERA, that they have been disproved by discoveries in the quite separate deepwater Gulf of Mexico and Alaska provinces simply misrepresents Hubbert’s argument. Certainly, the US peak was delayed by a few years by production from areas that were unexplored in 1956, but where, today, are the unexplored provinces that will significantly delay the global peak? The entire US experience appears to support Hubbert’s hypothesis, and its extension to the whole world seems both logical and inevitable.

Strahan’s book is not without its weaknesses. It was a mistake, I think, to begin by arguing that the invasion of Iraq was prompted by US fears over future oil supplies. Even if this is true (and that will probably still be argued about long after the oil peak has passed), it is essentially irrelevant. Nor are the final chapters, which deal with the steps that should be taken by both ordinary people and politicians to minimise the inevitable disruptions, convincing. It seemed to me that Strahan himself feels that there is little chance of any of his good advice being followed until it is far too late. And on that point, I am afraid, he may well be right.

John Milsom


The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef - Development, diversity and change


Hopley, D., Smithers, S.G. & Parnell, K.E.
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 2007
ISBN: 978-0-521-85302-6
List price: £80.00 (hbk)
532 pp

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the largest, most diverse and best known coral reef system in the world, extending over a distance of approximately 2300km along the continental shelf of north-eastern Australia. The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, designated by UNESCO in 1981, covers some 348,000km2 and includes about 2900 separate reefs and 900 islands. Since 1975, a large part of the area has been strictly managed under the auspices of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). The GBR is probably also the most studied reef system in the world, and has been a source of passion amongst those who work there. This latest book by David Hopley and his associates from James Cook University provides an authoritative summary of (primarily) geomorphological work undertaken on the GBR and adjoining coastal areas, focusing especially on information gathered in the last 25 years. While reference is made to contributions by scientists in geology, oceanography and ecology, a central theme of the book is that geomorphological studies have an especially important role to play in linking geological studies (which are primarily concerned with timescales of thousands to millions of years), and ecological and physical oceanographic studies (timescales of up to a few decades).

Hopley's initial research in northeast Australia concerned the Burdekin delta and other coastal areas around Townsville, but his attention soon turned to the Reef. He was an active participant in The Royal Society - Universities of Queensland 1973 Great Barrier Reef Expedition, and since then he and his associates have made numerous important contributions to understanding the Holocene development of the GBR. Geomorphological researches up to the beginning of the 1980s were summarised by Hopley in an earlier book published by Wiley in 1982. Since that time there has been an explosion of further new information relating to the GBR, obtained by numerous workers, and it is this that is brought together and summarised in this sequel.

The book contains 13 chapters, amply illustrated with diagrams, tables and black and white photographs. There is an extensive reference list (49 pages) which provides an invaluable guide to sources of further information. The introductory chapter explains the rationale for the book and the history of GBR geomorphological research. Subsequent chapters review the geological foundations of the Reef, the role of sea level as a control on reef growth, the influence of oceanography and climate on reef geomorphological processes, the morphology of reefs and islands within the GBR, non-reefal areas of the continental shelf, fringing and nearshore reefs, mid-shelf reefs, shelf-edge reefs, islands and the development of the GBR during the Holocene (including comparisons with reefs elsewhere).The contribution of geomorphology and its importance for management and conservation of the GBR is examined in the final chapter. The take-home message is that "geomorphology is an important physical science which contributes essential understanding of the way in which coral reef ecosystems work". Although not stated explicitly, there is a clear implication that the geomorphological contribution has not been given the attention it deserves, at least by reef managers in Australia, and there is the risk that neglect of the geomorphological dimension may lead both to unrealistic predictions about the effects of future global climate change and to inappropriate management 'solutions'.

Without doubt, this is a book of scientific quality built on several decades of first hand research experience by the authors. It is well produced and represents good value for money. The book deserves a place not only on the shelves of major libraries but also on those of all serious researchers, teachers and practitioners concerned with coral reef systems and wider coastal and marine environmental management.

Ken Pye
Kenneth Pye Associates Ltd