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November 2008

The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger


R Corfield
Published by: John Murray
Publication date: 2004
ISBN: 0719565308
List price: £16.00
285 pp

Between 1872 and 1876, HMS Challenger circumnavigated the globe carrying out an extensive programme of sampling the seafloor, marine biota and the water column. The expedition lasted 3 years 5 months and traversed 68,900 miles. The data collected remained a major source of information on the oceans until the 1960s. Corfield’s account of the expedition is based largely on the diaries of three scientists and one crewman from the expedition. The hardships of the expedition are well illustrated by the fact that a quarter of the ship’s crew deserted.

The expedition carried just six scientists. The chief scientist was Charles Wyville Thomson, Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University, whose main contribution was to disprove the azoic theory of the oceans, which argued that the oceans were lifeless below 300 fathoms. Henry Mosley, the expedition zoologist, made his reputation working on corals and the 'missing links'. Rudolf von Willemoes Suhm was a brilliant young zoologist from Bonn who died during the expedition. John Buchanan was the expedition chemist who determined the composition of manganese nodules and red clay, and John Wild was the expedition artist who became famed for his illustrations of the Challenger volumes.

However, the outstanding scientist was John Murray who was the lead author of the 50 volume scientific reports of the expedition. During the expedition he discovered large amounts of phosphates on Christmas Island, which he subsequently exploited, making him a very wealthy man. He is best known for his work on deep-sea manganese nodules with A F Renard. The captain of the Challenger was George Nares who later achieved fame as an Arctic explorer.

Onboard the Challenger there was a daily routine that involved lowering to the sea floor a piano wire on which were attached maximum and minimum thermometers for measuring ocean temperatures, water-sampling flasks to sample water at various depths and a sampler for taking bottom samples. This was followed by dredging the seafloor. Through this systematic but tedious programme, the scientists made many remarkable findings including the discovery of deep-sea manganese nodules, the existence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the occurrence of the carbonate compensation depth. Corfield makes his account of the voyage interesting by interlacing the scientific discoveries of the Challenger with daily logs of ship-borne activities and essays on future implications of the various findings. In this, he is very successful.

Corfield has written an entertaining book that puts the findings of the Challenger Expedition into a wider context in a very readable way. This book is highly recommended to all those with an interest in the oceans, and who wish to learn more about a remarkable expedition that set the standards for the next 80 years.

Geoff Glasby, University of Göttingen


Planetary Geology

Claudio's book

Claudio Vita-Finzi
Published by: Terra Publishing
Publication date: 2005
ISBN: 1-903544-20-3
List price: £21.95
168 pp

When considering our own planet, many textbooks tend to focus on the various processes that have influenced the present surface composition and disposition, and put each neatly into a chapter of its own. This undergraduate textbook follows the same pattern but extends the subject matter to the component bodies of the solar system. So a discussion of oceans includes those of Earth (of course), but goes on to consider oceans past and putative on Venus, Mars and Europa, in the hope that a comparison of the phenomena will yield useful insights. In attempting to treat the various processes and aspects which go to form a solar system body – for instance impacts, volcanism, tectonics, oceans, icecaps and atmospheres – Vita-Finzi has produced an enjoyable book ahead of its time. Sadly the effect is a bit uneven, but the author cannot be blamed. Despite the sometimes stated truism that ‘we know more about the surface of Mars than our own abyssal plains’, we do know more about, for example, terrestrial tectonism than that on any other planet or satellite. The same is true (thanks to fieldwork on Earth currently being easier than on other planets, despite H&S restrictions) for all other processes described in this book, apart perhaps from studies of impacts. And even then we have the benefit of samples from our comparatively few craters.

The book is a pleasure to read for its breadth of scope, its compact size, the useful glossary, and the few pages of colour plates. But here is the second problem: the large number of black and white photos in the remainder of the book does a disservice to the exquisite colour images coming out of planetary exploration. The illustrations are generous in number but meagre in splendour. The price will please most students and the production of the book, as with many other Terra Publishing products, is solid, if a little plain.

The edition for review only became available almost three years after publication, and in the meantime much has been discovered on Mars, Mercury and in the Saturnian system. If the book makes it to a second edition, colour throughout and a comprehensive update will be needed.

Lewis McCaffrey
Tankersley, Yorkshire


A Geoscientist’s Guide to Petrophysics


B Zinszner & F M Pellerin
Published by: Editions Technip
Publication date: 2007
ISBN: 978-2-7108-0899-2
List price: €130.00
384 pp

My initial interest in this publication stemmed from its title. As a reservoir geologist with a classical geology background I have often found it both difficult and frustrating to flog my way through petrophysics textbooks that have clearly been written by petrophysicists for petrophysicists. As the authors note, the approach of these textbooks is often such that the rocks are “considered as a black box whose microscopic structure is briefly described as a model sometime remote from reality”. To what extent then have the authors succeeded in providing an accessible guide to petrophysics for the petroleum geoscientist?

The book is logically structured being divided into two major sections. The first deals with petrophysical properties, the second with measurement representativeness and the problems of up-scaling. The clarity of the text is enhanced by the inclusion of a detailed nomenclature table and glossary – in my view essential in a discipline full of unfamiliar symbols and jargon for the uninitiated. The content is, for the most part, comprehensive with all major topics (e.g. capillarity, wettability, log analysis, up-scaling) very lucidly presented. The figures are clear but, although they are always clearly explained in the main text, the captions are sometimes a little minimalist. I would also like to have seen a more detailed discussion of rock-typing (only six pages are dedicated to this topic), including a critique of existing approaches. The authors are to be commended for not restricting their commentary to the characterisation of hydrocarbon reservoirs. The application of petrophysics to both pedology and building stone conservation is also discussed.

This book is a translation of the original French version and, in places, this might lead to some confusion for the Anglophone reader. For example, the word ‘synthetic’ is locally used in the French sense (‘synthétique’); i.e. to summarise the major characteristics of an object, rather than in the English sense - to imitate something. Similarly, the acronym ‘NMR’ (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) locally remains in French as ‘RMN’ (Résonance Magnétique Nucléaire). Fortunately, these errors are relatively rare, but could be misleading and should not occur in a book of this price.

In conclusion, this book can certainly be recommended to the geoscientist in need of a grounding in petrophysics because it is a clear and well-illustrated presentation of the essentials of petrophysics and its applications. In this respect, the authors have clearly achieved their goal. However, the minor translation problems should be rectified in any second edition.

Andrew Barnett
Total E & P, France