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Oceans: A Very Short Introduction

adfhThis pocket-size book condenses a lot of information into 150 or so pages. The author is oceanographer and sedimentologist Dorrik Stow, professor at Heriot Watt University and publisher of over 250 research papers. In keeping with the idea behind OUP’s long-running ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series, the text is clean and clear. Most of the precise, technical words that decorate geological literature have been replaced by simpler words or phrases. Importantly, this makes the book available to a far wider audience. I found it an interesting, but worrisome, read.

Oceans cover 71% of our planet; and we still know very little about them. Over the past 50 years, scientists have been gathering information at an ever increasing rate, and now know enough to indicate the presence of quite a few deposits we might choose to exploit.

In some areas, vast fields of a frozen mix of methane and ice lie only metres below the seabed. Manganese nodules found on the deep sea floor are not yet viable for their manganese alone, but may prove viable as the source of a ‘pot pourri’ of metals including copper, nickel and cobalt, as well as minor amounts of zinc, lead, vanadium and molybdenum along with the manganese. Narrow, elongate, deposits of metal-rich muds have been found beneath hot brine pools. Some of them are potentially mineable for lead, copper, zinc, and silver. Hydrothermal vents, found along the crest of the mid-ocean ridge system, sometimes form chimneys of condensed metal sulphides, comparable in mineral content to the largest metal sulphide deposits mined on land.

Of course, underwater drilling is not new, but as shallow deposits are exhausted we are drilling deeper. Stow tells us that, in the last decade, over 50% of oil and gas discoveries have been in the ocean deeps. Rigs routinely drill to depths of 2500 metres.

Add these factors to the already worrying issues of ocean plastic, coral reef bleaching, and global warming, and the situation could move rapidly from bad to worse. This book needs promoting and updating annually.

Reviewed by David Edwards.

OCEANS: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION by DORRIK STOW.  Oxford UP 2017. 216pp, sbk.  List price: £7.99.  W: