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The Fluid Envelope of our Planet

The Fluid Envelope of our Planet: How the Study of Ocean Currents Became a Science

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 400
  • Book Info
    The Fluid Envelope of our Planet
    Book Description:

    A detailed and beautifully written account of the history of oceanography,The Fluid Envelope of Our Planetis an engaging account of the emergence of a scientific discipline.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9774-4
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: The Fluid Envelope of Our Planet
    (pp. 3-9)

    This book is about plain truth – the plain scientific truths about the oceans constructed by those who changed the ocean sciences from matters of observation and common-sense report to a branch of mathematical geophysics. But upon inspection, scientific truths – or better, the introduction of influential changes into science – are painted in shades of gray, not absolute black and white, and depend upon contingencies of time, place, and personal interaction that defy any kind of deterministic historiography. Such is the case with the developments that took place in the study of ocean circulation between the 1890s and the...

  5. 1 The Way of the Sea: Knowledge of Oceanic Circulation before the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 10-43)

    For at least three centuries, maps of the Earth have depicted the circulation of the oceans – ocean currents – by arrows filling the virtually unknown areas of our planet’s surface. A particularly beautiful and influential example is the set of maps prepared by the German cartographer Heinrich Berghaus (1797–1884)¹ under the influence of the great traveller and polymath Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and published in 1845. These were modified for English-speaking readers by the Scottish geographer and cartographer Alexander Keith Johnston (1804–1871) and published in hisPhysical Atlas of Natural Phenomenain 1848, making them available...

  6. 2 Groping through the Darkness: The Problem of Deep Ocean Circulation
    (pp. 44-81)

    Even though the direct influence of Alexander von Humboldt faded after the middle of the nineteenth century, his influence lived on in the application of quantitative methods when scientific travellers reached distant regions of the world. Within the laboratory too, independently of Humboldt, physical science took on new confidence as it found mathematical representations of electricity, magnetism, and heat, and refined physical constants for many phenomena. But this kind of quantification did not extend to the oceans until the late decades of the century. This anomaly defies easy explanation, but at least one reason can be found in well-established ways...

  7. 3 Boundaries Built with Numbers: Making the Ocean Mathematical
    (pp. 82-110)

    Charles Wyville Thomson said it well in 1878: the accumulation of evidence about the circulation of the oceans was ‘confusingly rapid,’ and the problems being faced by the theory builders like Carpenter and Croll were so complex that it was difficult to see where solutions might be found.¹ Thomson, and his co-organizer of theChallengerexpedition, W.B. Carpenter, believed that the accumulation of data would in itself provide insight into the nature and causes of oceanic circulation, even though they were without any clear view of how the data could be used to provide that insight.

    There was little precedent...

  8. 4 Evangelizing in the Wilderness: Dynamic Oceanography Comes to Canada
    (pp. 111-136)

    It is a surprise – and seemingly a paradox – to find the first full-scale application of the mathematical analysis of ocean currents begun by Mohn and Bjerknes (as simplified by Sandström and Helland-Hansen) in Canada rather than in the more scientifically sophisticated northern European nations. In fact, as succeeding chapters will show, nowhere, initially, was there a community of interest sufficiently trained in mathematics or accustomed to quantitative ways of thought, nor perhaps with a pressing need, to give the new method easy acceptance. That it came to Canada first was something of a historical accident having to do...

  9. 5 ‘Physische Meereskunde’: From Geography to Physical Oceanography in Berlin, 1900–1935
    (pp. 137-161)

    During the first three decades of the twentieth century, quantitative physical oceanography was born. Its parents, applied mathematics and physical geography, were of European origin, but the new science, deriving its main energy from the work of Vilhelm Bjerknes, Bjørn Helland-Hansen, Johan Sandström, and Otto Pettersson in Norway and Sweden, found multiple foster homes in Western Europe and North America, especially Norway, Canada, Germany, and the United States. As the preceding chapter indicated, the reception of dynamical oceanography was not the beginning of a quick march to triumph, but rather the halting accommodation of established scientific practices to unfamiliar and...

  10. 6 ‘Découverte de l’océan’: Monaco and the Failure of French Oceanography
    (pp. 162-191)

    Second scientifically only to Germany in the mid and late nineteenth century, France had a formidable system of scientific teaching, centred in theGrandes écoles, notably the École polytechnique and increasingly the École normale supérieure, as well as in newly reformed universities in Paris and the provinces.¹ French physics and chemistry were widely admired, and in marine biology France was in the vanguard, having been far ahead of much of the rest of Europe in establishing marine stations: Concarneau in 1859, Arcachon in 1867, Roscoff in 1872, Wimereux in 1873, and, among many others through the years, even a fisheries...

  11. 7 Slipping away from Norway: Dynamic Oceanography Comes to the United States
    (pp. 192-231)

    In the previous chapters, I have made the point that the introduction of mathematical techniques – ‘dynamical oceanography’ – into the practice of sea-going geographers and physicists was not a monolithic takeover of one scientific approach by another, but a more subtle shift, an evolution rather a revolution. And in the changes, the outcome was governed in a major way by the environments into which dynamic oceanography was introduced. Scientific contexts, previous training, local needs, and often the personality and scientific preferences – the ‘scientific style’ – of the new practitioners had very important influences on the way the new...

  12. 8 Facing the Atlantic and the Pacific: Dynamic Oceanography Re-emerges in Canada, 1930–1950
    (pp. 232-257)

    New methods of doing oceanography had been introduced in Canada by Johan Hjort during the Canadian Fisheries Expedition of 1915, especially in the section of its report written by Johan Sandström on currents of the Canadian east coast determined using dynamic oceanographic methods. As I pointed out in chapter 4, this attempted transplantation of European techniques to the New World was unsuccessful, at least in the short run, and it was in the United States, on both East and West Coasts, that dynamic oceanography took root for reasons endemic to each location (as outlined in chapter 7). Canadian science was...

  13. 9 Studying The Oceans and the Oceans
    (pp. 258-286)

    In the last chapter, I carried the story of the careers of J.P. Tully and H.B. Hachey closer to our own times than for any other protagonists in this book. There were two reasons for this, beginning with the need to provide narratives that had some logical outcome, that moved to a satisfying conclusion. But of greater importance was my wish to show that in at least a couple of careers there was evidence that something new had come out of the varied fortunes of dynamic oceanography since the first attempts of Henrik Mohn and Vilhelm Bjerknes to provide a...

    (pp. 287-290)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 291-346)
    (pp. 347-418)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 419-434)