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Challenger at Sea

Challenger at Sea: A Ship That Revolutionized Earth Science

Kenneth J. Hsü
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  • Book Info
    Challenger at Sea
    Book Description:

    The famous geological research ship Glomar Challenger was a radically new instrument that revolutionized earth science in the same sense that the cyclotron revolutionized nuclear physics, and its deep-sea drilling voyages, conducted from 1968 through 1983, were some of the great scientific adventures of our time. Beginning with the vessel's first cruises, which lent support to the idea of continental drift, the Challenger played a key part in the widely publicized plate-tectonics revolution and its challenge to more conventional theories.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6302-0
    Subjects: Aquatic Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Preface to the American Edition
    (pp. xv-xx)
  2. Preface to the Chinese Edition
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  3. Preface to the German Edition
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)

    • CHAPTER 1 Moho and Mohole
      (pp. 3-20)

      As they say in America, if you dig a deep enough hole, you will reach China. Nobody ever seriously prepared to do so, but Harry Hess once did persuade the Congress of the United States to invest millions of dollars in a hole to the mysterious realm of Moho, ten kilometers below the ocean.

      I first came across Harry Hess in the Prudential Insurance Building in Houston, Texas. That was February 1954. I was fresh out of graduate school, and had just pulled down my first job, with the Exploration and Production Research Laboratory of the Shell Oil Company. Hess...

    • CHAPTER 2 Ice Age and LOCO
      (pp. 21-34)

      In the summer of 1958, I was in Miami, Florida, on a business trip. My friend Bob Ginsburg arranged a luncheon and introduced me to Cesare Emiliani. Ginsburg and Emiliani were good friends, and Ginsburg insisted that I had to meet Emiliani, who was always full of ideas. At the time the debate on the Mohole was a favorite topic of conversation, and we soon entered into discussions on the merit of ocean drilling. Emiliani was a person who openly spoke his mind. He was incensed that millions of dollars were being poured into an impracticable project while he pleaded...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Challenger Goes to Sea: The Inauguration of Glomar Challenger
      (pp. 35-45)

      Glomar Challengerhad a derrick amidships, 45 meters tall (Plate ΙΠ). It was thus a landmark in any harbor, and we never had any difficulty finding it when we joined the vessel for a cruise (called a “leg” by the JOIDES community). The derrick had been designed to lift one million pounds, or a drill string seven thousand meters long. The height of the derrick had been limited so thatGlomar Challengercould pass under bridges when entering all major seaports of the world. I myself had two fascinating experiences watching the tower slide under a bridge. The first time...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Earth Science Revolution
      (pp. 46-72)

      I did my dissertation at UCLA on hard, crystalline rocks. A standard procedure was to cut a slice of rock, glue it to a small glass slide, and grind it until the rock slice was 0.03 mm thick and could be examined with a light-transmission microscope. As a graduate student I spent a lot of time in the thin-section workshop. A young postdoctoral researcher from the Institute of Geophysics, Keith Runcorn, often came to use our rock-cutting saw because there was none in his institute. We tolerated the intrusion with friendly smiles until one evening when his huge rock samples...


    • CHAPTER 5 A Game of Numbers
      (pp. 75-94)

      The number of equations in problems of natural sciences is often less than the number of variables, and a unique solution is thus not always possible. Subjective reasoning can play a dominant role. Philosophers use the German expressionLeitbild, or guiding principle. Naturalists of the eighteenth century commonly adopted theLeitbildthat biblical statements are literally true; the sedimentary rocks are the record of the biblical Deluge. When a fossilized giant salamander was found in 1726, Jakob Scheuchzer, a Swiss naturalist, communicated excitedly to the Royal Society of London that he had found the bones of “one of the infamous...

    • CHAPTER 6 Atlantic and Tethys
      (pp. 95-107)

      My late wife, Ruth, was Swiss, from Basel. A city girl, she did not have much chance to try out mountain climbing. I myself was born on the plains of the Yangtze River. I never saw a snow-covered peak until I was twenty, when I drove across the Rocky Mountains on a tour of the American West. But we both liked mountains.

      In 1961 the family went to Switzerland for our summer holidays. We rented a chalet in Saas-Fee, in the Alps. The September weather was good. Every day we could look out of the living room window and see...

    • CHAPTER 7 Arc and Trench in the Mediterranean
      (pp. 108-129)

      We missed each other, when I went to meet Dan McKenzie at Zürich’s Kloten Airport in the winter of 1969. I was then the chairman of a committee searching for a new director for the Institute of Geophysics at the ΕΤΗ. McKenzie had been recommended to us as a leading candidate, and he was invited to come and give a talk. I was informed of his arrival time and waited for him outside customs. When he walked out, we saw each other momentarily, but both dismissed the notion that the other could be the person we had come to meet....

    • CHAPTER 8 Swallowing Up of the Ocean Floor
      (pp. 130-145)

      We all have our heroes in science. My hero is William Smith, He gaves us order in timing—he gave us stratigraphy.

      Layered rocks are beds or strata, and the study of strata is called stratigraphy. Unlike the natural phenomena described in physics or chemistry, the earth’s history is too complicated to be expressed by formulas or digital models. Stratigraphy is an analog model of the earth’s history, and “laws” in stratigraphy are expressions of common sense. Nicolas Steno (1631–1687), a bishop of Florence, stated the obvious when he formulated the “law of superposition”: the oldest sedimentary layer is...

    • CHAPTER 9 Marginal Seas
      (pp. 146-161)

      “Earth scientists have long been fascinated by the complex marginal seas, volcanic island areas and deep-sea trenches. In fact, each generation of geologists since the turn of the century has repeatedly recast the trinity of features into various models of the mountain-building process.” So reads the introductory statement of the cruise report of DSDP Leg 31, coauthored by Dan Karig and Jim Ingle, co–chief scientists, and their scientific staff.

      I have described the triumph of the plate-tectonic theory, with assistance fromGlomar Challenger, in explaining the origin of the trenches and arcs. Now the drill vessel was called upon...

    • CHAPTER 10 Hope and Frustration in Nauru
      (pp. 162-183)

      I have always been uneasy with excessive praise. When I am praised, I am embarrassed; when someone else is praised, I am irritated, because nobody is perfect.

      Seymour Oscar Schlanger, to whom this opus is dedicated, was at one time a victim of my prejudice, because everyone liked him—almost too much, it seemed. First my friend Max Carman at the University of Houston and his wife, Libby, talked only of Sy after they came back from Brazil; they had worked together there for Petrobras, training petroleum geologists for the Brazilian government. Then my old professor Cordell Durrell and my...

    • CHAPTER 11 Hawaiian Hot-Spot
      (pp. 184-197)

      The Pacific floor is dotted with innumerable submarine volcanoes, active and extinct. They are called seamounts if they have a conical summit, and guyots if they have a flat top. Seamounts are either active volcanoes building up from the seafloor or sunken, extinct volcanoes like guyots. More than a hundred years ago, the prominent American geologist R. D. Dana noted that seamounts tend to be arranged linearly, forming what we now call seamount chains. He also noted, by studying the chain northwest of the Hawaiian Islands, that the seamount farthest away from the active volcanoes of Hawaii seems to be...

    • CHAPTER 12 India’s Long March
      (pp. 198-216)

      We all expect to see strange beasts and exotic plants in faraway lands; paleontologists also are used to finding fossil faunas of faraway places different from those at home. It was, therefore, quite a surprise to Eduard Suess when, during a visit to England in 1862, he noticed that the fossils brought back by Major General Stachey from Triassic formations in the Himalayas were almost identical to those found by his colleagues in the Dolomites of Austria. Suess, the foremost geologist of his day, was forcefully struck by this resemblance, but he had other, more urgent projects to pursue. Finally...


    • CHAPTER 13 Antarctic Adventures
      (pp. 219-237)

      Cesare Emiliani’s original purpose in proposing a long-core program (LOCO) with the use of a dynamic-positioning vessel was to obtain a record of the climatic changes during the last Ice Age (see chapter 2). Eventually LOCO was changed to JOIDES, and the aims of deep-sea drilling also changed. The first twenty-seven legs of the project were preoccupied with experiments to test the various predictions of the theories of seafloor-spreading and plate-tectonics. We did not quite forget Emiliani. I remember the last days of Leg 3, before our triumphant return to Rio de Janeiro from the successful drilling of the Mid-Atlantic...

    • CHAPTER 14 Mid-Cretaceous Anoxia
      (pp. 238-254)

      To dispel any notions thatGlomar Challengeralways managed to get to the right place at the right time, I have just told the horror stories of Legs 35 and 36. In fact, the preparation and scheduling of the deep-sea drilling cruises is a very difficult task.

      I was sitting in the ship’s office ofGlomar Challenger, writing this book, while drilling was suspended because of some mistakes in planning by engineers on the beach.

      We had been on board the drill vessel for almost six weeks, after leaving Sao Paulo, Brazil, early in April. Drilling a transect of holes...

    • CHAPTER 15 When the Mediterranean Dried Up
      (pp. 255-273)

      In 1969 an American research vessel,Chainfrom Woods Hole, entered the Strait of Gibraltar with the newly developed continuous seismic profiler to explore the Mediterranean. The new tool made possible a discovery: it was found that the deep Mediterranean is underlain by salt domes (Figure 3.1), the same array of pillar-like structures under the seafloor that Ewing had found in the Gulf of Mexico (see chapter 3). The scientists on board also discovered a hard formation a few hundred meters below the seabed; the top of the formation was an excellent acoustic reflector, sending echoes of sound signals back...

    • CHAPTER 16 The Black Sea Was Not Always Black
      (pp. 274-296)

      Many caves on the Yugoslavian Adriatic Coast hide a great number of “living fossils.” They are the last descendants of an ancient fauna that once inhabited large parts of eastern Europe. After a prolonged isolation, these species became inbred or endemic. The wealth of such endemic underground inhabitants was a puzzle to zoologists, who referred to them as the “enigma of the Adriatic corner.”

      In 1891 two Viennese zoologists, Steindacher and Sturany, visited Lake Ohrid, a little-known mountain lake on the border between Yugoslavia and Albania. They collected fish, mollusks, and other specimens from this freshwater body, and described many...


    • CHAPTER 17 Getting Stuck in Ocean Crust
      (pp. 299-316)

      My friends on theChallengertold me not to work on this manuscript today, because I was in a bad mood. I was still suffering emotional anguish brought on by lost shiptime caused by human errors. The word anguish is perhaps a most appropriate expression. When the weather is bad, operations have to stop; nobody rages against the weather god, and one can accept the fate. The anguish is, however, unavoidable when the operations are stopped by human errors.

      Shiptime, measured in terms of the rental cost ofGlomar Challenger, was worth 30,000 dollars a day. However, time had to...

    • CHAPTER 18 Eating Peanuts on Ocean Margins
      (pp. 317-337)

      A modern approach to the history of science was taken by Thomas Kuhn in 1962, with the publication of his book on the structure of scientific revolutions. Kuhn believed that science does not progress continuously and cumulatively, but by repeated revolutions, in which old ideas, doctrines, and methodologies are replaced by new ones. Of course, in the very beginning, only random observations are made. Gradually, one set of ideas offering an explanation of the randomly collected data would be developed and eventually accepted by the profession as dogma. Kuhn used the wordparadigmto designate such a constellation of beliefs,...

    • CHAPTER 19 What Makes the Ocean Run
      (pp. 338-354)

      Drilling passive continental margins may not have inspired new and exciting ideas on the origin of the margins, but it did turn up many very interesting facts concerning the movements of water masses in the oceans during past geologic times.

      In the spring of 1976, Leg 47 was scheduled to explore the continental rise west of the Spanish Sahara, and my friend Bill Ryan went onGlomar Challengerfor the third time to serve as co–chief scientist, together with Ulrich von Rad of the Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe at Hannover. Only two holes were drilled at one location...

    • CHAPTER 20 The Great Dying
      (pp. 355-383)

      When I was a young man working for Shell, I usually “brown bagged” and joined my friend Alfred Traverse for lunch in his office. Being a paleontologist, he subscribed to theJournal of Paleontology. One day he handed me a copy of the latest issue of the journal as I walked in, and said, “Take a look at that article on dinosaurs. Do you think the guy is serious? Or do you think de Laubenfels is a pseudonym of someone who is trying to be funny?”

      I had never heard of de Laubenfels either, and I scanned the pages quickly....

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 384-392)

    The deep-sea drilling cruises ended on 8 November 1983 when theChallengerreturned to Mobile, Alabama, after Leg 96 drilling of the Gulf of Mexico. The drill vessel was dismantled for scrap iron. JOIDES survived.

    There was a flurry of activity to explore the possibilities of future scientific drilling. When I met Mel Peterson in Paris during the 1980 International Geological Congress, he told me that the plan was for the United States scientists to work with the American petroleum industry to drill the North American continental margins; JOI Inc., representing the U.S. JOIDES institutions, were actively promoting the Ocean...

  9. APPENDIX A Deep-Sea Drilling Legs
    (pp. 393-402)
  10. APPENDIX B Bibliographical Notes
    (pp. 403-408)