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The Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet

By: Edmond A Mathez(Author), James D Webster(Author)

378 pages, 97 colour photos, 101 illustrations

Columbia University Press

Hardback | Jul 2004 | #144942 | ISBN: 023112578X
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £73.99 $97/€84 approx
Paperback | May 2007 | #165790 | ISBN-13: 9780231125796
Temporarily out of stock: order now to get this when available Details
NHBS Price: £25.99 $34/€29 approx

About this book

From the scorching center of Earth's core to the outer limits of its atmosphere, from the gradual process of erosion that carved the Grand Canyon to the earth-shaking fury of volcanoes and earthquakes, this fascinating book – inspired by the award-winning Hall of Planet Earth at New York City's American Museum of Natural History – tells the story of the evolution of our planet and of the science that makes it work. With the same exuberance and expertise they brought to the creation of the Hall of Planet Earth, co-curators Edmond A. Mathez and James D. Webster offer a guided tour of Earth's dynamic, 4.6-billion-year history.

Including numerous full-color photographs of the innovative exhibit and helpful, easy-to-understand illustrations, the authors explore the major factors in our planet's evolution: how Earth emerged from the swirling dusts of a nascent solar system; how an oxygen-rich, life-sustaining atmosphere developed; how continents, mountain ranges, and oceans formed; and how earthquakes and volcanic eruptions alter Earth's surface. Traversing geologic time and delving into the depths of the planet – beginning with meteorites containing minuscule particles that are the solar system's oldest known objects, and concluding with the unusual microbial life that lives on the chemical and thermal energy produced by sulfide vents in the ocean floor – The Earth Machine provides an up-to-date overview of the central theories and discoveries in earth science today. By incorporating stories of real-life fieldwork, Mathez and Webster explain how Earth is capable of supporting life, how even the smallest rocks can hold the key to explaining the formation of mountains, and how scientists have learned to read nature's subtle clues and interpret Earth's ever-evolving narrative.

"This companion volume to the American Museum of Natural History's award-winning Hall of Planet Earth exhibit by Mathez and Webster, the original co-curators, offers readers an accessible guided tour of how our planet works from interdisciplinary and scientific perspectives."
Library Journal

"A handsome and well-written book, in full colour and jammed full of geological information about the earth [...] I commend the authors for the thoroughness, accuracy and detail they give to so many parts of the Earth Sciences."
– Simon Lamb, New Scientist

"This informative book [...] explores the major forces and factors that shaped and continue to shape our planet."

"This book is your engaging and scientific tour guide."
Natural History

"A highly recommended text for any who would wonder what climates were like in past times."

"This book [...] is outstanding among the many fine books on the subject available today [...] A book of unusually widespread appeal. Highly recommended."
– T. L. T. Gross, Choice

"By means of well-chosen examples taken from nature as we find it, they provide the best of contemporary approaches to, and conclusions about, the major issues."
Science Books & Films

"A thorough and yet easy-to-understand account of the origins of Earth [...] The authors definitely know their stuff [...] But true to their vocations as educators, as well as scientists, they do more than just educate in this volume; they also thoroughly entertain."
– Beth Norton, Science Editor

"Have you ever wondered how we know what climates were like in times past, why there are oceans on Earth but not on Mars or Venus, or how Earth's history can be read from a pile of rocks? If these or similar questions have crossed your mind, then the Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet is the book for you. Written by Ed Mathez and Jim Webster, two of the scientists who assembled the recently installed Hall of Planet Earth (HOPE) in the American Museum of Natural History, the book is a lively and up-to-date presentation of what scientists know, and still don't know, about how our dynamic planet works.HOPE's life-sized displays are remarkable – the exhibit is unique and should not be missed – and the stories of how the displays were collected and brought to the museum are interspersed throughout the book. The stories emphasize that the study of "The Earth Machine" is a global venture. You may not have a chance to travel to the corners of the globe to see all of the evidence for yourself, so do the next best thing and let Mathez and Webster take you on a voyage of discovery through their engagingly written and beautifully illustrated book."
– Brian Skinner, Eugene Higgins Professor of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, and author of The Blue Planet

"The book Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet by E. Mathez and J. Webster is an excellent book for undergraduate students in science but also for a broader public interested in science. Well-documented, well-written, with accurate, modern and beautiful illustration. It seems to me an excellent book which I highly recommend."
– Claude Allegre, Laboratoire de Geochimie et Cosmochimie



Part I. How Has Earth Evolved?

1. The Birth of Planet Earth
From Meteorites to Earth
The Formation of the Moon
Early Earth Organizes Itself
The Emergence of an Atmosphere and an Ocean

2. Learning the Age of Earth
The Seeds of Doubt
The Emergence of the Revolutionary Concept of an Old Earth
Radioactivity and the Age of Earth

3. The Evolution of the Continents
Earth: The Only Planet with a Continental Crust
The Continents and Continental Crust
The First Continental Crust
The Assembly of the Continents

4. Life and Conditions on Early Earth
Ancient Microbes
Banded Iron Formations and Oxygenation of the Atmosphere and Ocean
A Warm Early Earth?
The Appearance of Animals and Explosion of Life in the Cambrian

5. Reading Rocks: The Story of the Grand Canyon
How Sedimentary Rocks Describe Ancient Environments
Evidence of Missing Rock
How Old Is the Grand Canyon?

Part II. Why Are There Ocean Basins, Continents, and Mountains?

6. Internal Earth
The Core
The Magnetic Field
Convection in the Core and Origin of the Geomagnetic Field
Earth's Internal Heat
The Mantle
Convection in the Mantle

7. Plate Tectonics
Continental Drift: An Idea Proposed Before Its Time
Wegener's Theory of Continental Drift
From Continental Drift to Plate Tectonics
Plate Boundaries: Where the Action Is
Plate Motions and Continental Reconstruction

8. Lavas from the Depths of Earth
Kilauea Volcano
Volcanoes of the Mid-Ocean Ridges
Great Lava Floods and the Columbia River Basalts

9. Great Explosive Volcanoes
The Nature of Explosive Volcanism
How Gases Drive Explosive Eruptions
Vesuvius: The Anatomy of an Explosive Eruption
Tambora: Volcanoes and Climate Change
Krakatau: An Explosion that Reverberated Around the World
Great Prehistoric Eruptions

10. Earthquakes
Why Do Earthquakes Occur?
How Earthquakes Are Measured
How Earthquakes Destroy
Fault Behavior and Calculating the Odds
Short-term Predictions
The San Andreas Fault Zone, California
The Great Alaska Earthquake

11. Mountains
The Shape of Earth and Why Mountains Are High
The Importance of Erosion
The Folding of Rocks
The Metamorphism of Rocks

12. The Alps
The Beginnings of Alpine Research
The Formation and Structure of the Alps

Part III. What Causes Earth's Climate and Climate Change?

13. The Atmosphere
The Structure of the Atmosphere
Global Atmospheric Circulation
Greenhouse Earth: The Troposphere Story
Ozone: The Stratosphere Story
The Importance of Clouds

14. The World Ocean
The Important Properties of Water
Why Is the Ocean Salty?
The Global Ocean Conveyor System
Ocean Surface Currents
Upwelling and Downwelling
El Niño and La Niña

15. The Geological Record of Climate Change
Climate Forcing Factors
The Climate Record in Greenland Ice
Some Other Indicators of Past Climate
The Ice Age

Part IV. Why Is Earth Habitable?

16. Conditions for Life
Water: The Essential Ingredient
The Carbon Cycle
Earth, Venus, and Mars
Earth's Intangible Shields

17. Black Smokers from the Deep
How Hydrothermal Vent Fields Form
Life at Hydrothermal Vents
Did Life Originate in Deep-Sea Vents?
Heat and Water: What Goes In, and What Goes Out

18. Some Natural Resources and How They Form
What Salt, Gold, and Coal Have in Common
Ore Deposits from Hot Water
An Ancient Analogue of the Black Smokers
Ore Deposits from Magmas


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Edmond A. Mathez is curator of petrology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History and was chief curator of the Hall of Planet Earth. He is the editor of Earth: Inside and Out and The Encyclopedia of Gemstones and Minerals.

James D. Webster is curator of mineral deposits in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History and was associate curator of the Hall of Planet Earth.

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