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Good Reads  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History

The Oceans A Deep History

By: Eelco J Rohling(Author)
262 pages, 17 b/w illustrations
An informed look at the complex links between our oceans and our planetary climate.
The Oceans
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  • The Oceans ISBN: 9780691202648 Paperback Jul 2020 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • The Oceans ISBN: 9780691168913 Hardback Jan 2018 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
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About this book

It has often been said that we know more about the moon than we do about our own oceans. In fact, we know a great deal more about the oceans than many people realise. Scientists know that our actions today are shaping the oceans and climate of tomorrow – and that if we continue to act recklessly, the consequences will be dire.

In this timely and accessible book, Eelco Rohling traces the 4.4-billion-year history of Earth's oceans while also shedding light on the critical role they play in our planet's climate system. Beginning with the formation of primeval Earth and the earliest appearance of oceans, Rohling takes readers on a journey through prehistory to the present age, vividly describing the major events in the ocean's evolution – from snowball and greenhouse Earth to the end-Permian mass extinction, the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent, and the changing climate of today.

Along the way, he explores the close interrelationships of the oceans, climate, solid Earth processes, and life, using the context of Earth and ocean history to provide perspective on humankind's impacts on the health and habitability of our planet – and on what the future may hold for us. An invaluable introduction to the cutting-edge science of palaeoceanography, The Oceans: A Deep History enables you to make your own informed opinions about the environmental challenges we face as a result of humanity's unrelenting drive to exploit the world ocean and its vital resources.


1 Introduction 1
2 Origins 15
      Building a Planet, Shaping the Oceans 16
      Water, Salt, and Circulation 31
      Life, Oxygen, and Carbon 45
3 Controls On Change 56
      Orbital and Solar Changes 62
      Greenhouse Gases 69
      Plate Tectonics 79
      Impacts 80
4 Snowball Earth And The Explosions Of Life 82
      Into the Freezer 83
      Out of the Freezer, Into a Greenhouse 93
      A Tale of Two Explosions 95
      Reverberations 99
5 Oceans On Acid 109
      About Acidification 111
      Acidification in Action 118
6 The Age Of Reptiles 126
      Choking Oceans 134
      Salty Giants 153
7 Winter Is Coming 162
      Reconstructing Sea-Level Change 168
      The Great Northern Ice Ages 174
      Ocean Controls on CO2 178
      A Seesaw in the Ocean 185
8 Future Oceans And Climate 192
      Our Carbon Emissions 192
      Consequences 199

Epilogue 215
Acknowledgments 219
Bibliography 221
Index 251

Customer Reviews (1)

  • How oceans and climate are linked
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 31 May 2018 Written for Hardback

    So, stop me if you've heard this one before, but it is often said that we know more about the moon than we do about our own oceans. However, palaeo-oceanographer and climate scientist Eelco J. Rohling points out we know more than you might think. His new book, The Oceans: A Deep History, takes the reader through a 4.4-billion-year history of Earth's oceans. Much more than just a book about water, this is foremost a book about the intimate link between our planet's climate and its oceans, as they are far more intertwined than you might give them credit for.

    I will come right out and say that I found this book a challenging read. Partly this is because my background is not in geochemistry, and there is quite a bit of that here, partly this is because, whether you like it or not, the Earth system is complex. Fiendishly complex. Trying to put into words the many interlocking feedback mechanisms playing out on different timescales will, therefore, make for dense reading in places.

    The Oceans starts off with three introductory chapters that are quite technical, featuring a lot of oceanographic, geochemical, and atmospheric chemistry details necessary to understand the rest of the book. There are a number of helpful illustrations in this section that the reader will be referred to time and again. It is not until page 83 that Rohling starts his journey through the deep history of our oceans. To structure the book, he has chosen three key topics important to our understanding of past and current climate fluctuations.

    The first thing most people will think of when you mention climate change is temperature, and Rohling walks the reader through reconstructions of Earth's thermal record. There were times where our planet was frozen solid (periods appropriately known as Snowball Earth), such as the Huronian glaciation between 2.4 and 2.1 billion years ago, and more "recently" in the Neoproterozoic Era between 750 and 580 million years ago. During the reign of the dinosaurs, the world has been much hotter, with average temperatures some to 10°C to 15°C higher than they are today. This chapter is a good example of the challenge of putting into words the complex interplay between the organic and inorganic carbon cycles, as fluctuations in atmospheric carbon levels are responsible for these long-term temperature swings.

    The second topic, of much relevance today as well, is ocean acidification. As Rohling explains throughout the book, the oceans are an enormous buffer for carbon. But just as the oceans aren't a featureless bathtub (see the introduction to Deep-Sea Fishes for a good overview of ocean topography), they are also not a chemically inert bathtub. Levels of dissolved carbon dioxide change the acidity of water, which affects shell-bearing organisms large and small. One episode where strong ocean acidification is implied is the end-Permian mass extinction some 252 million years ago, which was so vividly described in The Ends of The World, and is the subject of When Life Nearly Died. A more recent, and therefore better documented, episode was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum some 56 million years ago. During both these events, large amounts of carbon dioxide were released relatively quickly (several tens to hundreds of thousands of years is quick geologically speaking), leading to drops in oceanic acidity. The Ammonoids, the now-extinct group of cephalopods that we met in Squid Empire, was one group that was heavily hit during the end-Permian extinction episode.

    The final topic that is hugely influential for life is water's oxygen content. Lack of oxygen in water is also known as anoxia. Ocean Anoxic Events are periods of prolonged (hundreds of thousands of years) and widespread (possibly global) lack of oxygen. This, too, has relevance today as water pollution is once again leading to persistent "dead zones"; regions of the deep sea that remain devoid of oxygen for months or years at a time, choking most life forms to death. Ironically, the layers of putrefying organic material that build up during these historic Ocean Anoxic Events were slowly transformed into black shales, of much interest to the fossil fuel industry today.

    Throughout the book, Rohling in passing mentions the important messages deep history has for our current times, but a book like this of course has to have a chapter explicitly dealing with current climate change. Looking at deep history, what makes the last 200 years different is not necessarily the amount of carbon we have so far released through the burning of fossil fuels, it is the speed. Conditions on our planet are changing faster than any time before, based on our reconstructions from Earth's deep history, with the rate of change rivalling or exceeding even that seen during the end-Permian mass extinction. The two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution may seem like ages to humans, but they are a blip in deep history. Our inability to conceptualise deep time is a huge problem, something that will be discussed in-depth in the forthcoming book Timefulness.

    And that is where this book shines. By surveying what the palaeoclimatological record reveals, by describing all the feedback mechanisms we have uncovered, it becomes abundantly clear that denying that current climate change is happening is absurd. Denialists both love to argue the quantitative details and grossly simplify them. Why can we not predict how much sea levels will rise exactly? Why is it not getting hotter everywhere? And yes, the finer details and timing of what awaits us are subject to a certain amount of uncertainty, and are based on forecasts and modelling studies, subject to revision. But by attacking the quantitative details they are missing the bigger picture. Qualitatively speaking none of the changes that are forecasted are based on conjecture: Earth's deep history, as explained here so in-depth, tells us what happens when our atmosphere and oceans change. People want to shrug this off and say "but the planet recovered, right? We are here today!" But this again painfully highlights our inability to conceptualise deep time. The natural geochemical processes that can undo rising temperatures or increased ocean acidity play out over hundreds of thousands of years. So, yes, the planet will recover from us, but we will not like the ride there.

    The Oceans, then, is a book with many relevant lessons to understanding climate change today. Whether the dense material will reach the people who need to see it most is something I am doubtful of. But if you want to understand how our oceans work, and how they have influenced life as we know it, this book is mandatory reading that thoroughly covers the subject. Be prepared to engage your brain while reading it though.
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Eelco J. Rohling is professor of ocean and climate change in the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University and at the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre Southampton.

By: Eelco J Rohling(Author)
262 pages, 17 b/w illustrations
An informed look at the complex links between our oceans and our planetary climate.
Media reviews

"Paleoceanography, Rohling's area of expertise, is the study of ancient oceans and ancient climates as they changed and developed together over geologic time. It involves analyzing data like layers of sediment taken from the seabed. Much alarming information can be learned this way, as Rohling demonstrates, about how today's oceans are likely to respond to climate change – with greater acidification, sea-level rise, mass extinction and so forth. But because storms leave no geological record, the precise effect of global warming on hurricanes is harder to gauge. Still, Rohling is confident that the combination of rising sea levels and some form of increased storm intensity 'spells doom' for the world's coastal regions. For surfers, rooting for hurricane swell may be increasingly difficult to rationalize."
– James Ryerson, New York Times

"Rohling's work is extensive and informative."
Publishers Weekly

"The Oceans is extremely thorough, appropriately so for a topic of such profundity. The book also covers a tremendous amount of ground with dizzying speed."
Foreword Reviews

"If you want to understand the planet and climate change, this book is for you."
– John R. Platt, EcoWatch

"For science readers looking for something new, [The Oceans] is a treat."
– John Farrell,

"Oceans are the vehicle of climate change – on land and sea. Rohling's presentation of the ocean's history – and thus our climate's history – is erudite yet accessible to a broad audience interested in the future of our planet."
– James E. Hansen, Earth Institute, Columbia University

"In this compelling book, prominent paleoceanographer Eelco Rohling provides the perspective needed to understand the current and future health of our oceans and their role in our rapidly evolving new world."
– Paul Andrew Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine

"In relating the long history of the oceans in the context of climate, Rohling brings together the important idea that climate control on long timescales is a mix of tectonics, ocean circulation, and carbon storage – with carbon storage being a euphemism for 'How much CO2 is in the atmosphere?'"
– Elisabeth L. Sikes, Rutgers University

"The density of information and Rohling's clear, concise explanations make for exhilarating reading, not least because his delight in his subject matter is so palpable. Most importantly though, Rohling's long view makes clear the vast scope of the transformation of the oceans taking place around us, underlining not just the effect on ecosystems and biodiversity, but also its geological scale."
– James Bradley, The Australian

"In an incredibly detailed 262-page hardcover volume titled The Oceans: A Deep History, Rohling shakes up every reader who [...] [dives] into the massive amount of worrisome information"
– Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, The Jerusalem Post

"The Oceans: A Deep History oozes with the enthusiasm and passion that Eelco has for geology and palaeoceanography and the awe that he has for how the Earth came to be what it is today [...] A brilliantly masterminded book, full of necessary detail that builds a compelling argument from 4.6 billion years of evidence and which culminates in an undeniable conclusion."
– Jennifer D. Stanford, The Holocene

"This book is not only an invaluable introduction to the cutting-edge science of palaeoceanography but also a crucially important text for students approaching all different fields of marine sciences."
– Roberto Danovaro, Current Biology Magazine

"Very informative, extensive, and full of necessary detail [...] this book clearly teaches the many relevant lessons needed to understand the climate change of today and what happens when our atmosphere and oceans change."
– Miguel Furtado, Conservation Biology

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