Shortly before HMS Challenger put to sea from Portsmouth,
England, in December 1872, several high-ranking Royal Society members had announced that the deep sea was a barren wasteland, incapable, indeed void, of any form of life. This was the “azoic” zone, the top of which lay 1,800 feet below the surface.
But there was some rumbling of disagreement. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection had just been released, suggesting perhaps that the deep sea offered evidence of an evolutionary roadmap, and anecdotal evidence suggested that there was indeed life in the deep sea.
But what was needed was a full-scale exploration of the ocean floor and the physical nature of the waters themselves. And this, the most ambitious voyage of its kind before and since, is what Challenger pursued for more than three years, sailing some 69,000 miles in all the world’s oceans, surveying and recovering samples of the ocean floor and the water column.
The Silent Landscape carefully and engagingly retraces the epic journey: the first-ever nonmilitary scientific ocean expedition.
Joseph Henry Press, Washington, D.C.; 285 pages; $24.95.