The Power of the Sea by Bruce Parker (2010)

April 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm (Nonfiction - science)

This is a really good book, and I don’t say that lightly about nonfiction.  The subtitle is “Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters.”

The good news is, modern technology makes it possible to predict or identify a variety of threats from the sea.

The bad news is, it isn’t always enough, and may never be.  Witness the recent earthquake-and-tsunami in Japan.  The book talks at length about the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean – which you may recalled killed an estimated 300,000 people.

Parker presents his material in a partly chronological and partly topical format, beginning with the development of tide predictions, and the often rather odd theories developed to explain them in the ancient and medieval worlds.  And I mean “worlds”: he also deals with Chinese civilization’s efforts in this and other areas, in a worthy nod to the fact that there have always been thinking beings in the East as well as the West.

Did you know that “rogue waves” out in the ocean can top 90 feet and do in anything from an oil tanker or a luxury ocean liner on down?  Not to mention occasionally demolishing lighthouses.  For a long time, it seems, scientists didn’t even believe in them.  And there’s currently no way to predict those.

The author nicely balances genuine and well-explained scientific information with fascinating, terrifying, and horrifying examples from history.  Obviously he had to choose from among a plethora of actual or potential disasters, but I think he does a good job.

You should read this book if you actually want to understand how dangerous the sea can be, and how important modern (computerized!) research on the ocean really is.  And Parker also delves into the problem of climate change, if you want to know more about that, discussing some of the credible potential effects (meaning, rising ocean levels) and hammering home the importance of maintaining the extensive monitoring of ocean data that has been developing for the last few decades.

Maybe not a book you want to invest $28.00 in, but I got it from the library – and I’m sure you can, too.  And I know I’m a lot more educated now than I was before I read it.


1 Comment

  1. Paul Weimer said,

    Thanks, Kris.

    Yeah, this looks like a book I should check out from the nice shiny library just down the road from my apartment….

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