The Silent Landscape – Richard Corfield

0719565316Deep below the earth’s great oceans lies an alien world that we have only just begun to explore.  The quest to know more about this secret domain began in earnest in 1872 when HMS Challenger set sail from Portsmouth on the first ever sea voyage devoted exclusively to science.  Her scientists and crew sailed from the endangered coral reefs of the Caribbean to the trackless depths beneath the western Pacific, braving stifling heat and stupefying cold, on an expedition that remains perhaps the greatest oceanographic mission of all time.

As far as epic voyages go HMS Challenger is up there with the greatest, easily as monumental in impact as the more famous HMS Beagle’s, taking four years to travel 68,900 miles from England to Brazil and South Africa.  Before taking in Antarctica and returning home by way of Australia, Hong Kong and Hawaii all on a vessel measuring 200 by 40 foot.  It’s little wonder 269 of the crew deserted.

This, the last great voyage of the Victorian age and is brought to life through generous helpings of the crew’s diaries which are used to humanise the scientific endeavours and keep the tone light enough to encourage the reader’s inquisitiveness before giving out some fascinating scientific histories.

whilst focussing on life on the ship its dual existence being both a rollercoaster of monotony and of astonishment, the author uses the many discoveries as a springboard to educate the reader not only on how it enhanced our understanding of the seas but also how the geology of our ancient planet was formed.  The Challenger expedition found the deepest part of the sea, The Mariana Trench in the Pacific, numerous new species of plants and animals helping to confirm Darwin’s theories, the idea for plate tectonics and of course kept alive the tradition of looking down on people and places from all other nations as inferior. Continue reading “The Silent Landscape – Richard Corfield”

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