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Ocean Worlds: The story of seas on Earth and other planets


It is hard to imagine that thousands of years ago, the cafe in which I sit was buried under hundreds of metres of ice. With water locked up in ice on land, sea level was lower and global temperatures cooler. This all occurred well before the invention of the written word so how do we know? Subtle compositional changes in rocks, sediments, and ice hold the key along with the talented men and women who decoded them.

Ocean Worlds tells not just the story of how our oceans came to be and how they will evolve, but also the journey of human discovery that allowed us to understand these dynamic bodies of water. The story of Earth’s oceans is fundamentally intertwined with the formation of our solar system, a topic covered in great detail in the book together with the heated debate surrounding the origin of Earth’s water.

As humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels warms and pollutes the planet ever more, the oceans are undergoing unprecedented change. Hunger for more protein from the seas is irrevocably altering the balance of marine ecosystems.  But to what end? Is there a way to prevent disaster? Dipping into the policy side of climate change the authors make some interesting points here in a chapter on Oceans in crisis, while giving a brief history lesson on human effects on oceans in the last few hundred years.

The last two chapters of this book are particularly fascinating as the focus shifts away from Earth and to distant shores in both space and time. As we explore our solar system with increasingly advanced probes and landers it has become apparent that oceans exist on some of our neighbours, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter being obvious examples. The debate about water and an ancient ocean on Mars comes with the tantalising possibility of alien life and how to find it. With increasingly sophisticated space telescopes we are now able to look beyond our own solar system to discover oceans on truly alien worlds.

This book crams a lot of information into its 265 pages, all well referenced with notes at the back. From pirates to exoplanets and penis-worms to space probes this is truly the story of water, life, and discovery. A must-read for those with a hunger for general knowledge, or any interest in the topic. You will certainly find something new to explore further in this fascinating and accessibly written book.

Reviewed by Jonathan Scafidi

OCEAN WORLDS: THE STORY OF SEAS ON EARTH AND OTHER PLANETS by JAN ZALASIEWICZ & MARK WILLIAMS, 2017. Published by: Oxford University Press 294pp (pbk) ISBN: 9780199672899 List price: £11.99. W: