Flotsametrics and the floating world

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Eric Scigliano

Why I looked at this book

Well who can resist a book with a picture of a toy duck on the cover. But I was also interested in how tracking such things 'revolutionised ocean science'. To be at the forefront of most scientific fields requires expensive equipment. I'm sure expensive equipment is used in oceanography too. The question is, can a network of beachcomber volunteers contribute more in terms of useful science?

First impressions

The book looks to be mostly an autobiographical account of how Ebbesmeyer got into ocean science and then into tracking floating objects to find out about the ocean flows. It seems very readable, and although some of Ebbesmeyer's work clearly involved a substantial amount of mathematics, it is presented in a non-technical way, easily understandable by the non-technical reader.

Main review

The book describes how Ebbesmeyer's career in ocean science gradually led to an interest in floating objects, and that he found more and more objects of interest to study. There was a container of bath toys - the toy duck on the cover. Then there was a container full of Nike sneakers, which were useful as each had a serial number printed on it. There were the ever popular messages in bottles, (one of which supposedly contained a will giving $6 million to the finder). Ebbesmeyer's interest also led him to find out how popular an activity beachcombing could be - the combination of walking in remote places and finding free stuff makes it an attractive pastime. Soon he had a network of beachcombing contacts, giving information about the movement of objects over the ocean

There's also a look at some of the history of floating objects, and this helped me understand something which I've found puzzling. Columbus' voyage seemed to me to be the height of folly. Setting off into the unknown, based on a dubious idea of the size of the earth. But Ebbesmeyer points out that as an experienced mariner, Columbus would have been familiar with floating objects which would have to have come from somewhere else, and would have told him that sailing across the Atlantic was not so unreasonable, and that before land was sighted he'd have had some idea of how far he still had to go.

Ebbesmeyer's academic interest in all this was to map the movement of the oceans, plotting what he calls gyres and finding out their orbital periods - how long it takes for objects to go round each one. He plots out these gyres for each of the oceans and comes to some interesting conclusions. It seems that there is a fundamental period of 13 years, and that other periods are this fundamental divided by a power of two. He also looks at how climate change may alter these periods, and thus cause disruption to ocean flows.

Its a very readable book and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to find out more about the motion of the oceans or maybe just wants some entertaining reading.
Coming soon:
Reviews Elsewhere
Why not follow the Twitter feed?