GREAT WATERS by Deborah Cramer
Kirkus Star


An Atlantic Passage
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Sailing from Woods Hole to Barbados, a science writer waxes lyrical, analytical, and admonitory about the ocean she loves.

In a wonderful account that reveals an eclectic, comprehensive intelligence, Cramer creates a primer of Atlantic studies. (Throughout, she refers to “Atlantic” rather than “the Atlantic,” granting our oldest ocean a sort of member-of-the-family status.) She begins with some basic statistics (Atlantic is 32 million square miles and 12,000 feet deep) and states directly the question that propels her entire argument: “What hope is there for the sea if we do not love, nurture, and protect its life-giving waters?” Indeed. In virtually every segment she sprinkles depressing data and dire forecasts about the health of Atlantic. We learn about the effects of global warming, of ignoring the hole in the ozone layer, of over-fishing (there are virtually no cod remaining in New England’s waters, and Georges Bank—once one of the world’s greatest fishing grounds—has been closed since 1992), of stealing beach property from sea turtles, of pouring millions of gallons of untreated North Carolina hog waste into the ocean, of failing to control the use of nitrogen fertilizers in the Midwest, of being abusive stewards of a resilient but vulnerable resource. Cramer explains ocean currents, observing that the most rapid inland rivers are downright sluggish by comparison; she explains the relationship between the world’s weather and the Atlantic’s attitude; she has a lovely chapter on the Sargasso Sea and absolutely stunning chapters on the geology of the Atlantic, which first opened about 152 million years ago and will depart in another 200 million. If the history of earth were compressed into an hour, she says, the Atlantic would have existed only for the last ten minutes. Cramer employs some striking illustrative details—e.g., she demonstrates the Atlantic’s circulation by telling about some plastic toys, frozen in the pack ice near the Bering Strait, that may one day float up on a New England beach.

A powerful and provocative synthesis: first-rate science journalism. (20 line drawings, maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-02019-3
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2001