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The Most Extraordinary Environment on Earth--Volcanic Springs on the Ocean Floor

by Joseph Cone

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-09834-7
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

 A conscientious report by Cone (Science Writing/Oregon State Univ.) of what's happening in those newly discovered hot spots under the sea. As the popular press has made clear, there are hydrothermal vents, chimneys, black smokers, and the like belching high- temperature hydrogen-sulfide-rich gas thousands of feet below the ocean surface. These phenomena were discovered only in the last decade or so as a result of the derring-do of scientists descending the depths in minisubs like the famous Alvin or newer submersibles. (Some of the romance may disappear: The Nineties may very well usher in an era of remotely operated vehicles.) Cone concentrates on what's been happening on midocean ridges off the Oregon coast, where some largely spectacular volcanic activity has riveted the attention of oceanographers. Indeed, we learn that 80 percent of the earth's volcanic activity takes place under water, and that it is mainly through such phenomena that the earth has changed and will continue to change. There is even a hypothesis that more than a couple of cometary hits 66 million years ago unleashed major thermal venting and crustal cracking that poisoned the oceans for a time (file under ``dinosaurs, death of''). However, these conjectures come late in the book, after Cone has digressed to provide a history of plate tectonics, submersibles, the mechanics of the many instruments used to profile the ocean bottom, and scores of scientific experiments. Not as lively or as personality-full as Victoria A. Kaharl's Water Baby (1990), but a competent review and update. (Eight-page color photo section--not seen.)