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Excellent, Accessible Account of the Destructive Power of the Oceans

  • Apr 28, 2011
Occasionally, people ask what drives to me to an author or particular topic. In the case of Bruce Parker's excellent book, The Power of the Sea; Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters, the answer is simple. A while ago, I read a book that had a little to do with rogue waves and a lot to do with extreme surfers. After that disappointment, I wanted to know more about the science of rogue waves, more anecdotes concerning giant waves. Bruce Parker's book fit that void well, very well. Written in an easy to understand manner, with just enough science that the average person will understand the oceans and it's forces and coupled with plenty of examples and maps, this is the book for those that are interested in rogue waves, tsunamis, tidal bores, storm surges, and tidal bores. It is also very descriptive as to the results of these natural disasters.

Contents: Introduction: When the Seas Turn Against Us; The Earliest Predictions for the Sea; The Moon, the Sun, and the Sea; The Sea's Greatest Killer; Defending Our Coasts; Stormy Seas; "Holes" in the Surface of the Sea; The Sea's Response to an Unpredictable Earth; December 26, 2004 (Part I); December 26, 2004 (Part II); Predicting the Future-And Saving Lives; Acknowledgements; About the Author; Notes; Index

Parker begins his investigation of the oceans with something "simple:" the tide. The tide is important to everything that Parker describes in later chapters; if the tide is rising, falling, at the highest high or lowest low, will play a direct part in the amount of devastation from other ocean activities, such as storm surge. Parker describes the history of tide prediction, which, interestingly, didn't really get accurate until World War II when the Allies needed extremely good predictions until they planned the landings at Normandy and in the Pacific. Because I am not familiar with extreme high and low tides, it was fascinating to read of places on the Earth where these extremes are used by the local populace. However, those not familiar with these extremes find themselves in harm's way quickly, which is well documented in The Power of the Seas.

Once provided with the science and effects of the tide, Parker builds upon the knowledge by introducing storm surges, what Parker calls "the sea's greatest killer." He includes plenty of examples of destructive and deadly storm surges, including the one created by Hurricane Katrina. With better models and prediction capabilities, scientists were off by only 15 miles from the actual landfall of the hurricane. They were also extremely accurate with storm surge predictions along the Gulf Coast. Parker takes his time effectively explaining how scientists were able to be so specific with an intense natural disaster. It is fascinating reading.

However, that is not the best aspect of The Power of the Sea. That honor is reserved for the two chapters Parker uses to detail the earthquake and resulting tsunami on December 26, 2004 in the Indian Ocean, which resulted in the loss of nearly 300,000 lives and whose effects were felt around the world. Vividly recreated, it is both amazing and heart wrenching. Amazing because there are old civilizations within the area. Those people pass their history down orally. As soon as the water receded, their elders led the people to higher ground. Meanwhile, modern people ran onto the newly exposed sea bed. I think you know who lived and who died. As the resulting tsunami traveled through the Indian Ocean, Parker graphically describes the effects. It makes for some difficult reading.

The Power of the Sea is an accessible, entertaining, harrowing examination of some of the most powerful forces in nature. Parker writes in manner that makes the complex science of the oceans easily understood by everyone. He includes many anecdotes, livening up the text, which drive his points home. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the oceans, looking for an understanding of tsunamis, storm surges, tides, and more. If you live near the sea, or play in it, this is a must read.

Obtained from: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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October 03, 2013
I agree with Sharrie. Nature has truly destructive power.
April 28, 2011
Hi Greg, interesting read! You know what, there has been so many reclaimed lands in my part of the world that I'm wondering now if governments and businesses have been playing God without regards to nature much! We have so little understanding of the sea and yet humans simply think we can tame the sea!
April 28, 2011
Parker talks about reclaimed land quite a bit, it is very interesting. Especially when the sea wants to take it back.
About the reviewer
Gregg Eldred ()
It never ceases to amaze me how many doors have opened up for me since I started reviewing the books I read. Publishers now send me free books to read and review. Authors contact me. Kind folks at Lunch … more
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About this book


In this educational account, professor (at the Stevens Institute of New Jersey) and scientist Parker examines the violent impact of the seas on human society, and our long struggle to understand them. Parker begins with an exploration of tidal forces and their role in major historical events, from the parting of the Red Sea to D-Day. He moves on to hurricanes, rogue waves, and tsunamis, ending with the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and following tsunamis that killed more than 225,000 people. As Parker describes these sea-spawned disasters, he also documents the slow growth of scientific knowledge that gives us a chance to predict and prepare for them. Parker is more scholar than storyteller, and at times he loses the drama of his subject. Long discussions of such topics as "Laplace tidal equations" and "geophysical fluid dynamics" give the sense of a first-year lecture on oceanography. Nevertheless, any reader with an interest in the subject will appreciate Parker's expertise. Parker is optimistic about our ability to manage the dangers of the seas, but as the events of 2004 demonstrated, in spite of all we've learned, they still have the power to render us helpless. (Nov.) (c)
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ISBN-10: 0230616372
ISBN-13: 978-0230616370
Author: Bruce Parker
Genre: Outdoors & Nature, Professional & Technical
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
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