from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1997

Reviewing a science book for high-school honors courses

Essentials of Oceanography
1995. 353 pages. ISBN: 0-534-24942-6.
Wadsworth Publishing Company, 10 Davis Drive, Belmont, California 94002.
(Wadsworth is a division of International Thomson Publishing Inc.)

An Enjoyable Introduction
to General Oceanography

H. Gary Greene

Essentials of Oceanography, written by Tom Garrison, is an interesting, enjoyable book that presents a broad view of oceanography in fifteen chapters. It is meant for use in introductory courses at the community-college level, but it also can be used in advanced high-school courses. Garrison writes in an engaging style, making the book appropriate even for students who are not science majors.

This book's content includes a brief history of our understanding of the oceans, discussions of Earth's origin and structure, chapters about the morphology of the ocean basins and the movements of the oceans' waters, and three ecology-oriented chapters on marine life. The final chapter addresses ways in which marine resources have been managed and mismanaged. Each chapter ends with a summary, a list of important terms and concepts, some study questions and a brief annotated bibliography.

Essentials of Oceanography shows many strengths and should be useful as a classroom text for some time to come. Because oceanography is a broad field which spans many scientific disciplines, the author of an introductory textbook has to work hard to keep his writing focused.

Garrison has done this. His historical material (starting with the exploits of some ancient mariners and extending through today's intense exploration of the oceans) is exciting, his treatment of the evolution of the oceans is excellent, and he does a good job of integrating geological, biological, chemical and physical aspects of oceanography.

Some Things That Need Fixing

I personally learned some new things from Essentials of Oceanography, and reading it has provided me with a good review of oceanography as a whole. However, there are bound to be some errors and deficiencies in any new textbook, and this one has its share. Most are minor, but they should be redressed in the next edition. For example:


In a short "Afterword" that follows the last chapter, Garrison encourages his reader to learn more:

The marine sciences are at the threshold of a new age. The recent revolutions in biology and geology are being assimilated and the road ahead seems clearer. A renaissance in the design of sampling devices, robot submersible vehicles, and data processing has brought new vigor to oceanography. Satellite-borne sensors can provide data in an instant that would have taken years to collect using surface ships. . . . We can learn much about the world -- and about ourselves -- by looking for the oceanic connections between things. I hope your interest in learning about the ocean has just been kindled.

Tom Garrison's own enthusiasm for oceanography is apparent and contagious, and his textbook -- despite the occasional errors and omissions -- is rich in sound scientific information. I recommend Essentials of Oceanography for use in high-school honors classes and in community colleges.

A Fine Science Book
by a Skillful Teacher

Leighton Taylor

Many a textbook nowadays is created by the publisher's own ghost-writers, then is disguised with the names of "authors" and "consultants" (and maybe an "advisory panel") to provide credibility. This is not the case with Essentials of Oceanography. Here we have a real text written by a real, working teacher: Tom Garrison, of Orange Coast College (in Costa Mesa, California). Among community colleges, Orange Coast offers the most extensive marine-science program in the nation, and Tom Garrison is the program's chairman. He also is the college's Faculty Member of the Year for 1996-1997, recently chosen from nine nominees.

Garrison wrote Essentials of Oceanography for use in community-college classes, but this excellent textbook can serve as a teaching text for use in high-school honors courses too. It will also be valuable to teachers who simply want to freshen their knowledge of marine science.

When I was in high school, decades ago, high schools did not offer courses in oceanography, and only a few colleges took the subject seriously. I took my baccalaureate degree at Occidental College (in Los Angeles), but Occidental didn't start a comprehensive marine-studies program until after I had graduated. Obviously, I was on the wrong side of the wave. That wave has continued to build, especially in the past ten or fifteen years. The number of oceanography courses offered by our American colleges increased by 200% between 1984 and 1994, and the number of faculty members teaching oceanography to undergraduates grew from 1,867 to 3,552, according to CMG Information Services (a company that advises publishers about trends in education).

Today's first-rate high schools should recognize the growing interest in marine studies among young people, and they should consider offering introductory courses to serious students. In this setting, Tom Garrison's book can be a big help.

Good Work

As a biologist, I have admiration for Garrison's chapters about marine life. They are structured as surveys, but they provide more depth than one would expect in an introductory book. Information is presented clearly in the text and is supplemented by fine illustrations, though the captions under the illustrations are sometimes skimpy. The teacher will need to expand upon these to ensure that students understand what is being shown. (The teacher should also note that figure 13.16(b), showing the jaws of a shark, has been printed upside-down.)

Garrison's chapter 15, titled "Uses and Abuses of the Ocean," describes some ways in which the seas are related to commerce, human health and other human affairs. It provides excellent reviews of topics as varied as oil spills and petro-economics, water policy, overfishing, chemical pollution, waste disposal, atmospheric changes, the law of the sea, and -- most essentially -- overpopulation. Besides forming an important part of Garrison's survey of oceanography, this chapter can serve as a resource for teachers of other subjects, such as environmental science, geography or social studies.

In reading the chapters about physical oceanography, I made a point of checking Garrison's passages about the Coriolis effect and geostrophic anomalies -- two concepts with which I had some difficulty when I was in grad school. Garrison has done a good job of explaining both. I also like his little tribute to the fun of surfing, presented as a sidebar in his chapter about waves.

I suspect that some of the diagrams in Essentials of Oceanography were originally developed for use in Garrison's classroom. They look like diagrams that would accompany the "chalk talks" of a good teacher.

I could not help noticing an annoying error that obviously was introduced by the publisher. In his first chapter, "History," Garrison reproduces a Portuguese postage stamp, and the caption says correctly that the stamp commemorates Prince Henry the Navigator. But when the same illustration appears in the promotional material at the front of the book -- as an example of the book's "outstanding" artwork -- the person shown on the stamp is said to be Ferdinand Magellan. I suspect that Garrison did not get to check all of the illustrations before the book went to press, and he probably has been chagrined by some of the things that the publisher has done. I can sympathize. Several years ago I wrote a book titled Sharks of Hawaii, which included a carefully prepared list of shark attacks on humans. Not until the book was distributed did I find that my publisher had decided to print the list (and only the list) on a background of red and pink, which suggested rent flesh. This undermined my effort to present information in a sober and objective way.

Essentials of Oceanography has several appendices, and two of them seem to be especially useful. One is Appendix V, "Taxonomic Classification of Marine Organisms," which probably originated as a handout in one of Garrison's classes. Students will find it helpful to have this overview of marine organisms, all in one place, though the list does contain some errors. (Marine amphibians are very few, but to say flatly that there are "no marine species" of amphibians isn't right. Neither is it right to say that the gulls are the only marine birds in the order Charadriiformes, or that pelicans are the only marine members of the Pelicaniformes.)

Appendix VI, "Working in Marine Science," should be photocopied in bulk by all marine scientists, so that it can be used as a handout in social situations. Here is why I make that suggestion. Whenever I disclose that I am a marine biologist -- say, during a civic meeting or at a dinner party -- I am approached by a well-meaning adult who says something like this: "I have a [daughter, son, nephew, niece] who loves to [surf, fish, sail] and wants to become a scientist and study things in the ocean. What should [he, she] be doing to get ready?" I am not alone in this. All the marine scientists whom I know have to handle similar questions, and Garrison's Appendix VI gives the right answers in a kindly, cogent way: study math (because "Math is the key to further progress in any area of marine science"); learn to utilize computers ("preferably DOS, not Macintosh, by the way"); take basic science courses; get good grades; do volunteer work to "expand your involvement in marine science"; plan on going to graduate school; foster diversity in your interests; and so on.

Essentials of Oceanography is a good book. Read it for enjoyment and information. Teach with it to get good results in your science classroom.

H. Gary Greene is a marine geologist and the director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (in Moss Landing, California). His research focuses on ocean-bottom cold seeps and the communities of organisms associated with them.

Leighton Taylor, a marine biologist, operates Leighton Taylor & Associates (in St. Helena, California), a company that offers planning and design services to science museums and to other institutions that present science to the public. He also writes extensively about marine subjects. His book Sharks of Hawaii: Their Biology and Cultural Significance was published in 1993 by the University of Hawaii Press.


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