from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1997

Reviewing a science book for high-school honors courses

Oceanography: An Introduction
1995 (fifth edition). 495 pages. ISBN: 0-534-24258-8.
Wadsworth Publishing Company, 10 Davis Drive, Belmont, California 94002.
(Wadsworth is a division of International Thomson Publishing Inc.)

It's a Good Text, Overall,
but Somewhat Outdated

Jonathan H. Sharp

Most of the marine-science books that have been reviewed in The Textbook Letter have been books on marine biology, rather than oceanography. Oceanography is a distinctly different field, although it has a biological component. Like marine biology, it is more quantitative than Jacques Cousteau's adventure films would suggest, but it is no less exciting.

Oceanography is best viewed as part of the larger world of the earth sciences. It is a highly integrated, fast-breaking field built on applied physics, applied chemistry, geology and biology, and it includes practical research that bears on natural-resource policies and on some of the most pressing, most exciting problems that we face in our modern world.

Introductory textbooks of oceanography have been popular for about 25 years, and about two dozen such books are available today in the United States. In most of them, any statements about target audiences are equivocal or nebulous, though it seems that the books are aimed at college students or at high-school juniors or seniors. Most of the books don't say anything about specific prerequisites -- however, all of them seem to take for granted that the reader is comfortable with algebra and has some knowledge of physics and chemistry. I have used several of these textbooks in teaching university undergraduates, both in a general "non-science major" course and in a course for students majoring in science or in engineering. In all cases, I have assumed that students were adept in using simple algebra and had taken high-school science courses.

In evaluating Oceanography: An Introduction, I have made similar assumptions. My premise is that the audience consists of high-school students, in an honors course, who have taken courses in geography, in mathematics (through algebra, at least) and in chemistry. I would hope that the students also have taken high-school physics, or are taking it concurrently with their oceanography course. They probably have taken high-school biology already, but this is perhaps less critical than a background in chemistry and physics.

I think the authors of Oceanography: An Introduction, Dale Ingmanson and William J. Wallace, show a fairly good comprehension of the entire interdisciplinary field of oceanography, although I challenge their reference to "Biological oceanography -- or marine biology, as it is also called . . . ." The claim that "biological oceanography" and "marine biology" are synonymous would not elicit agreement from most marine scientists. Many institutions have separate programs for marine biology (which emphasizes organisms per se) and for biological oceanography (which emphasizes ecology).

Uneven Content

A few of the oceanography texts that I have read were not comprehensive enough. Oceanography: An Introduction does not suffer from that deficiency. Though it has some (to be cited below), it is sufficiently broad in scope to give students a reliable picture of what oceanography is about. It incorporates a strong geophysical approach (as an introductory oceanography text must), and the authors usually avoid the mistake of simplifying their material to the point of inaccuracy.

However, not all subjects are treated with the same success. The book's content is somewhat uneven, possibly because the authors are not as familiar with some subjects as with others.

The section on plate tectonics is very good, the other coverage of geographical and geological material is good, and the section on evolution is good but a bit too brief.

The chapter about the chemistry of seawater is not broad enough and does not go into sufficient detail. It also contains the dubious statement, on page 107, that "The residence time of carbon dioxide in the ocean is about 5 to 10 years, . . . ." This is misleading. Most ways of estimating residence time would give, for carbon, values on the order of 100,000 years.

Similarly, atmospheric science and the interactions between the atmosphere and the oceans are not treated adequately. The discussion of atmospheric carbon dioxide and global climate change is especially problematic. Some other textbooks have more material dealing with atmospheric physics and chemistry, and this makes it easier for students to understand the greenhouse effect, global warming, and the deterioration of the ozone layer -- subjects that should be discussed well in all introductory oceanography books.

The chapters about currents, waves and tides are good, and the three chapters about biological matters are very good. The illustrations in these chapters are excellent. I have used a number of them in my lectures.

The authors depart from tradition by offering a separate chapter about sampling ("Obtaining Information about the Ocean"), but it is quite out-of-date in some respects. As a whole, it does not do much to improve the book. Another arbitrary addition is the separate chapter on polar oceanography. In this case, the authors have been more successful, and the chapter is good.

Like many (though not all) introductory texts, this one ends with chapters on marine resources and pollution. The chapters are very good, but they would be even better if they included more recent information.

There is considerable variation in the lengths of the chapters, and this could be problematic for those teachers who like to make reading assignments.

The appendices include some traditional ones (e.g., those dealing with latitude and longitude, with scientific notation, and with the geological time scale) and some that are more unusual (e.g., the one that shows how to do calculations based on Archimedes's principle). In general, the appendices are helpful, as is the glossary.

Overall, this fifth edition of Oceanography: An Introduction is a good book, as far as scope, approach and organization are concerned. Its most noticeable drawback is that it is somewhat outdated. Although it has a 1995 copyright, most of the information that it presents originated no more recently than in 1992. The references are especially out-of-date.

Wadsworth Publishing has produced a new edition of Oceanography: An Introduction every four to six years -- which suggests that the company may be working right now on another edition (i.e., the sixth), to be issued next year with a 1999 copyright. This may be of interest to teachers who can wait for a while before choosing an oceanography book. For teachers who must choose a book right now, I would recommend Wadsworth's other introductory book, Essentials of Oceanography. I have seen that book, and it seems more up-to-date than the present edition of Oceanography: An Introduction.

A Serving of Oceanography Light

John E. McCosker

Dale Ingmanson and William J. Wallace, the authors of Oceanography: An Introduction, teach at San Diego State University, and their book has a California style reminiscent of the light cuisine that West Coast restaurants plugged in the 1980s. Ingmanson and Wallace are serving oceanography light -- a version of marine science that is less filling but doesn't provide much satisfaction. For a college course, this textbook is barely adequate. It can serve in a high-school honors course (provided that the students are already well versed in biology and chemistry), but it is leagues away from the better oceanography books that are available.

My disappointment with Oceanography: An Introduction began when I read the preface, which combines pomposity with a smattering of political correctness. The authors start by saying:

The earth has often been viewed as a possession to be subdued and exploited. . . . One reason for writing Oceanography: An Introduction was to explore the myths and realities according to our present understandings of the ocean.

In our opinion textbooks should present the guiding philosophy of the authors very early on. Our book was the first general oceanography text to take serious issue with environmental topics. . . .

I suspect they wanted to state that their book was the first to take environmental topics seriously. What they have written is incomprehensible, however, because the two-dollar phrase to take issue with means to set up an opposing argument. How does one set up an argument opposing topics?

As an adherent to Louis Agassiz's dictum "Learn from nature, not from books," I took particular umbrage when, later in the preface, I found this:

[Our] book emphasizes visual materials: There are over four hundred line drawings and photographs, . . . . If properly executed, illustrations can be good substitutes for direct observation.

This is the pretension which has led to the misguided notion that biology students do not need to handle real organisms, and that anatomy students do not need to dissect sharks, cats or anything else. It's politically correct California-think, sent to you from a state where the directors of a science fair recently barred a student's project because the student was working with real insects! (If I ever need the services of a surgeon, I hope that I will be able to find one who has dissected cadavers and has used them for practicing real operations, instead of just looking through some picture-books or running SimSurgery on a computer.)

Outdated Material

The body of the book comprises nineteen chapters that deal with physical, chemical, and biological aspects of oceanography, ending with chapters on "Marine Resources and Ocean Technology" and "Ocean Pollution and Management." After these come nine appendices (ranging from "Latitude and Longitude," "The Coriolis Effect" and "The Geologic Time Scale" to maps of all the coasts of the United States) and a useful glossary. There is no comprehensive bibliography.

Ingmanson and Wallace claim that this fifth edition of Oceanography: An Introduction has been substantially updated, but I think that they still have a way to go. For example, their list of "Milestones in the Study of the World Ocean" (table 1.1) effectively ends at 1983. The last item on the list simply says "1985-present: Ocean Margin Drilling Program," without citing anything which that program has accomplished. Another example: On page 32 we read that the United States Navy's research vessel Melville has an "unusual propulsion system" comprising "vertically mounted, multi-bladed cycloidal propellers, one near the bow and one near the stern" -- but in fact, that technology proved unworkable and was replaced by a conventional propulsion system in 1991.

Examining the "Further Readings" lists at the ends of the chapters, I find that the authors have virtually ignored the major syntheses that have been published since 1990, and many of the "Further Readings" seem to be works that the authors themselves might have used when they were students.

Careless Work

Ingmanson and Wallace's handling of my own field, marine biology, is careless. For example, they say that bioluminescence "is also called phosphorescence" (page 117). That is shameful, because bioluminescence and phosphorescence are different things. They say that the great white shark reaches 11 m in length (page 307) -- but 7 m would be accurate. The same page shows blatant misspellings, as the authors refer to "cartiligenous fishes" and "boney fishes." On page 317 the yellow-bellied sea snake is said to range "from the Sea of Cortez to South America" -- but the snake's range is actually much broader, extending across the tropical Pacific and into the Indian Ocean. The authors have messed up an important aspect of the biology of this hydrophiid. Figure 15.5 is a grand disaster: The scorpionfish is identified as a lanternfish, the lanternfish is called an oarfish, the "salmon" mentioned in the captioned doesn't appear anywhere, and the triggerfish has been interchanged with a Siamese fighting fish (a fresh-water animal that has nothing to do with the oceans).

This points to another one of the book's weaknesses. While the tables and schematic diagrams are generally useful, too many of the drawings and photographs are flawed or useless. Some of them give me the impression that the authors (or maybe an art director at Wadsworth Publishing) got a file of stock pictures and grabbed whichever picture was on top. Why else would anyone use a photograph of some cute puppies, in a basket, to illustrate the idea that sled-dogs have "figured heavily in polar exploration"?

The authors show carelessness in other ways, too, which have particularly irked me. Sometimes they identify the source of information shown in a table or a figure, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they cite the source of an illustration, and sometimes they don't. (On page 359, for example, they show two drawings of something that they call a "dragonfish," but they don't disclose that the drawings are copies of two illustrations that originally appeared in the famous monograph The Feeding Mechanisms of a Deep Sea Fish, by V.V. Tchernavin.) Sometimes an organism is identified by its full scientific name, sometimes by its genus only, and sometimes by no scientific name at all. (On page 331 the authors mention and illustrate the living coelacanth without ever telling that it is known to science as Latimeria chalumnae -- surely one of the most famous binomials in the history of marine biology.) The authors also say some puzzling things, as when they declare that there are "about 16 species" of penguins. ("About"? Is there some doubt here?) Such sloppy practices are unforgivable.

To summarize, I find Oceanography: An Introduction to be a weak effort. Ingmanson and Wallace have tried to prepare oceanography light, but their product sinks.

The teacher who needs an oceanography book for a high-school course will probably do well to consider Wadsworth's Essentials of Oceanography, which was reviewed in the March-April issue of The Textbook Letter. There are also some good texts that focus on marine biology but provide appropriate introductions to physical and chemical oceanography as well. One such textbook is Marine Biology: An Ecological Approach, which I described in The Textbook Letter, November-December 1994.

Jonathan H. Sharp is a professor of oceanography in the Graduate College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware (in Lewes). His scientific interests include the influences of microorganisms and geochemical reactions on the chemistry of the oceans. His research deals with various marine processes, including near-shore eutrophication and open-ocean carbon cycles.

John E. McCosker is a biologist specializing in ichthyology. For two decades he served as director of the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences (in San Francisco), and he now heads the Academy's Department of Aquatic Research. His professional interests include the biology of the white shark, as well as various conservation issues.


Pointer return to top
Pointer go to Home Page
Pointer read the Index List, which shows all the textbooks, curriculum manuals,
     videos and other items that are considered on this Web site
Pointer contact William J. Bennetta by e-mail