Monday, February 23, 2009

Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science by Curtis Ebbesmeyer

Thanks to Heather for bringing this review copy back from ALA in Denver.

The word "flotsametrics" is not in standard dictionaries, but readers of Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano's Flotsametrics and the Floating World will quickly understand what it means. For clarity's sake, Ebbesmeyer has a glossary in the back of his book. Coined by his coworker Jim Ingraham in 2001, "flotsametrics" is simply "the quantitative study of flotsam."

People have been fascinated by flotsam since the dawn of human settlements along coastal waters. Ebbesmeyer even suggests that the availability of flotsam helped tribal peoples site their villages. In Hawaii, for example, communities formed along beaches upon which timber from North America's northwest woods washed up after circling the Pacific on the Turtle Gyre. Wood was precious and the sea provided. In the nineteenth century, there was great interest in water-borne bottles containing messages. Edgar Allan Poe wrote about them and people worldwide began throwing bottles into the sea. More recently, great ships crossing the oceans have been accidentally dropping huge containers of manufactured goods. Rubber bath toys and athletic shoes are among the many items washing ashore up and down the continents.

In Flotsametrics and the Floating World, Ebbesmeyer recounts the history of flotsam. He also tells a very personal story of his own fascination with the oceans and his travels around the world. It is a tale that brings in lots of fellow scientists, as well as his mom and dad. On occasion, he sticks in calculations of currents with the variables of wind and shape of floating items, but he mostly tells stories that any non-scientist can understand and enjoy. He may even convince some to plan beach combing vacations and to subscribe to his Beachcombers' Alert.

Of course, not everything that washes up on beaches is nice to collect. There is a whole chapter about human remains, intact and in pieces, which are deposited by the tides. Ebbesmeyer also discusses oil spills, unexploded mines, and the depositing of scrap plastics, mercury, DDT, PCBs, and other unpleasant chemicals on sand and rocks.

Six U.S. libraries have already cataloged this entertaining book, according to WorldCat. I'm sure there will be many more.

Ebbesmeyer, Curtis and Scigliano, Eric. Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science. Smithsonian Books, April 2009. ISBN 9780061558412

1 comment:

Citizen Reader said...

I can't wait to get this one! Love that cover.