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Buy Flotsametrics and the Floating World

Advance reviews of Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How a Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science

ISBN 13: 9780061558412, Hardcover
Smithsonian Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Trim: 6" x 9" | PP: 286 | Index: Y
Illustration: 37 images throughout
UPC: 099455026956 | EAN: 9780061558412

From Publishers Weekly:

Part oceanography lesson, part memoir, this cheerful book examines Ebbesmeyer’s life and work as a pioneering oceanographer (the first to work for Mobil/Standard Oil, in 1969) and connoisseur of beach-combed artifacts. His primary interest is ocean currents, especially gyres—great circular, interlocking currents that sweep the Earth’s waters with clockwork regularity—and the flotsam they carry around the planet. Everything from athletic shoes and bathtub toys to messages in bottles and corpses have provided data to help Ebbesmeyer trace currents. He recounts how flotsam guided colonization and exploration, from Norse explorers to Christopher Columbus (the first to master the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre). Today, Ebbesmeyer says, the human propensity for creating garbage has also made flotsam an environmental concern, with too many studies “neatly filed away and forgotten.” This account, made lively with the help of journalist Scigliano (Puget Sound), might encourage many readers to dream of “roundi[ng] the gyres” like Ebbesmeyer, “searching out the world’s trashiest beaches.”

From Booklist:

Stuff that washes ashore elicits the discernment of oceanographer Ebbesmeyer. He is interested in both the intrinsic properties of what beachcombers find, and in what flotsam and jetsam reveal about ocean currents. For this account of an offbeat area of research, Ebbesmeyer intersperses the arc of his career, which began in the oil industry, with an eclectic suite of stories related to floating objects. Some tales concern instruments purposely thrown overboard by scientists like himself; others are about the lore of messages-in-bottles; most, however, concentrate on material unintentionally cast adrift. Through a combination of computer modeling and identification of the place and time something—whether a shipping container or a person—went into the water, Ebbesmeyer defines 11 great surface currents on which flotsam rides. These gyres convey telling information about the health of the oceans, as their circular action sorts immense quantities of trash, some marooned midocean in garbage patches, some preferentially beached in locales that Ebbesmeyer visits. With a whimsical mood overlaying serious science, Ebbesmeyer’s work will appeal to the environmentally minded.

— Gilbert Taylor

From Kirkus Reviews:

Lively as-told-to autobiography of a scientist who studied flotsam—floating trash—and revolutionized the study of the world’s oceans.

Ebbesmeyer graduated college as a mechanical engineer in the mid-1960s and went to work for Mobil/Standard Oil, which financed the doctorate studies that made him the company’s first oceanographer. Years of traveling the world gave him an intimate knowledge of how ocean movements affect oil rigs, but he grew increasingly fascinated by sea currents and eddies and began to focus on beaches, more specifically on debris deposited there. An epiphany came in May 1990 when a Pacific storm knocked five containers filled with thousands of athletic shoes off a cargo vessel. Nearly a year later, the shoes began washing up along the West coast of North America. With the help of a surprisingly large and cooperative fraternity of beachcombers, Ebbesmeyer tracked the progress of the shoes up and down the coast and as far as Hawaii, producing a groundbreaking study of ocean currents. With the help of maritime and environmental journalist Scigliano (Michelangelo’s Mountain: The Quest for Perfection in the Marble Quarries of Carrara, 2005, etc.), Ebbesmeyer spins a fascinating tale. Even readers with little interest in ocean science will be riveted by the author’s chronicle of the epic travels of oceanic trash; the entertaining explanations of how floating debris guided Christopher Columbus and the Vikings to safe harbors; the horrific stories of men adrift at sea; how flotsam may have triggered the origin of life; and frighteningly, the warnings of the threat that an increasing avalanche of plastic waste poses to the oceans.

A captivating account of the man who turned beachcombing into a science.

>> Read excerpts from Flotsametrics and the Floating World