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Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science Hardcover – March 24, 2009


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Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science + Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (Scientists in the Field Series)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian; 1St Edition edition (March 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061558419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061558412
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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. Illus. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Stuff that washes ashore elicits the discernment of oceanographer Ebbesmeyer. He is interested both in 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

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Customer Reviews

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This is an easy to read book.
Sandra Dubpernell
This is a fascinating look at how water currents work - as illustrated by the movements of flotsam and jetsam all over the world.
Louisa Beckett
While this book is written in the first person, it is more than a memoir and a look into the mind of a thinking scientist.
Paul Moskowitz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Barry A. Klinger on September 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book contains many charming anecdotes about how floating objects,
from garbage to sneakers to dead bodies, are carried around by the
surface currents of the ocean. I particularly liked the extended
discussion of how careful observation of flotsam may have persuaded
Columbus that the ocean wasn't too wide to cross to India. The book
also gives some nice descriptions of what its like to conduct science
at sea.

However, as a physical oceanographer, I was disappointed and finally
infuriated by the book's neglect of the discoveries of literally
hundreds of scientists who have studied ocean circulation in the last
century. The book argues for new names of the major ocean gyres but
says little about how the gyres work. Other fascinating topics in
physical oceanography poorly explained by the book are the
relationship between the wind and ocean currents, the existence and
cause of strong currents on the western side of gyres, and the way the
Earth's rotation creates a simple relation between water velocity and
pressure. An intrinsic feature of ocean dynamics is that surface
water tends to converge (draw together in the center) in the
subtropical gyres and diverge (float apart) in the subpolar gyres.
This is very important for understanding why garbage patchs would
accumulate in the subtropical gyres and make landfall adjacent to the
subpolar gyres. Based on the book's discussions of physical
oceanography, I suspect the book could have said more about garbage
and other flotsam as well.

The large gaps in explanation would be less irritating if the book
didn't sometimes give the impression that Dr.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gregg Eldred VINE VOICE on July 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
For some reason, people tend to flock to the water. Especially when vacation calls. There is something magical about sitting on a beach, watching the waves. Or in having a cold beverage while gazing at the vastness of the ocean. This migration to the water seems to be part of human nature - a throw back to some ancient time. As we are in the midst of summer, a book concerning the oceans, and things that float on it, seems like a great idea. Part science, part autobiography, part cautionary tale, Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science, by Curt Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano, makes for the perfectly literal beach book.

Contents: Preface: A New World, Chasing Water; Oil and Icebergs; Messages in Bottles; Eureka, a Sneaker!; Coffins, Castaways, and Cadavers; The Admiral of the Floating World; Borne on a Black Current; The Great Conveyor; Ashes to Ashes, Life from the Sea; Junk Beach and Garbage Patch; The Synthetic Sea; The Music of the Gyres; Appendix A: Urban Legends of the Sea; Appendix B: A Million Drifting Messages; Appendix C: The Oceanic Gyres; Appendix D: Ocean Memory; Appendix E: Harmonics of the Gyres; Acknowledgements; Illustration Credits; Glossary; Further Reading; Index

Dr. Curt Ebbesmeyer wasn't always an oceanographer; his undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering and after college, he landed a job with Mobil Oil. Soon, he decided he wanted a graduate degree and gravitated toward two possibilities; nuclear engineering and oceanography. His wife was interested in library sciences. Deciding on a college that was strong in all three took him to the University of Washington. It was there that Dr. Ebbesmeyer decided on oceanography.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Curtis Ebbesmeyer graduated from college with a degree in mechanical engineering. When he went to work for Big Oil, he also got his doctorate in oceanography. He got to travel all over the world because ocean flows affect oil rigs. He became interested in sea currents and in beaches and how debris is carried onto land. And then in 1990 five shipping containers full of shoes washed off a ship, and it set Ebbesmeyer into his true scientific calling, which has made him world famous. In _Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science_ (Smithsonian Books / Collins), Ebbesmeyer, writing with reporter Eric Scigliano, has given an anecdote-filled autobiography, along with plenty of instruction in oceanography basics. It is a lively, funny look at a life spent doing serious science in an eccentric way. Ebbesmeyer tells us not only about adventures at sea and combing beaches, but also about the joys and frustrations of such things as getting peer-reviewed articles published. His book is a welcome look at what a particular scientific life has been like.

It was Ebbesmeyer's mother in 1991 who clipped an article for him to see. Nike shoes were landing all over the Oregon coast. Beachcombers helped him document where the shoes were found, and he started asking questions about where they came from. Nike was helpful. Not only could it tell him the exact location of the spill, but every single shoe is stamped with an ID number, which can be tracked back to the particular container that spilled it. Ebbesmeyer teamed with colleague Jim Ingraham to use a computer program called the Ocean Surface Current Simulator.
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