Monday, May 23, 2011

Journey into the Deep by Rebecca L. Johnson

Oceans cover about 70% of the earth's surface, yet only about 5% of the ocean has been seen by humans. In fact, we actually know less about the ocean than we do about some parts of our solar system.

In 2000, Census of Marine Life launched. Over the course of ten years, 2,700 scientists from around the world participated in 540 different expeditions that surveyed many different areas of the ocean. The goal of the Census was to “assess the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life.” Although the exploration phase of the Census is complete, it will take many more years to sort through and study everything that was collected.

Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson introduces readers to the Census and some of the creatures the Census discovered. The book is divided into sections based on the area of the ocean being studied, beginning with shallowest regions surveyed to the deepest.

Johnson joined scientists on a range of expeditions and effectively conveys the experience of, for example, sampling the ocean's shallow edges or sorting through mud gathered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, picking out the animals. She describes each oceanic environment and some of the methods scientists used to survey the area by writing in the second person, putting readers in the scientists' shoes, as in this paragraph after a submersible carrying scientists descended to the ocean's deep slopes:
Farther down the continental slope, bubbles start fizzing past the porthole. For one terrifying moment, you're sure the submersible is leaking air. The scientist calmly explains that you've arrived at a cold seep, a place where gases are bubbling up from the seabed. The gases are methane and hydrogen sulfide. If you could smell the water outside the submersible, it would stink like rotten eggs. (p. 24)
As engaging as Johnson's writing, however, the book's real draw are the numerous photographs of remarkable creatures on every page. There's the brightly colored squat lobster (p. 11); the barreleye fish (Macropinna microstoma, p. 18), which has a transparent head (I need to repeat this -- it has a transparent head!); the hairy-legged yeti crab (Kiwa hirsuta, p. 50; and a sea cucumber (Enypniastes eximia, p. 55) that sheds it skin when attacked, to name just a few.

There are some nice design touches, as well. Sidebars, which I usually dislike, are used effectively here, in large part because of the page layout. Paragraphs are never split on to two pages, but contained in their entirety on a single page. Also, each of the sections for the eight different oceanic environments Johnson observes begins with an inset depicting both the depth of the ocean and where, geographically, the expedition took place.

Backmatter includes a glossary, source notes, a selected bibliography, index, and a "Learn More" section that includes books, websites, and DVDs. Journey into the Deep is a great resource for middle schoolers, but readers of all ages will be drawn to photographs.

Including the new creatures discovered as part of the Census, only about 250,000 marine species have been identified. Since there could be more than 10 million ocean species we haven't found yet, there's still a lot more exploration to be done.

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at The YA YA YAs.

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