Sunday, February 22, 2009

Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: A Journey to the Birthplace of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis

Volcanism, earthquakes, and tsunamis – together they make the great trinity of natural disasters; that is how we know these violent natural phenomena, while our collective understanding of their origin has been plodding its way across time and tradition. At length, there seems to be a scientific theory that convincingly explains the nature, origin, and dynamics of the three greatest natural disasters – the theory of Plate Tectonics. British professor of oceanography Dr. Roy Chester, author of the classic title Marine Geochemistry, covers the progress of human understanding of earth’s most destructive natural hazards from ancient mythological traditions to modern scientific findings in his latest book Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction (AMACOM Books, New York, 2008).

Ancient mythological/religious traditions themselves remain rather less known and scarcely discussed in our age of scientific education, except for history buffs and the most avid readers. Not surprisingly, old beliefs about volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis regarded them as acts of the gods or supernatural forces/creatures. Even in the recorded history of academic thought, there was a general domination of religious dogma and traditional beliefs till the Renaissance. Roy Chester traces the path of human thought and understanding, over the centuries, leading to the new era in studies about earth, its age, and evolution. It is insightful as well as entertaining to read how the scientific explanations of earth’s internal forces and their manifest effects have come in a series of episodes – like a mystery novel in which missing pieces of evidence are sought after the initial investigation narrows down the range of possibilities. In the chapter New Battles, the author discusses the two main schools of thought – Uniformatarianism and Catastrophism – that contended for authority on gearing the direction of future research over earth’s structure and evolution. From thence, the really significant story of the theory of plate tectonics comes into play.

Describing some of the most notable/forceful natural events on earth, Roy Chester shows how a number of theories about earth’s interior and internal forces were conceived by different researchers. The reader is taken to high mountains and deep down into the depth of oceans for structural observation as the author unfolds the plot of the plate tectonics phenomenon, moving back and forth in time. Through Dr. Chester’s showing-and- telling, we ultimately get the complete idea of how the seemingly rigid continents ride on a more plastic layer of molten rock material underneath and the relation between tectonic activity and natural disasters. There certainly is a lot more to learn about earth in Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: the formation and destruction of ocean floor; hot spots and hydrothermal venting systems; tectonic activity and global climate; and even the very origin of life on earth. Primarily, it is the story of the earth here that we read, also learning how earth’s matter, environment, and life are broadly related.

Thorough understanding of natural disasters clears the confusions about natural havoc wreaked on our lives and property. What is more important for the general reader is the possibility of predicting earthquakes, volcanism, and/or tsunamis in time to avoid/mitigate the damages associated with the disasters. As Roy Chester shows, it is still very hard to accurately predict future disasters; yet, extensive research has identified the more dangerous places on earth and a number of safety measures can be taken to minimize loss during a disastrous event. The final chapter of the book details the important concepts based on decades of research relating the prediction of earthquakes, volcanism, and tsunamis. It is here that the reader finds the human species face to face with nature; and gladly, we are not completely helpless here. Roy Chester makes a case for the unique human quality of scientific investigation and capitalizing on research for a safer and better future.

Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction is a complete course in the basic concepts of earth’s structure, composition, activity, and evolution. With many awesome cases f natural disasters and helpful illustrations, this is the book that will make readers better understand how physical nature works on our home planet.

ISBN: 9780814409206