1999. Abrantes, F. & Mix, A.C. (Eds) Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. 443pp.
This book is the proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Paleoceanography (ICP6), which was held in Lisbon, 23-28 August 1998. The book is organized into the five themes of the conference; (1) Polar-tropical and interhemisphere linkages, (2) Does the ocean cause, or respond to, abrupt climatic changes?, (3) Biotic responses to major paleoceanographic changes, (4) Past warm climates, and (5) Innovations in monitoring ocean history. The book comprises 23 chapters, the majority of which are reviews based on the oral presentations given by the invited speakers, but there are also introductory chapters to four of the five themes. The aims of the book are to provide useful reviews of each field and to document the ideas/controversies raised during the conference that may stimulate future work. The introductory chapters were brought in to summarize the state of the art within each theme.
Overall, the book achieves its aims. The chapters are useful and informative, with each one being well illustrated with good quality figures and having an extensive list of references. There is also a useful subject index at the back of the book, however, there a large number of grammatical and typographic errors.
There is a huge bias towards North Atlantic research in this volume. Whilst it is true that this area of the world has received the most attention, this type of book does give the impression that the North Atlantic holds all or most of the answers that palaeoceanographers are seeking. I would have liked a more balanced view of the world’s oceans, with chapters on the importance of marginal and polar seas. After all, most palaeoclimatic changes are best observed where there are big temperature differences (i.e. in the polar regions), whilst the Bering Sea (one of the largest marginal seas), for example, is the gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the Bering Strait has been referred to as one of the most productive places in the world.
This brings me to the next point (perhaps the most important one for us) – that of the book’s coverage on various microfossil groups. A quick look at the contents of the chapters reveals that the microfossil-related papers deal exclusively with calcareous microfossils, with an overwhelming bias on foraminifera. There are actually no papers on siliceous microfossils or dinoflagellates, although diatom mats did receive one quick mention in a sentence about foraminifera in Neogene deposits. A strange fact considering one of the editors (and the convenor of the conference) is a diatomist. One might argue, of course, that calcareous microfossils and their associated biomarkers are the key to current palaeoceanographic research, but isn’t this situation just hampering the emergence of siliceous microfossil use? As I have already mentioned above, the seas associated with siliceous oozes (sediments underlying the most productive places on Earth) are seemingly being under-represented at these conferences.
So what’s the problem? Perhaps the main problem facing diatom research, in particular, is the paucity of scientists working on marine fossil diatoms (or modern marine diatoms for that matter), and the remoteness of the high latitude siliceous deposits. Furthermore, many of the deposits in upwelling regions (off Peru, Namibia, Sahara) are poorly studied because they border on some of the poorest countries, which have few (if any) ocean-going scientific vessels. There is also the problem of age dating and oxygen isotopic analysis in some of these siliceous oozes, compounded with the lack of diatom-related biomarkers. Let’s hope, for those that work on siliceous microfossils anyway, that some of these problems are addressed in the future.
Despite my feelings on the balance of the book, I would still strongly recommend it for those interested in the wider issues within palaeoceanography. Some of the chapters provide important information that has direct applications to my own research, whilst others give fascinating insights into fields I normally (perhaps unwisely) ignore. Although the price may deter students, I think librarians in universities and marine institutes should be encouraged to purchase a copy.
Ric W. Jordan
Yamagata University, Japan