When the sea turns its enormous power against us, our best defense is to get out of its way. But to do that we must first be able to predict when and where the sea will strike.
IF the Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26, 2004 could have been predicted, 300,000 lives would not have been lost in less than two hours. IF the 20- to 40-foot storm surges that have ravaged the coasts of Bangladesh and India over the centuries could have been predicted, millions would not have perished. IF we could have predicted when and where 100-foot rogue waves would suddenly appear, thousands of ships would not have been lost at sea.
The Power of the Sea tells the story of our struggle to understand the physics of the sea, so we can use that knowledge to predict when the sea will unleash its power against us.
The sea’s power is even more immense on a global scale, creating weather patterns around the world and changing the Earth’s climate. IF the droughts and floods caused by the global effects of the El Niños at the end of the 19th century could have been predicted, millions might not have died from the resulting famine and disease. And IF today we cannot accurately predict future climate change, we will not be able to prepare for that future, much less have a chance of changing that future.
The Power of the Sea is about the scientific journey from our earliest strange ideas about the sea to modern marine predictions made using hydrodynamic computer models fed with real-time oceanographic data. It tells stories of scientific discoveries interwoven with stories of unpredicted natural disasters. Over the centuries, while scientists and mariners have been trying to learn how to predict the motions of the sea, the sea has killed millions, destroyed untold billions of dollars in property, and had more than one impact on history.
The leading characters in this saga include famous names from history who have been impacted by an unpredictable sea – Napoleon, Moses, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Columbus, and the U.S. Marines on Tarawa in World War II, to name just a few. And those who sought ways to predict the sea’s movements include some of the most famous scientific names from the past – Aristotle, Newton, Laplace, Kelvin, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and many others.
These historical accounts set the stage for the story of our recent cutting-edge scientific and technical advances, culminating in the efforts of nations around the world to build the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). GOOS is a vast global network of oceanographic sensors – on buoys, on ships, on islands, along coasts, and on satellites – all providing real-time data to an international array of hydrodynamic computer models. This has led to many successes in our ability to predict disasters and save lives, but we are still searching for solutions to problems that remain in predicting tsunamis and rogue waves and critical aspects of El Niño and climate change.