Category Archives: Oceans & Water

River Notes and Wade Davis Getting Attention

Colorado River, by squeaks2569 via flickr

Since its release a couple weeks ago, River Notes has been the book people can’t stop talking about. Here’s what they have to say:

“Rather than a comprehensive study of the Colorado’s history, ecology or politics, River Notes mixes in a bit of all these topics, along with an account of the author’s rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Above all, the book—by turns lyrical, elegiac and combative—is a plea to save the Colorado River before it is too late.” —The Wall Street Journal

“National Geographic Explorer and author Wade Davis traces the natural and human history of the Colorado River with vivid and engaging detail in his new book, River Notes.”  —Utne Reader

“As he examines the questionable legacy left by man and the beauty of this natural resource, it’s hard not to become angry and feel hopeless.”  —Deseret News

“This book is different from the many other books on the river and the canyon since he talks about the river as a system…It is a wonderful description of a great river; a great river that is our Nile, with a history as diverse and bizarre as the Nile, except that we build dams instead of pyramids.” —Toronto Star

“You will not be disappointed. Wade Davis’ writing is superb, his text is very readable and fascinating, and his research on this subject is formidable…Reading about the trip is exciting and thought-provoking, and you wonder whether taming this river was really worth the cost.” —City Book Review

“Often lyrically…he does a good job of showing how we are all connected to this river, whether we recognize it or not…While Davis is passionate about the river, the book’s strength lies in how it captures the men and women who came upon it decades and even centuries earlier.” —The Washington Post

River Notes is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

#ForewordFriday with Wade Davis

This week’s selection is from Wade Davis’ brand-new book, River Notes.

Here’s what author Terry Tempest Williams has to say about Wade’s new book:

“The first six pages of this book will break your heart. The remaining pages will repair what has been broken.”


Questions & Answers with Marc Kuchner

Physics Today chats with Marketing for Scientists author Marc Kuchner about science-marketing skeptics and his motivation as an author.

Marc Kuchner works on supercomputing projects related to direct imaging of extrasolar planetary systems at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In 1994 he earned his bachelor’s degree in astronomy and astrophysics from Harvard University, and in 2000 he received his PhD in astronomy at Caltech.

In addition to his astronomy and astrophysics research, Kuchner composes original music and lyrics for country music artists. More recently, he’s turned his attention to teaching scientists and the science community how to get and retain “jobs, funding, and influence.” That’s the focus of his new book, Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times, published earlier this year by Island Press. He also blogs about the topic at

Physics Today recently caught up with Kuchner to discuss the book.

PT: What motivated you to write this book?

Kuchner: At first, it was the steady onslaught of insults to US science: climate-change denial, evolution denial, the decay of science education. Then the recession struck in 2008, and the number of job openings for postdocs in my field dropped by a factor of three.  My own postdocs and students were hurting.  I felt that I couldn’t just scratch my chin and spout the same old anecdotal job-hunting advice that worked twenty years ago.  But after my experiences in the music business, marketing looked like a promising tool to help my students and colleagues win the jobs, funding, and influence we scientists need to keep doing what we love.

PT: Did your experiences as a NASA scientist and as a commercial songwriter contribute differently to the formulation of your thesis? If so, how?

Kuchner: Often, scientists enjoy a special privilege: We live in a bubble of friendly colleagues who feel compelled to listen to us and read our papers.  As a new country songwriter from New York, I quickly learned that most people don’t have the privilege of an automatic audience. Overcoming that challenge taught me lessons I could offer scientists who are struggling to be heard, such as young scientists seeking jobs and more senior scientists who want to influence the public and the government.

More at Physics Today.

#forewordFriday Rivers for Life

This week’s #forewordFriday selection is from one of our most popular books on rivers. Since the Potomac was recently named the as America’s most endangered river this year, Rivers for Life seems an appropriate selection.


Top 10 Eco-Book List from The Guardian

Fred Pearce’s top 10 eco-books

From the despair of nuclear bombs to the hope of nuclear technology, the environment journalist picks out green books that are both positive and negative about our planet’s future

I am not a tree hugger. Nor a people hater. For me, as an environment journalist for 30 years, the story is about people and how they work, live and dream on planet Earth. And how we – seven billion of us, and counting – can keep up the mad dance of civilisation in an ever more crowded and resource-depleted world. Luckily, I am an optimist.

These books contain some stories of potential horrors ahead, like Bill McGuire’s Waking the Giant. But we can and do step back from the abyss. John Hershey’s Hiroshima, is a receding nightmare.

I have spent the past two years researching the current global frenzy of land-grabbing for my new book The Landgrabbers (Eden Project Books). It was a sobering journey. But I don’t doubt that we can – as Lynas proposes – continue to live sanely and successfully into the future. Even so, if Lovelock is right that we are now Gaia’s brain, then we have some hard thinking to do.

Click here for the list.


Island Press Staff Picks


This week’s staff pick is from Island Press’s publicity manager, Jaime Jennings.

She writes:

In my almost six years at Island Press, I’ve had the opportunity to work on more than 90 titles ranging from conservation to the built environment. Of those titles, my favorite has been The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts. I enjoyed it for many reasons but chief among them was the writing and the story. I’ve always been most drawn and inspired by stories about our oceans and Callum’s vast narrative illuminates a history of how we’ve destroyed them with centuries of disregard and overfishing. I came away from the book both deeply disappointed in human behavior and yet inspired by recent steps to protect the oceans. From chapter 1, he takes the reader on a time-traveling journey where I was immersed in fish markets, stood on the bowels of ships and dove under the frothy ocean surface to discover treasures below. What makes this book special is how Callum’s own voice along with photos paint an illuminating picture of what the oceans once were and what they could be again. With such a prized book, it was rewarding to see this book’s unique qualities recognized when the Washington Post named it one of the ten best books of 2007 saying, “passionate and immensely important…Callum Roberts has issued a powerful, galvanizing call to arms.”

Enjoy the excerpt below!


Introducing Island Press Staff Picks


The 30 of us here at Island Press work on all stages of book publishing: from concept and manuscript development in the editorial department to outreach and promotions in the marketing and publicity department. Our program and fundraising staff develop initiatives to complement our books and authors. And the finished product can’t happen without the production department designing covers and interiors, proofreading, and typesetting. All of this depends on the financial department, which tells us how much we can and can’t spend.

Water Experts Peter Gleick and Robert Glennon in Last Call at the Oasis

Island Press authors Peter Gleick and Robert Glennon lend their expertise to this new movie about our most valuable resource. Last Call at the Oasis premiered last weekend and is in theaters nationwide.

In the Case of Tar Sands Oil – Oils Well, Will Certainly Not End Well

Canada’s growing interest in exporting some of the dirtiest crude oil in the world is a threat to not only North America’s wildlife but also a rational energy policy and a stable atmosphere. NASA and climate scientist James Hansen called this project a climate game-changer because burning Alberta “tar sands” oil could raise CO2 levels in the atmosphere by 200 parts per million (ppm), pushing us dangerously away from the 350 ppm safety net that he and other scientists have recommend (we are currently at 390 ppm of CO2 and rising at about 1-2 ppm per year).

If President Obama approves the proposed pipeline connecting the Alberta tar sands to refineries in the Gulf Coast (over 1700 miles away), it will show that oil runs thicker than environmental and human health concerns. The so-called Keystone XL pipeline may only be the beginning of more such projects to come. Another pipeline, known as the Enbridge (named for the oil company) pipeline, would connect Alberta tar sands oil with refineries in coastal BC, traversing First Nation’s and other pristine lands over a distance of nearly 800 miles.

To extract the tar sands oil, hot freshwater is combined with caustic soda and mixed with petro-laden sands dug out of the earth by giant excavating shovels. Boreal forests that get in the way are leveled in the process. The slurry is then piped to extraction areas where oil is skimmed off the top and toxic tailings sent to ponds where they pose wildlife hazards. The resulting process has been labeled the dirtiest oil on earth not only because it requires 2-5 barrels of freshwater for every barrel of bitumen (crude) extracted, but because in the extraction process 10-45% more greenhouse gas pollutants are emitted. The oil then needs to be shipped long distances via subsurface pipelines, introducing ground disturbances and possible pipeline leaks to farmlands, forests, and wildlife migratory pathways, including those of the endangered whooping crane. On July 27, 2010 an Enbridge pipeline spewed 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River (largest spill in Midwest history) and on July 2, 2011 a pipeline operated by Exxon Mobil leaked unknown quantities of oil into the pristine Yellowstone River causing local evacuations.

There is no denial that the topic of the moment, whether on Main Street, Wall Street, or the Halls of Congress, is jobs. And while the oil business generates thousands of jobs, it comes with a high cost to future jobs, future economies, life-giving freshwater, boreal forests, and marine life (should a spill occur). What would tomorrow’s labor force think of our quest today for jobs if myopic decisions set the stage for oil spills that will decimate commercial fishing, tourism, marine life, and freshwater?

Simply put, the more we depend on fossil fuel extraction, the further we are from transitioning to sane, rational, and sustainable connections to the very basic life-giving provisions in the natural world that sustain us. Nature has limits, our atmosphere has limits; inevitably, water will someday be worth far more than oil. Destroying boreal forests to extract oil, which absorb massive amounts of carbon, will also add to greenhouse gas pollutants, raising our procrastination penalty even further.

President Obama can block this project. For the plan to go forward, the President must sign off on it (and Congress has no role in that decision). This is a critical test for an administration that has so far failed to show the strong leadership on environmental issues that the nation—and voters—expected. Conservation groups have been protesting in front of the White House to make their point about dirty oil being a threat to the nation’s environmental security and that this pipeline is just bad politics (for more information go to The insatiable demand for fossil fuels by the US as well as China (which is the destination of much of the oil from tar sands) will someday come back to haunt us as it already has in the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and other tragic oil spills. Ultimately, maybe the dinosaurs will have the last laugh, as we liberate extracted molecules from their long-decayed buried bodies that now trap sunlight and cook the planet!

Dominick A. DellaSala is chief scientist and president of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and president of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology.  He is the author of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation.


About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Battling for Bimini

Bimini has become a battleground between the forces of coastal development and mangrove protection. A huge resort development on the western side of the island has chomped through large swathes of mangroves and threatened marine habitats with a blanket of silt. I wanted to see the battle zone at first hand—and had an unexpected demonstration of how vigilant the protectors of mangroves have to be. . . Read more »

Young lemon sharks use mangroves as a nursery area. Photo by Matthew Potenski.


About Kennedy Warne

Kennedy Warne co-founded New Zealand Geographic magazine in 1988, and served as the magazine’s editor until 2004, when he relinquished the editorship in order to pursue his own writing and photography. He has written for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Canadian Geographic, GEO and various travel publications, and continues to contribute regularly to New Zealand Geographic. He writes mostly about natural history subjects, and specializes in underwater assignments. His work for National Geographic has taken him from the sea ice of the Gulf of St Lawrence to the mangrove swamps of Bangladesh; from the rainforests of Fiordland to the kelp forests of Cape Town. His book Roads Less Travelled: Twenty Years of Exploration with New Zealand Geographic is published by Penguin (NZ) in September 2008. He lives in Auckland.