|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
O all those beautiful shells you have in the drawer come
from the sea?" asked Emile.
"They come from the sea."
"Is the sea very large?"
"So large that in certain parts it takes ships whole months
to go from shore to shore. They are fast vessels, too,
especially the steamships. They go almost as fast as a
"And what is to be seen at sea?"
"Overhead, the sky as here; all around, a large, blue,
circular expanse, and beyond that nothing. One travels
leagues and leagues, and yet is always in the middle of that
blue circle of waters, as if one had not advanced. The
rounded form of the earth, and consequently of the seas
covering the greater part of it, is the cause of this
appearance. The eye can take in only a small extent of the
sea, an extent bounded by a circular line on which the dome
of the sky appears to rest; and as the circle of the waters
is ever being renewed while keeping the same appearance as
one advances, it seems as if one remained stationary in the
center of the circle where the blue of the sky merges into
the blue of the sea. However, by dint of this continued
advance one finally perceives a little gray smoke on the
 bounds the view. It is land beginning to show.
Another half-day's journey, and the little gray smoke will
have become rocks on the coast or high mountains in the
"The sea is larger than the earth, the geography says,"
"If you divide the surface of the terrestrial globe into
four equal parts, land will occupy about one of these parts,
and the sea, taken all together, the other three."
"What is under the sea?"
"Under the sea there is ground, the same as under the waters
of a lake or stream. Under-sea ground is uneven, just as dry
land is uneven. In certain parts it is hollowed out into
deep chasms that can scarcely be sounded; in others it is
cut up with mountain-chains, the highest points of which
come up above the level of the water and form islands; in
still others, it extends in vast plains or rises up in
plateaus. If dry, it would not differ from the continents."
"Then the depth is not the same everywhere?"
"In no wise. To measure the depth of the water, a plummet
attached to one end of a very long cord is cast into the
sea; the length of line unrolled by the plummet in its fall
indicates the depth of the water.
"The greatest depth of the Mediterranean appears to be
between Africa and Greece. In these parts, in order to touch
bottom, the lead unwinds 4000 or 5000 meters of line. This
depth equals the height of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain
"So if Mont Blanc were set down in this hollow,"
Claire's comment, "its summit would only just reach the
surface of the water."
"There are deeper places than that. In the Atlantic, south
of the banks of Newfoundland, one of the best spots for
cod-fishing, the lead shows about 8000 meters. The highest
mountains in the world, in Central Asia, are 8840 meters
"Those mountains would come up above the surface of the
water in the place you spoke of, and would form islands 850
meters in height."
"Finally, in the seas about the South Pole there are places
where the lead shows 14,000 or 15,000 meters of depth, or
nearly 4 leagues. Nowhere has the dry land any such
"Between these fearful chasms and the shore where the water
is no deeper than the thickness of one's finger, all the
intermediate degrees may be found, sometimes varying
gradually, sometimes suddenly, according to the
configuration of the ground underneath. On one shore the sea
increases in depth with frightful rapidity. That shore is,
then, the top of an escarpment of which the sea washes the
base. On another it increases little by little, and one must
go a long distance to attain a depth of a few meters. There
the ocean bed is a plain, sloping almost imperceptibly, in
continuation of the terrestrial plain.
"The average depth of the ocean appears to be from six to
seven kilometers; that is to say, if all the submarine
irregularities were to disappear and give place to a level
bed, like the bottom of a basin made by man, the seas, while
preserving on the surface
 their present extent, would have a
uniform layer of water of from 6000 to 7000 meters in
"I get rather bewildered with all these kilometers,"
complained Emile. "Never mind; I begin to understand that
there is a great deal of water in the sea."
"Much more than you could ever imagine. You know the Rhone,
the largest river in France; you have seen it at flood, when
its muddy waters form a sheet from one bank to the other as
far as the eye can reach. It is estimated that in this
condition it pours into the sea about five million liters of
water a second. Well, if it always preserved that majestic
fulness, this large river could not, in twenty years, fill
the thousandth part of the ocean basin. Does that make you
understand any better how immense the sea is?"
"My poor head is dizzy at the mere thought of it. What color
are the waters of the sea? Are they yellow and muddy like
"Never, except at the mouths of rivers. Seen in a small
quantity, the water looks colorless; seen in a great mass,
it appears of its natural color, greenish blue. The sea,
then, is blue with a greenish tinge, darker in the open sea,
clearer near the coasts. But this coloring changes a great
deal, according to the brightness of the sky. Under a bright
sun the calm sea is now pale blue, now dark indigo; under a
stormy sky it becomes bottle-green and almost black."
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