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Matthew Maury Writes the First Widely Read 19th Century Textbook of Oceanography and Atmospherics


The Physical Geography of the Sea published in New York in 1855 by American astronomer, oceanographer, meteorologist and cartographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, was the most widely read study of the oceans published in the nineteenth century, and the first book to deal exclusively with marine science since Marsigli's Histoire physique de la mer (1725). The book grew out of Maury's work as superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office in compiling observations, mostly of wind and weather, for use in the navigation of sailing ships. Paying more attention to the atmosphere than to the waters of the sea, Maury presented the first attempt at forumulating a general system of circulation of the atmosphere, and derived from it many features of the climates of the earth. Maury's book was also notable for its thematic maps of ocean currents, ocean depths and other oceanographic information.

However, Maury was not a professionally trained scientist, and his system was not acceptable to the professional scientists of his day, but by provoking refutations his book did bring about valuable advances toward understanding the mechanism of the atmosphere. From a "scientific" standpoint, the most worthwhile part of Maury's book was his account of observations of the temperature of the surface of the sea and of the relief and sedments of its bed, largely made under his direction on vessels of the U.S. Navy.

Deacon, Scientists and the Sea 1650-1900 (1971) 293-295.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1463.

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