Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American who covers energy, environment and sustainability issues. Follow on Twitter
Of course you know that polar ice sheets and glaciers are melting, and that as a result, sea level is starting to rise. But once you take in a new multimedia book, Deep Water, by Daniel Grossman, you’ll feel the changes in your gut. You will also have a good sense for how scientists are measuring what’s happening, allowing them to predict how high sea level could ultimately go.
I just said “take in” the book and not “read” the book because Deep Water, published by TED (yes, the conference people), is being marketed not so much as an eBook but as a “book app”—a different kind of experience.
Before I explain that, here’s the content. The book is mostly a field trip in which Grossman travels with climate scientists as they find evidence of change. Along the way, the text explains the science of sea level rise and why scientists continue to say that the world must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases if it wants to avoid flooding coastlines everywhere. Grossman plays off of two scientists in particular: paleoclimatologist Maureen Raymo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and Paul Hearty, a geologist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Grossman’s narrative integrates historical geologic data about the past advances and retreats of glaciers with current observations, and it shows how fieldwork allows scientists to connect the two. The tag-along approach makes for interesting reading, although I could do without some details about paperwork and the obligatory passages on equipment malfunctions and long drives. Yes, they are part of doing real science—and so many other jobs. Still, the read is satisfying; Grossman is a veteran writer and producer who has done work for public radio and Discover as well as Scientific American. And it’s a quick read, only about 60 book pages of text—a deliberate attempt to do more than a magazine article but less than a tome.
As for the “experience,” it is engaging. The book app is filled with photos, bios of researchers, maps of ice sheets, graphs of temperature cycles, animated and narrated graphics, audio files of glaciers calving, and a few videos, all of which pop up in inset windows and all of which are well done. Occasional links to Web pages also appear, but as with any eBook or app, you have to be connected to WiFi to see them. I do wish the book included a handy list somewhere of all these extras, so I could hop around and find them easily. I’m not sure the product is quite as groundbreaking as TED would like us to believe, because other publishers have offered similar levels of interactivity, but Deep Water certainly goes well beyond the typical eBook in that regard.
Technical note: If you’d like the book app, you have to download TED’s free book app software onto your reader, then buy the book through it. The usual sellers such as Amazon (Kindle) and Apple (iBooks) only offer the straight eBook version, which has the text and some photos but no bells and whistles. All the options are $2.99.