Rivers in Time: The Search for Clues to Earth’s Mass Extinctions by Peter D.
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DESCRIPTION: Softcover: 315 pages. Publisher: Columbia University Press;
2000). Size: 8¾ x 5¾ inches, 1 pound.Size: 8¾ x 5¾ inches x ¾ inch; 1 pound.
Several times in the distant past, catastrophic extinctions have swept the
Earth, causing more than half of all species, from single-celled organisms to
awe-inspiring behemoths, to suddenly vanish and be replaced by new life forms.
Today the rich diversity of life on the Earth is again in grave danger, and the
cause is not a sudden cataclysmic event but rather humankind's devastation of
the environment. Is life on our planet teetering on the brink of another mass
extinction? In this absorbing new book, acclaimed paleontologist Peter D. Ward
answers this daunting question with a resounding yes.
Elaborating on and updating Ward's previous work, “The End of Evolution”,
Rivers in Time” delves into his newest discoveries. The book presents the
gripping tale of the author's investigations into the history of life and death
on Earth through a series of expeditions that have brought him ever closer to
the truth about mass extinctions, past and future. First describing the three
previous mass extinctions; those marking the transition from the Permian to the
Triassic periods 245 million years ago; the Triassic to the Jurassic 200
million years ago; and the Cretaceous to the Tertiary 65 million years ago,
Ward assesses the present devastation in which countless species are coming to
the end of their evolution at the hand of that wandering, potentially
destructive force called “Homo sapiens”.
The book takes readers to the Philippine Sea, now eerily empty of life, where
only a few decades of catching fish by using dynamite have resulted in
eviscerated coral reefs, and a dramatic reduction in the marine life the region
can support. Ward travels to Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands to investigate
the extinctions that mark the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic
periods. He ventures also into the Karoo desert of southern Africa, where some
of Earth's earliest land life emerged from the water and stood poised to
develop into mammal form, only to be obliterated during the Permian/Triassic
extinction. “Rivers of Time” provides reason to marvel and mourn, to fear and
hope, as it bears stark witness to the urgency of the Earth's present
predicament: Ward offers powerful proof that if radical measures are not taken
to protect the biodiversity of this planet, much of life as we know it may not
CONDITION: NEW. New oversized softcover. Columbia University (2002) 320 pages.
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PLEASE SEE PUBLISHER, PROFESSIONAL, AND READER REVIEWS BELOW.
REVIEW: Is life on our planet teetering on the brink of another mass
extinction? Acclaimed paleontologist Peter D. Ward answers with a resounding
yes. Ward presents the gripping tale of his investigations into the history of
life and death on Earth through a series of expeditions that have brought him
ever closer to the truth about mass extinctions of the past Peter D. Ward is
professor of geological sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. He
is the author of many books, including “Rare Earth”, “In Search of Nautilus”,
The End of Evolution”, and “On Methuselah's Trail”.
REVIEW: Ward (Geology, University of Washington, Seattle) presents the results
of his investigations into the history of life and death on earth, describing
three previous mass extinctions and evaluating the present devastation in which
countless species are coming to the end of their evolution due to human action.
Rivers in Time is rich in information and ideas and masterfully portrays for
non-paleontologists how data are collected from the fossil record and then used
to test various concepts. The section on the modern mass extinction is superb,
and it should concern us all. Highly recommended.
REVIEW: The pace of species extinction provoked by human rapacity may well now
equal the rate of loss in the great mass extinction events that punctuate the
history of life. We need a broad perspective on this most portentous of all
ecological and evolutionary disasters, and who better than a paleontologist to
provide it. Peter Ward ranks with the very best in this most fascinating
profession, and his book should be read by all thinking and caring people.
REVIEW: The current extinction of species at the hand of Man, a crime that
posterity will regard as more pernicious than the burning of the library of
Alexandria, is investigated by Peter Ward with rare perception and depth of
feeling. This is one of the science books every self-taught genius should have
read this year.
REVIEW: I really like Peter Ward's books. He presently serves as my
geological advisor', as I also am a geologist. He is not as dogmatic as some
within the field of mass extinction, since he recognizes it is now becoming
increasingly obvious that in most mass extinctions, these ancient 'killers' did
not act alone. Early arguments in the debate of mass extinction, especially the
Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) event, were in the form of either/or, (eg volcanism
versus asteroid/comet impact), rather than one big event following and/or
combining with another.
The old argument "one or the other" is now often questioned on the basis of
statistics itself. You could just as well turn this logic around-if it so
happened, that once in a proverbial blue moon in geological time (which is
really long) TWO OR MORE events occurred at roughly the same time-wouldn't this
produce a really big mass extinction??. Maybe to exterminate a large number of
species against the backdrop of reasonable resistance of life to widespread
extinction, more than one major event has to occur. This sort of scenario is
supported, for example, by the many impact craters which have been dated and
which have produce no mass extinctions. This is the general view espoused by
this book. Maybe we should expect that for a 'mass extinction' event to produce
a real killer blow, maybe life has to be wounded first.
Peter Ward in this book focusses on four mass extinctions- the P/T, the end
Triassic, the K/T, and the present. There is good evidence for similarities -in
the end Permian it is suggested to be due to life adapted to ice ages, then
increased volcanism and increased CO2 with hothouse, and possible sea level
changes. At the K/T it was ocean changes (?), then volcanism and increased CO2,
and then impact. At the present a suprisingly similar situation appears to be
occurring. Presently now it's climate change (drying of the Mediterranean,
prevalence of ice ages), evolution of man (from these two possibly), and now
carbon dioxide emission.
The end Triassic, along with the end Permian, are the least understood
extinction events. Peter Ward takes us to the red sandstones of the Karoo
P/T), the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of Canada (end Triassic), and
Soviet Georgia in the former USSR (K/T), to unravel some of these mysteries.
The last portion of the book looks at the present extinction event-with man as
the major influence. Peter Ward mentions that the start of the Triassic
worldwide often contains red-beds, even near the poles-suggesting hothouse
conditions. From my experience in New South Wales, Australia, this is true. The
start of the Triassic in NSW is interesting in that it seems also utterly
barren of coal, despite a lot of coal through the Permian. Something happened;
the organisms were all dead, apparently. There are a lot of red-beds at the
boundary too, hothouse conditions, even though New South Wales was near the
poles at the time. It is interesting to see these sort of patterns worldwide,
something strange indeed seems to have been going on at the start of the
Triassic/end Permian. A good read, and a good guide to updates on extinction
REVIEW: I've read one other book by Peter D. Ward, "The call of distant
mammoths," and enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw "Rivers in Time," and
recognized the author's name I snatched it up right away. The first part of
this book contains condensed excerpts from earth's history, with particular
emphasis on the famous and most notable extinction events found in the strata.
This is preceded, and sometimes interspersed, with a brief history of geology
and paleontology. Ward covers highlights relating to methods of dating
sedimentary rocks using fossils, and how those techniques are anchored in
radiometric dating. Ward introduces some particularly insightful information
derived from some of his own field work. This adds a nice touch, and helps the
reader understand a little of the flavor associated with being a field
geologist. Chapter five for example, describes some work he did along the
Pacific Coast of Canada, relating to the mass extinction at the end of the
Triassic period, one of the five most catastrophic extinctions during the last
500 million years.
The Triassic, Permian, Cretaceous. Ward touches on them all, at least to some
extent. Part III is about the Cretaceous/Tertiary event, when the dinosaurs
went extinct. Here, as in other discussions, the text isn't just about the
mechanics of extinction, but draws upon many ancillary issues that add depth
and flavor to the discussion. Particularly interesting is his historical
discussion of the scientific debate that led to the currently accepted view
that a large comet or meteorite was a major (if not the major) contributor to
the Cretaceous/Tertiary event. This part of the book contains interesting
tidbits of information that many arm-chair scientists will, no doubt, enjoy.
One passage that I underlined was the following: "... the pollen from normal
plants found in that [New Mexico] region at the time suddenly disappeared, to
be replaced by a pollen and spore assemblage made up almost completely of fern
material. Ferns are well-known "disaster" species because they quickly move
into and colonize disturbed landscapes, such as newly burned land."
Upon reading this I reflected upon the clear-cut that I had wandered across
last year, with my horse, riding through the hills of the coast range in
western Oregon. It was like a complete swath of destruction laid before me,
with the shattered stumps of trees littering the landscape into the hazy
distance, liberally punctuated with clumps of ferns. I have a hunch that the
real point of Ward's book is found in section IV, "The modern mass extinction."
The modern mass extinction started more than 10,000 years ago, and continues
unabated today. Ward argues that we are witnessing one of the largest (if not
the largest) extinction events in terms of total species lost. He lists several
studies, some more alarming than others, indicating that the rate of extinction
is probably in the range of thousands of species per year.
Ward never really forces the conclusion that people are the cause of these
extinctions, but he does present some pretty incriminating data pointing to our
species as the culprit. Mostly the evidence is circumstantial. A natural
paradise exists without humans, humans arrive, mass extinction ensues. It
happened in Hawaii (both with the indigenous population, and later with
European invaders), the America, Australia, Madagascar, New Zeeland, and so
forth. Ward also points to studies that help illustrate the complexity of
extinction. Most extinctions are not caused by a single factor. And (as in the
case of Madagascar) extinctions don't have to follow necessarily from hunting
or otherwise deliberate killing of animals. They can (and do) happen because of
habitat destruction and habitat compartmentalization and division. Something as
simple as building a road through a wilderness area can be enough to tip the
The cover of Ward's book shows a stark and barren landscape with dry riverbeds
streaking through the sparse, brown bush. These rivers no longer run. The
symbolism for extinction is deliberate. We all know that organisms and species
die, but we still morn their passage. And when they die an untimely death, when
their demise could have been prevented, it leaves a bitter taste of remorse and
regret. As I read this book I found my self repeatedly wishing that the
knowledge found between its covers could be imparted to every one of the
politicians responsible for safeguarding what's left of our environment. As I
tell my kids, enjoy the wilderness you see. Climb these glaciers, breath deeply
the mountain air, because it is quickly disappearing. I'd call Ward's book
valuable and informative, and hopefully it will spur a few to try and stop the
onslaught, because extinction really is forever.
REVIEW: This book is by far one of the best books I have ever read. I now look
at life in a completely different way. I was brought up in a strict Baptist
home where the Bible was the only way, after reading this book I don't dismiss
God but life is sure not how the Bible says it is. Peter writes this book in an
informal way, which makes it very interesting; you can almost fell like you are
there, taking a beginner like me into a very complicated world. I have
discussed this book with others at work and found that no one that I talked to
accepts evolution; they all think it's not real. I just feel so much more
educated on the subject and thank Peter Ward for writing this book. It was
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My wife grew up and received a university education in the Southern Urals of
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