CHAPTER 14: The Black Current
THE PART OF THE planet earth that the seas occupy has been assessed at
3,832,558 square myriameters, hence more than 38,000,000,000 hectares.
This liquid mass totals 2,250,000,000 cubic miles and could form
a sphere with a diameter of sixty leagues, whose weight would
be three quintillion metric tons. To appreciate such a number,
we should remember that a quintillion is to a billion what a billion
is to one, in other words, there are as many billions in a quintillion
as ones in a billion! Now then, this liquid mass nearly equals
the total amount of water that has poured through all the earth's
rivers for the past 40,000 years!
During prehistoric times, an era of fire was followed by an era of water.
At first there was ocean everywhere. Then, during the Silurian period,
the tops of mountains gradually appeared above the waves,
islands emerged, disappeared beneath temporary floods, rose again,
were fused to form continents, and finally the earth's geography
settled into what we have today. Solid matter had wrested from liquid
matter some 37,657,000 square miles, hence 12,916,000,000 hectares.
The outlines of the continents allow the seas to be divided
into five major parts: the frozen Arctic and Antarctic oceans,
the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean extends north to south between the two polar circles
and east to west between America and Asia over an expanse of 145
degrees of longitude. It's the most tranquil of the seas; its currents
are wide and slow-moving, its tides moderate, its rainfall abundant.
And this was the ocean that I was first destined to cross under
these strangest of auspices.
"If you don't mind, professor," Captain Nemo told me, "we'll determine
our exact position and fix the starting point of our voyage.
It's fifteen minutes before noon. I'm going to rise to the surface
of the water."
The captain pressed an electric bell three times. The pumps began
to expel water from the ballast tanks; on the pressure gauge,
a needle marked the decreasing pressures that indicated the Nautilus's
upward progress; then the needle stopped.