Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
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
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
"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.
"Here we are," the captain said.
I made my way to the central companionway, which led to the platform. I climbed its
metal steps, passed through the open hatches, and arrived topside on the Nautilus.
The platform emerged only eighty centimeters above the waves. The Nautilus's bow and
stern boasted that spindle-shaped outline that had caused the ship to be compared
appropriately to a long cigar. I noted the slight overlap of its sheet-iron plates, which
resembled the scales covering the bodies of our big land reptiles. So I had a perfectly