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In Jules Verne, Voyage au centre de la Terre, chapter 32, Axel seems to believe that algae can grow 12000 feet (4000 meters) under the sea. This is an order of magnitude wrong. Why would Axel believe that?

Quoting the text from chapter 32,

Vers midi, des algues immenses vinrent onduler à la surface des flots. Je connaissais la puissance végétative de ces plantes, qui rampent à une profondeur de plus de douze mille pieds au fond des mers, se reproduisent sous une pression de près de quatre cents atmosphères et forment souvent des bancs assez considérables pour entraver la marche des navires ; mais jamais, je crois, algues ne furent plus gigantesques que celles de la mer Lidenbrock.

(For an English translation, see chapter 32 in translation (1877) by Frederick Amadeus Malleson , also same translation.)

Note that the way the sentence is written, the 12000 feet definitely refers to the water depth in a sea, because it matches with the nearly 400 atmosphere pressure in the next clause. In particular, it does not refer to the depth of the surface of the Lidenbrock sea under the surface of Earth: apart from the grammar, that would not match the (mistaken) in-character beliefs of Axel, who thought they were between 110000 and 160000 meters under Earth's surfce. The numbers in that particular passage could be approximations though, which is why I'm asking about 3500 meters in the title rather than 4000 meters.

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    Based on the fact that deep sea exploration was in its infancy in the mid-1800s, I'd say it was a simple writer's error; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep-sea_exploration – Valorum Apr 19 '16 at 13:26
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    There could be speculation from the time that algae grew that deep. It isn't necessarily just Jules Verne making things up. – Molag Bal Apr 19 '16 at 16:25
  • @amarillo: There could be speculation, but Axel says it as if it was a fact, not just some speculation. And in that book, he's the one who sticks to the more mainstream theories, with Professor Lidenbrock coming up with speculations. If real people at that time really thought that algae grew that deep, that would be an answer, if you found a source proving it. – b_jonas Apr 19 '16 at 16:28
  • I might try to find something later, but I don't know either way right now. I just wouldn't write it off as an error so quickly, like Richard was suggesting. – Molag Bal Apr 19 '16 at 16:30
  • Axel might be bad at math: he also states in chapter 44 that the place they arrived is 1200 leagues from where they entered, but in reality the distance less than 1000 leagues. I can excuse that case much more easily though, because Axel had to improvise a line in a really unexpected situation. – b_jonas Apr 20 '16 at 8:20
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This simply seems to be a writing error. Note that at the point that this book was written (in 1864) there hadn't yet been any systematic surveys of the sea bed to a depth of 3500 metres, other than by collecting samples using a dredging weight.

The first survey that definitively focused on deep sea algae didn't take place until the early 1870s and the results of that survey weren't made available to the public until the late 1870's.

The fact that Verne was able to incorporate cutting-edge 'Marine-Science' theories into his work was nothing short of revolutionary. That he was occasionally wrong is really only to be expected given that the science was in its infancy.

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