No longer able to observe the forces of nature from the deck of a ship, Maury began a close study of the huge piles of ships' logs stored at his headquarters. Long ignored as mere administrative records, they became for Maury a wealth of observational information as recorded over many years by seagoing captains. In 1847 he published the results of his research in another book, Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, in which he contended that if the winds and currents he had plotted were followed, the time required for ocean passages could be significantly reduced. Seasoned mariners initially resented a desk-bound "sailor" telling them how to do their jobs, but when a ship following Maury's suggestions made a voyage to South America that cut ten days from the usual time, his theories soon gained wide acceptance.
In 1855, Maury wrote his pioneering work on oceanography, The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology , which begins with the poetic evocation: "One planet is invested with two great oceans; one visible, the other invisible; one underfoot, the other overhead; one entirely envelopes it, the other covers about two-thirds of its surface."
Maury also wrote a number of influential essays, some of which advocated the establishment of an academy for primary naval officer training. He was the guiding hand behind an international congress on oceanography held in Brussels in 1853, at which a uniform system for recording oceanographic and meteorological data was established. With such information pouring in, he was able to draft wind and current charts for all the major trade routes of the world.
The Civil War brought an end to his career in the U.S. Navy—although he opposed slavery, he chose to go with his home state of Virginia into the Confederacy—but it did not end his renown. The scientific achievements of this desk-bound pathfinder earned him numerous honors from seagoing nations of the world. Several ships have borne his name, and, perhaps most fitting, midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy today study science and engineering in Maury Hall.