We celebrate trailblazing women who contribute to ocean science, a field that has been largely dominated by men. Case in point: Marie Tharp was the woman who mapped the ocean floor and discovered the Mid-Ocean Ranges, chains of moving mountains that disproved existing theories of an entire flat seafloor. Her finding showed that the sea floor was spreading and vindicated the then controversial theory of plate tectonics and continental drift. Her map is still used today.
Marie Tharp Changed Geology Forever!
Marie was born in Michigan in 1920, but did not stay put. She traveled with her father wherever his work as a surveyor took him. Marie traveled so much that she attended 20 different schools, eventually graduating from Ohio University in 1943 with a degree in English. Marie went on to receive a second degree in petroleum geology and eventually a third degree in Mathematics.
Working at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory lab during the time of sonar technology development, Tharp’s supervisors pushed researchers to study the seafloor, however because she was a woman, Navy regulations restricted Tharp from setting foot on research vessels.
As her lab-mates spent years at sea collecting data, Tharp stayed land-bound, carefully examining the numbers in the lab and charting them out by hand. (map- Marie Tharp and Bruce Berann)
Discovering the Earth’s Backbone
In 1956, Marie and her longtime friend and colleague Bruce Heezen published their work and proved that there was a lot more on the seafloor than had ever been imagined. They had discovered the mid-ocean ridge, also known as “the backbone of earth” and in the process laid the groundwork for modern ocean geology and verified the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift.
Like many women in the 1950s Marie’s role was diminished by gender stereotypes, yet her renowned map still hangs in the offices of ocean scientists around the world. It has proven to be so accurate and so well done that it is still the desired ocean floor map used today. Photography of the ocean floor, taken from space satellites have reaffirmed the accuracy of Marie’s map.
To find out more about Marie Tharp read: Soundings, the story of the remarkable woman that mapped the ocean floor.
By Laurie Wilson, Blue Ocean Network
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