illustration of Atlantic Ocean seabed

Marie Tharp: 1920 — 2006

How many people in today’s world can say that they mapped a huge area of the globe that had not been previously charted? Marie Tharp can. Along with Bruce Heezen, her research partner at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Marie Tharp mapped the entire undersea surface of our planet. As a result, geologists were able to prove the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift.

Marie Tharp was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan and after moving several times in her childhood, graduated from Ohio University in 1943 with a degree in English and Music along with several minor concentrations. She then pursued and attained a Masters degree in Geology from University of Michigan followed by a degree in mathematics from the University of Tulsa. She relocated to New York State to work for Lamont Geological Laboratory mapping downed WWII aircraft.

With her research partner, Bruce Heezen, she began to map the topography of the ocean floor. Because of gender restrictions, she was not permitted on the ship collecting the data. Instead, she analyzed the data sent back by Heezen onboard the ship. Finally, in 1965 she was permitted to join a data collecting expedition at sea.Together Tharp and Heezen published the first ever undersea map of the North Atlantic in 1959, revealing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and central rift valley beneath the ocean. She expanded her map making work and published a map of the earth’s entire ocean floor in 1978. Marie Tharp is an inspiration to girls and women everywhere who wish to pursue a career in science.

“I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities…

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