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“Marie Tharp’s Ocean Floor: How One Woman Revolutionized the Earth Sciences”

<p>World Ocean Floor Panorama by Bruce C. Heezen and Marie Tharp, ©1977, U.S. Navy through the Office of Naval Research</p>
Photo by Steve Sagala

World Ocean Floor Panorama by Bruce C. Heezen and Marie Tharp, ©1977, U.S. Navy through the Office of Naval Research

Dates: September 12, 2013 - April 18, 2014

Location:   Science-Engineering Library

Contact: Chris Kollen | Bob Diaz


Most of us know what the ocean floor looks like from detailed maps we’ve seen, but before 1957 very little was known about the ocean floor. Did you know there are amazing mountains, ridges, canyons, and rifts that make up the ocean floor?  

This exhibit highlights the work of Marie Tharp (1920-1986), geologist and oceanographic cartographer. She created the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor and is credited with discovering the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and other ridges and rifts in the ocean helped to prove continental drift, which at the time was considered “scientific heresy” and thought to be impossible.

The maps paved the way for the theories of continental drift, seafloor spreading and plate tectonics to become well-established in the scientific world. She weathered criticism from her colleagues and hurdled the obstacles of working as a woman scientist during the 1950s. At first when Heezen and Doc Ewing wrote articles about the rift, Tharp was not included in the list of authors, although others said that they couldn’t have written those articles or made presentations about it without her work.

Tharp worked at Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory starting in 1947 as a drafter and then as an oceanographic cartographer with her long-time collaborator, Bruce Heezen, in mapping the ocean floor.

Marie Tharp received numerous awards throughout her career including:

-The Hubbard Award by the National Geographic Society, given in 1978 to Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen 
-Society of Women Geographers, Outstanding Achievement Award, in 1996,
-The 20th Century's Outstanding Cartographers by the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division’s Phillips Society, in 1997
-The Mary Sears Woman Pioneer in Oceanography Award by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, in 1999
-Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory also created the Marie Tharp Visiting Fellowship program to aid promising women researchers.

Watch a 5-minute video about Marie Tharp created by the New York Times.