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Marie Tharp, Giants of Tectonophysics Session, American Geophysical Union

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Invited paper U22A-02, Giants of Tectonophysics Session, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.
In honor of AGU's centennial, this session profiles breakthrough discoveries by leading contributors to the study of plate tectonics, geodynamics, earthquakes and faulting, and rock mechanics over the past century. Biographers and colleagues of these leading lights presented the stories of these giants to give us an understanding about how they worked, how they acquired their unique insight, what conflicts they faced in presenting their ideas, and what it was like to collaborate with or debate them.

By the latter half of the 20th century the technologies behind SONAR, marine gravity, and marine magnetics had advanced to the point that the complexities of the ocean floor and beneath could be unraveled in unprecedented detail. Hence, scientists would finally be able to provide conclusive evidence for plate tectonics by way of plausible, proven physical mechanisms. But it took a young woman with an unusual background in geology, mathematics, and art to use that info to posit one of the most fundamental proofs of continental drift: a rift valley caused by the faulting of seafloor spreading. She did this while a researcher at Columbia University, in the lab of the iconic Maurice “Doc” Ewing, founder of the Lamont Geological Observatory. Along with geologist Bruce Heezen, she began the first systematic, comprehensive attempt to map the entire ocean floor. Heezen collected the data at sea, while Tharp developed a truly unique process for translating millions of these ocean-sounding records into a single drawing. During this process, she discovered the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which Heezen at first discounted, holding incorrectly to his expanding Earth theory. Tharp's name was absent from the 1956 scientific paper that released this discovery to the world, and she was not given proper recognition for this and many other accomplishments until decades later. In 1968, she finally had the opportunity to go to sea, and performed the first ever shipboard processing and plotting of bathymetric data. During this time, Tharp and Heezen also formed a successful partnership with Austrian landscape painter Heinrich Berann to produce several panoramas of the ocean floor, leading to some of the most widely recognized and beloved images in all of modern Earth science. Indeed, as her first, long-time employer, Doc Ewing, invented the field of marine geophysics, Tharp invented the field of marine cartography. Her story in words, data, and maps is a story that must continue be told for the future of science as well as the past. It is a remarkable testament to persistence, conviction, and courageous innovation.

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Marie Tharp, Giants of Tectonophysics Session, American Geophysical Union

  1. 1. Dawn J. Wright Chief Scientist, Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) Professor, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Hali Felt University of Alabama Author of Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor Marie Tharp: Discoverer of the Rift Valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and Inventor of Marine Cartography U22A-02
  2. 2. The 1977 World Ocean Floor Panorama, painted by Heinrich Berann and based on 25 years of Marie Tharp’s work. Image courtesy of Marie Tharp Maps
  3. 3. Marie Tharp’s father, William, was a surveyor with the U.S. Soil Survey; at an early age, William began taking Marie into the field, encouraging her to “read nature” 1920s Image courtesy of Robert Brunke A father’s influence
  4. 4. A pre-teen Marie Tharp in the field with her father, 1930s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress “Never any question of whether she would go to college.”
  5. 5. Tharp during her college and grad school years. Early to mid-1940s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress A geologist, but not until college
  6. 6. Tharp walking in New York, shortly after she was hired to work at by “Doc Ewing,” initially as a drafter. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Lamont Geological Observatory
  7. 7. Bruce Heezen looking at a fathogram being produced by an early echo-sounder. Circa 1940s. Image courtesy of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Bruce Heezen
  8. 8. Tharp in her office at Columbia University’s Lamont Geological Observatory, Circa 1959. Image courtesy of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory The ocean floor in varying forms
  9. 9. Tharp’s process Tharp, M. (1982), Mapping the ocean floor -- 1947 to 1977, in Talwani, M. (ed.), The Ocean Floor, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., New York.
  10. 10. Filling in the gaps artistically Image courtesy of Marie Tharp Maps
  11. 11. Overlays of earthquake epicenters Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
  12. 12. A Brief Timeline of Discovery 1957 Mid-Atlantic Rift Valley announced 1952 Tharp discovers Mid-Atlantic Rift Valley 1961 S. Atlantic physiographic diagram published 1959 N. Atlantic physiographic diagram published; The Floors of the Oceans, N. Atlantic 1964 Indian Ocean physiographic diagram published 1967 Indian Ocean panorama published in National Geographic Magazine "History of the Ocean Basins” Harry Hess ”A Fit of the Continents Around the Atlantic” Bullard et al. ”A New Class of Faults and Their Bearing on Continental Drift” J.Tuzo Wilson 1965 ”Rises, Trenches, Great Faults, and Crustal Blocks” W. Jason Morgan Talk at AGU
  13. 13. Indian Ocean Panorama Image courtesy of National Geographic Society
  14. 14. Indian Ocean Panorama National Geographic Society, Stanford U. David Rumsey Map Center
  15. 15. Atlantic Ocean Panorama Image courtesy of Marie Tharp Maps June 1968 issue of National Geographic
  16. 16. Image courtesy of Marie Tharp Maps World Ocean Floor Panorama
  17. 17. Initial Release: June 21, 2011 New High Resolution Data Continually Being Added Ocean Basemap
  18. 18. March 11, 2011
  19. 19. Polar basemaps IBSCO IBCAO
  20. 20. Images courtesy of Lamont Marine Geoscience Data System “Haxby Colors”
  21. 21. • Content Here • Content Here • Content Here • Content Here Licensed personally to Dawn Wright by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank, TCB-86966, Invoice L12480
  22. 22. Heezen and Tharp Map and Papers Collection, Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division Reading Room Photos courtesy of Kathy Hart, Library of Congress, @kathyhartweimer
  23. 23. Library of Congress “Not too many people can say this about their lives: The whole world was spread out before me (or at least, the 70 percent of it covered by oceans). I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities, a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to piece together: mapping the world’s vast hidden seafloor. It was a once-in-a- lifetime—a once-in-the-history-of-the-world— opportunity for anyone, but especially for a woman in the 1940s. The nature of the times, the state of the science, and events large and small, logical and illogical, combined to make it all happen.” -- Marie Tharp, 1999 WHOI Mary Sears Women Pioneer in Oceanography
  24. 24. Dawn Wright Twitter: @deepseadawn Hali Felt