Inspiring women: Marie Tharp

Marie Tharp's name is relatively new to me. I read about her over on the New York Times and I kicked myself for never really thinking about the how or who of mapping ocean floors. There was a time when all these maps showed were vast blueness punctuated by a curlicue of serpent or a clipper with billowing sails. And I never processed what had come between those maps and the ones I studied in school.

Tharp spent most of her career mapping ocean floors, working alongside a geologist named Bruce Heezen at Columbia University. "I discounted it as girl talk and didn’t believe it for a year," Mr. Heezen later said in an interview.

She analyzed and unified measurements of ocean depths, filling in gaps by marrying actual data with her knowledge of geology and using all of this to draw the ocean floors. I love that intuition, albeit grounded in scientific knowledge, played such a role in her work.

"In the course of her work, Tharp discovered an enormous valley, or rift, within the mid-Atlantic mountain range, which would prove the theory of continental drift. Yet she was underappreciated, and in 1982, a few years after Heezen’s sudden death from a heart attack, she was pushed into early retirement. Even Heezen, whose research and academic writing relied on her mapping, never fully acknowledged her contributions" - NYT

Years later, satellite images proved Tharp’s maps to be accurate.

Further reading:
Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt

Columbians Ahead of Their Time and Marie Tharp Remembered
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
NYT obituary

Photo via Columbia University.


  1. Interesting and inspiring. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Wow, I don't know why I am surprised that her work was so discounted. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I know - shocker. Glad that she's getting credit and attention now though!

  3. Hali Felt's book about her is sooo good. I'd highly recommend it.


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