I missed last week’s #WomenInSTEMWednesday since I was on vacation but I’m back and super excited about this week’s: Marie Tharp!
Many have never heard of her (including my husband who is obsessed with maps), but she changed how we see the ocean and even found evidence of continental drift before it was an accepted theory.
Tharp graduated Ohio University in the early 1940s with degrees in English and music, multiple minors but after her mentors saw she was a capable scientist that had a knack for drawing, she learned how to draft (draw technically) which meant taking rows upon rows of data and turning them into hand-drawn maps.
After graduating with her master’s degree, she got a job in Tulsa working for an oil company. While living in Tulsa, she spent her extra time at the University of Tulsa getting a degree in mathematics. With her drafting skills and her degrees, she was able to get another job as a research assistant in the earth sciences field at Columbia University in the late 1940s.
Tharp worked on mapping the seafloor by plotting readings of the ocean floor. Her attention to details eventually led to the “World Ocean Floor Panorama” which was the first comprehensive map that included the detailing of the surface that was obscured by water.
By working on this map, Tharp discovered a mountain ridge (that would become known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that had an odd crack down the middle. This led her to believe that the seafloor was spreading. When she suggested that the seafloor was spreading, she was dismissed because it sounded a lot like continental drift which was treated as taboo. It was actually French explorer, Jacques Cousteau that eventually came to her support after he spent time trying to prove her wrong.
Tharp wasn’t the type to let people disagreeing with her stop her or drastically impact her. She said, “I was so busy making maps, I let them argue.” She continued to work on mapping out the ocean floor and in 1997, the Library of Congress named her one of the “four outstanding cartographers of the 20th century”. Tharp shaped the way that we think about the Earth now and inspired generations of female scientists to explore every part of the globe. #WomenInSTEM