HOW ONE BRILLIANT WOMAN MAPPED THE OCEAN FLOOR’S SECRETS
A word from the editor. Dear followers, on December 26th 2017 a mean hacker attack invalidated the entire Montecarlotimes’website. Today we are pleased to re-publish some of the most liked posts. Yours truly, Ilio Masprone – Knight of the Principality of Monaco for cultural merits, with the Team.
by Erika Cannoletta MONACO. Oceans’ protection ans studies are crucial topics to the Fpa2 (Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation). On 28th January 2018 the Foundation launched the Ocean Tribute Award of which you can read more in the text below. When the prince created the foundation in 2006, he actually did not fail to pay tribute to the American oceanographic cartographer, Marie Tharp. The scientist was born in 1920 and was working for Columbia University until she passed away in 2006. She was one of the most underappreciated scientists in the history of the earth sciences. Yet, Marie Tharp’s incredible maps were integral to the acceptance of the plate-tectonic theory. Despite the barriers of being a woman in the scientific community of the twentieth century, Marie Tharp’s work led to revolutionary discoveries and her maps of the ocean still affect us today.
Marie Tharp (1920-2006), a geologist, oceanographer, and cartographer was born in Michigan and majored in English and music in college; she earned a Masters degree in geology during WWII, when the University of Michigan opened its geology department to women because there were too few men to fill classes. She jockingly blamed Pearl Harbor for her education. Later she got another advanced degree in mathematics while working for Standard Oil. In 1948, she joined the staff at Lamont Geological Laboratory (now Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) at Columbia University as a drafter. She evidently did not mention her Masters degree. Working with data collected by Bruce Heezen, Tharp drew the first detailed global maps of the ocean floor. Her first was a map of the North Atlantic bottom in 1957. She herself had not even been on a research ship; as a woman, Tharp was not allowed on a research ship until 1965. While working with the North Atlantic data, she noted what must have been a rift between high undersea mountains. This suggested earthquake activity, which then only associated with fringe theory of continental drift. Heezen infamously dismissed his assistant’s idea as “girl talk.”
But she was right, and her thinking helped to vindicate Alfred Wegener’s 1912 theory of moving continents. Yet Tharp’s name isn’t on any of the key papers that Heezen and others published about plate tectonics between 1959-1963, which brought this once controversial idea to the mainstream of earth sciences. Finally in the mid-1960s, Tharp started getting on the boat and getting co-authorship credit. This paper, for a symposium on the notion that the earth’s crust was formed of floating plates, remains an accessible window into the science. The research, titled Tectonic Fabric of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and Continental Drift B. C. Heezen and Marie Tharp was then published by the Great Britain Royal Society on October 28, 1965. (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences Vol. 258, No. 1088, A Symposium on Continental Drift .pp. 90-106.) And note that in this paper on the Indian Ocean floor, 12 different research vessels are named; it was the golden age of oceanographic research. What might have happened if more women were involved, if more were given credit? Women in science continue to be under-represented for a variety of reasons, including institutional and individual sexism. Another factor may be there aren’t enough role models, that is, historical examples of women in science, to inspire future generations of girls and young women. But there have always been some women involved in science. So, yes, we have to dig a deeper to find women scientists in the past, but find them we do. They were often belittled and ignored in their own time, making their achievements, when bought to light, all the more impressive now. Though Marie Tharp was a geologist whose work contributed to the ultimate acceptance and success of the plate-tectonic theory, her legacy has garnered little recognition—and most of it has been for her cartographic endeavors. Even the admiration she has received for her maps—including the”Atlantic Ocean Floor”” map, published in 1968 in National Geographic magazine doesn’t rise to the level that those incredible maps deserve.
The magnitude of her accomplishment, particularly as a woman in the mid-20th century, working in a field dominated by men, is perhaps best conveyed by Tharp’s own words. These are her thoughts from a biographical piece she wrote upon winning the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Mary Sears Woman Pioneer in Oceangrphy Award in 1999: “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.”
The Great Britain Royal Institution with Rosanna Wan recently told the the fascinating story of Marie Tharp’s groundbreaking work to help prove Wegener’s theory in a brilliant animation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE2FK0B7gPo that gives a nice overview of how Tharp’s work advanced the geological sciences by promoting the acceptance of continental drift and seafloor spreading, the key components of plate tectonics.
THE OCEAN TRIBUTE AWARD
We take the occasion to recall that The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the German Ocean Foundation and the international boat show, (Boot Düsseldorf) that was held this year from 20th to 28th January 2018, launched the Ocean Tribute Award. The award honours various projects selected in three areas: Society, Industry and Science. At the launch of the award, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, who took part in the Ocean Symposium last year during Boot Düsseldorf, stated “Today the marine environment is deeply threatened. At the core of this Award is the importance of mobilising as many people as possible around this cause and drawing the attention of our contemporaries to such a necessity which should bring us all together. (…) I was keen for my Foundation to be involved in this commendable project.”
Since it was established, the Foundation has initiated or supported 396 projects worth €36 million. Eighty-eight projects are currently being implemented. Twelve new projects in the Foundation’s three priority action areas were submitted to the Board members for approval. These included: a project led by the University of Bern, which aims to trace the history of the climate over the last one and a half million years using an innovative ice core drilling technique; an initiative coordinated by the Small Islands Organisation Initiative, which is seeking to support specific sustainable waste management projects involving local stakeholders on five small Mediterranean islands (Île du Levant and the Lavezzi Islands in France, Tavolara Island in Italy, Kerkennah Island in Tunisia and Sazan Island in Albania, etc); a project by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan, which aims to implement a policy for managing natural water resources integrated in the Yarmouk River Nature Reserve in order to guarantee long-term conservation and sustainable use of the region’s natural hydrographic network.