Today’s Google Doodle Celebrates The Life And Legacy Of American Geologist Marie Tharp Who Helped Prove Plate Tectonics
Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the life of Marie Tharp, an American geologist and oceanographic cartographer who co-published the first world map of the ocean floors and doing so helped prove plate tectonics.
The interactive Doodle explores Tharp’s life and is narrated by Caitlyn Larsen, Rebecca Nesel, and Dr. Tiara Moore , three notable women who are currently living out Tharp’s legacy by making strides in the traditionally male-dominated ocean science and geology spaces.
Marie Tharp was an only child born on July 30, 1920, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Tharp’s father, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gave her an early introduction to map-making. She attended the University of Michigan for her master’s degree in petroleum geology—this was particularly impressive given so few women worked in science during this period. She moved to New York City in 1948 and became the first woman to work at the Lamont Geological Observatory where she met geologist Bruce Heezen.
Heezen gathered ocean-depth data in the Atlantic Ocean, which Tharp used to create maps of the mysterious ocean floor. New findings from echo sounders (sonars used to find water depth) helped her discover the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Tharp suggested that the parallel valleys seen in the mapped terrain were evidence of active centers where the seafloor was spreading apart. She brought these findings to Heezen, who infamously dismissed this as “girl talk” and stating that it sounded like the "debunked" continental drift hypothesis as proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912.
Tharp continued to work on various large-scale maps, showing that the mid-ocean ridges extended all the way around the planet. Painted by Heinrich C. Berann and based on the data compiled by Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen, a series of five bathymetric maps were published in the October 1967 issue of the National Geographic magazine, popularizing early concepts of plate tectonics. By plotting the epicenters of earthquakes on the seafloor maps, Tharp was also able to show that the ridges are seismically active, giving further credit to her interpretation of the ridges as active spreading centers.
Tharp donated her entire map collection to the Library of Congress in 1995. On this day in 1998, the Library of Congress named her one of the most important cartographers in the 20th century. In 2001, the same observatory where she started her career awarded her with its first annual Lamont-Doherty Heritage Award.
Unlike Wegener who died in 1930, Marie Tharp lived long enough to see her research become a fundamental part of modern geology.
"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."