Marie Tharp, July 2001. Credit: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the estate of Marie Tharp.
Thursday 30 July marks the centennial of the birth of Marie Tharp, a
pioneering geologist and cartographer whose groundbreaking scientific
contributions played a key role in the eventual acceptance of the theory of
plate tectonics. Tharp is best known for her detailed seafloor maps that
revealed a wealth of previously unknown features, including seamounts,
trenches, transform faults, and most notably, the mid-ocean ridge system.
Tharp’s story is all the more compelling due to the adversity she overcame
during her career—much of it related to her gender. Because Tharp didn’t
always receive credit for her work, her contributions were initially
overlooked. Fortunately, Hali Felt, the author of Tharp’s biography, and
others have helped correct the record. “Marie wouldn’t have chosen to
experience the gender discrimination that told her the humanities were a
“better fit” and forced her to work in an office rather than the field,”
says Felt in a recent EGU blog,
“but the result was that she found her calling closer to home, and mapped
70 percent of the Earth’s surface in the process.”
This month, EGU is celebrating Tharp’s achievements, and those of all women
geoscientists, through a series of posts, including one by the Tectonics and
Structural Geology Division that
revisits her legacy and its importance
for laying the foundations of modern geology.
EGU also spoke with six researchers
working in the fields of ocean science, tectonics, and mapping to ask them
what Marie Tharp’s work means to them personally, as well as to the future of
ocean science and tectonic research. “Her life story is a burning, guiding
light for me,” says marine geographer Dawn Wright.
We hope these articles will inspire all EGU members to help one another
overcome whatever adversity we face. Tharp “succeeded in building a career
that she loved, and was proud of,” says structural geologist Lucia Perez Diaz.
“As a woman in science, I can’t imagine a better dream to work towards.”