Marie Tharp was born July 30, 1920, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Already in early years she followed her father, a soil surveyor for the United States Department of Agriculture, into the field. However she also loved to read and wanted to study literature at St. John’s College in Annapolis, but at the time women were not admitted there. So she went to Ohio University, where she graduated in 1943. The Second World War changed dramatically the situation. The United States needed a replacement for the men who went into war and women were now encouraged to obtain degrees also in ‘manly’ disciplines, like science and technology. Marie enrolled in a petroleum geology program, becoming so one of the first ‘Petroleum Geology Girls’ when she graduated in 1944. She worked for a short time in the petroleum industry, but found the work unrewarding and decided to resume her studies at Tulsa University. In 1948 she graduated in mathematics and found work at the Lamont Geological Laboratory of the Columbia University. As the Cold War between the United States and the Sowjet Union got hotter, the U.S. Navy was interested in a map of the seafloor, believed to be of strategic relevance for future battles with submarines. Marie started a prolific collaboration with geologist Bruce Charles Heezen (1924 -1977), specialist for seismic and topographic data obtained from the seafloor. As women, Marie was not allowed on board of the research vessel. Instead, she interpreted and visualized the obtained data, producing large hand-drawn maps of the seafloor. She co-authored with Heezen a book and various papers on their research.
Between 1959 until the death of Heezen in 1977 she continued to work on various large-scale maps that would depict the still unknown topography of the entire seafloor. The results were astounding. The following original sketch by Tharp and Heezen of the topography of the Mid-Atlantic shows in green and yellow a mountain range located between the coasts of Africa and America. The preliminary map shows also a series of parallel transform-faults cutting through the mountain range. Based on such sketches Tharp and Heezen published in 1977 the famous World Ocean Floor Map.
Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.