Marie Tharp was the first person to map the ocean floor and provide evidence of a geological rift that proved the theory of continental drift.
Now universally accepted, the idea was controversial in the 1950s.
Tharp is trending today because Google honored her with one of their doodle search images.
Her life story is a reminder of the rough road faced by women in science.
Tharp’s father encouraged her to pursue a practical career. She obtained Bachelor’s degrees in English and music from Ohio University planning to teach.
When World War II broke out, universities opened slots for women. She studied petroleum geology at the University of Michigan. It led to work at an oil company in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Women were barred from visiting rigs and fields, so for four years she drew maps in an office.
She moved to New York City and found work at the Lamont Geological Observatory where she met and started working with Bruce Heezen. He was gathering data about the ocean floor taken from expeditions on the research ship Vema.
Women were barred from working on ships, so for 18 years she drew maps in an office.
In 1952, Tharp concluded that a rift valley had formed on the ocean floor. That supported the idea of continental drift. At the time many scientists, including Heezen, thought that was impossible. He dismissed her work as “girl talk”.
Additional data based on earthquakes eventually convinced Heezen to accept Tharp’s hypothesis about plate tectonics and continental drift.
Women often don’t receive credit, so in 1956 Heezen was cited for the discovery.
In 1977, National Geographic published its World Ocean Floor Map based on their research. It was named the Heezen-Tharp map.
Twenty years later, Tharp was named one of the four greatest cartographers of the 20th century by the Library of Congress.
She died of cancer in 2006, at the age of 86.