Unsure of just what she wanted to do, Marie decided to study literature at Ohio University. Her first choice, St. John's College in Annapolis did not admit women in the late 1930's. She graduated with a degree in English and music in 1943 from Ohio University.
Wartime meant that professions previously filled by men only were now becoming more open to women. One of those professions was geology. Marie had taken a course in geology during her undergraduate years at Ohio. Looking for something more challenging, she accepted an offer to enter the masters petroleum geology program at the University of Michigan.
Marie worked as a petroleum geologist for Standard Oil and Gas in Tulsa, OK but eventually left because the work was unrewarding. She returned to school, obtaining a degree in Mathematics from the University of Tulsa.
Seeking more fulfilling and challenging work, Marie began working at Columbia University in 1948 as a research assistant to Dr. Maurice "Doc" Ewing. Marie worked at what is now called the Lamont Geological Laboratory. Her job was to help his graduate assistants, one of whom was Bruce Charles Heezen. Heezen had begun mapping the ocean floor in 1947.
At this time, priority was given to mapping the sea floor using sonar soundings because the military thought submarine warfare might be the next threat. Unfortunately, at this time, because she was a woman, Marie Tharp was not allowed onto the navy vessels doing the mapping. Instead, she worked in the lab plotting the sonar soundings by hand. Marie's educational background proved to be of considerable value because her work required a knowledge of both geology and mathematics. She organized the sonar data and converted it into maps and profiles of the sea floor. Later on this work would be done by computers but in the 1950's it was done by Marie Tharp.
|Tharp and Heezen's map of the ocean floor.|
In 1915 Alfred Wegener had published his theory that all the continents were once part of a giant landmass which he called Pangaea. He based his idea on the fact that fossils, strata and landmasses were similar between the continents and that the landmasses seemed to fit together. The theory was roundly ridiculed partly because Wegener's mechanism for continental drift was wrong and because scientists did not have enough knowledge at this time about the sea floor or subsurface geology.
Armed with this knew perspective of the ocean floor, Tharp suspected that this ridge was where the continents were moving apart - in other words it seemed to support Wegener's idea of drifting continents - the theory of plate tectonics. Eventually mounting evidence in the form of earthquakes along the rift zone validated Marie Tharp's theory and her maps became one of the supports for plate tectonics.
Marie Tharp went on to have a stellar career at Lamont-Doherty. She and colleague Heezen continued to map the entire ocean floor and produced a comprehensive map in 1977. Eventually her contributions to geology and oceanography were recognized but not until she was much older. Tharp passed away in 2006.
|One of Raul Colon's beautiful illustrations.|
Raul Colon's realistic illustrations rendered in watercolors, Prismacolor pencils and lithograph pencils on Arches paper, accompany Marie's narrative. Marie Tharp's story, told in this attractive picture book format serves as a reminder to young girls that a career in science is both attainable and rewarding.
Burleigh includes a detailed biography at the back as well as a list of words and their definitions as well as a bibliography and a section titled "Things To Wonder About and Do" which encourages young readers to explore the world around them.
Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea is well-written, sumptuously illustrated and a must-read for those young readers interested in learning about the women who have gone before in the world of science, and for teachers, librarians and parents wishing to encourage a career in science.
Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea by Robert Burleigh
New York: Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers 2016
map credit: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/06/08/images/HeezenTharp_900.jpg