Columbians Ahead of Their Time
Marie Tharp “It was very exciting in those days. We were explorers.”

Marie Tharp (1920–)
Faculty 1948–83

A pioneer of modern oceanography, Tharp was the first to map details of the ocean floor on a global scale.  Her observations became crucial to the eventual acceptance of the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift in the earth sciences. Working with pens, ink and rulers, Tharp drew the underwater cartography, longitude degree by latitude degree, based on data from sonar readings taken by pioneering earth scientist Maurice Ewing and his team.  Piecing maps together in the late 1940s and early 1950s, she and colleague Bruce Heezen discovered a 40,000-mile underwater ridge girdling the globe.  By this finding, they laid the foundation for the conclusion from geophysical data that the sea floor spreads from central ridges and that the continents are in motion with respect to one another—a revolutionary geological theory at the time.  Years later, satellite images proved Tharp’s maps to be accurate.

Tharp came to Columbia in 1948 to work as Ewing’s research assistant.  Following him to the new Lamont Geological Observatory, she provided much of the data and analyses for Ewing and Hezeen’s scientific papers. In recent years, she has been honored for her contributions by the Library of Congress, the Women's Committee of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the place where it all began, now the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Marie Tharp’s page at the Earth Institute.

Tharp receives heritage award.

Maurice Ewing and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Write Columbia's History

Columbia's history, as seen by those who have studied, taught, and worked here.

Columbians Ahead of Their Time

Columbians have changed the world and how we see it.

C250 Celebrates | C250 Perspectives | C250 Forum | C250 Events | C250 To Go |
Contact C250 | Privacy Policy | About This Web Site | © Copyright 2004 Columbia University