soundings: the story of the remarkable woman who mapped the ocean floor

Her maps of the ocean floor have been called “one of the most remarkable achievements in modern cartography”, yet no one knows her name.

Before Marie Tharp, geologist and gifted draftsperson, most people thought the ocean floor was a vast expanse of nothingness. In 1948, at age 28, Marie walked into the newly formed geophysical lab at Columbia University and practically demanded a job. There, through sheer willpower and obstinacy, she began the task of interpreting soundings (records of sonar pings measuring the ocean’s depths) brought back from the ocean-going expeditions of her male colleagues. The marriage of artistry and science behind her analysis of this dry data gave birth, in 1959, to a major work: the first detailed map of the North Atlantic ocean floor, which laid the groundwork for proving the then-controversial theory of continental drift. By 1977 she’d mapped the entire ocean floorand plate tectonics (with continental drift as its foundation) was being taught to schoolchildren. Read more…


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The New York Times Book Review says "Soundings not only details its subject’s monumental work and entanglements with gender bias but also exerts thoughtful pressure on the boundaries and biases of this literary genre." Read more...

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