Anirbaan Hritiq

Today, Google is celebrating the legacy of Marie Tharp by dedicating a unique doodle story comprising her brief life story as an oceanographic cartographer in a watercolor-like painting format. But what has made Marie Tharp so special?

A brief history of Marie’s childhood:

Born on July 30, 1920, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Marie was the only child of William Edgar Tharp, a soil surveyor for the United States of America’s Agriculture Department, and Bertha Louise Tharp.

She used to accompany her father during his field surveys, which was considered to be her first exposure to map works. Marie, who lost her mother at the tender age of 15, often moved with her father to multiple locations due to the nature of his job which led to attaining multiple institutions during her budding days.

After the retirement of her father, Marie settled in a farmhouse at Bellefontaine, Ohio where she graduated from a high school and chose to be a teacher like her late mother.

Turing point of Marie’s life:

Marie graduated from the University of Ohio in 1943 with English and Music as her primary subjects. Marie, who continuously received the support of her father, was advised to a career that would give her both satisfaction and financial stability.

The advent of World War II, followed by the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese led a large number of youths to join the armed forces creating job opportunities for women in fields such as petroleum geology which was confined to men only.

Marie joined as a junior geologist for Stanolind Petroleum based in Oklahoma, which was her first step towards being a cartographer.

Journey of Marie as a cartographer:

Marie soon got disappointed with her job, as women during those times were not allowed field visits and inspections. Her total work as a geologist became limited to a mere desk jobber who depended upon others' input to carry on her daily work.

During her time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Marie obtained her second Bachelor’s degree in Science (Mathematics) from the University of Tulsa. After hustling for nearly 4 years, she moved to New York City- initially working for the American Museum of Natural History followed by joining the prestigious Lamont Geological Observatory (now known as Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) in Colombia, where she got to work under the mentorship of Maurice Ewing and was introduced to geologist Bruce Heezen, who went on to be her partner for more than two decades.

Marie & theory of Continental drift:

Marie used her genius mathematical knowledge to understand the ocean floor and make a map of it. Since women were not allowed to work on ships, she depended on bathymetric data provided by Heezen. It was till late 1968 that she was allowed to go on an expedition to collect data.

The study of ocean geology was in its infancy during the 1950s, as the study was an expensive and time-taking process. Therefore, no definite map of the ocean bed was available, which intensified revolt against Marie’s analysis of rift valley.

Marie advocated for uneven surfaces of the ocean bed, which she calculated out of sonar reports of the ship Atlantis. She examined the bathymetry of the northern region of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Initially, her idea was rejected by Heezen who didn’t support the controversial theory of continental drift.

Despite all rejections, Tharp was finally able to prove her study, and the physiographic map of the North Atlantic was published in 1957. Subsequently, the map of the entire ocean floor was published under Tharp and Heezen’s name.

In the year 1977, National Geographic published their maps under the title 'The World Ocean Floor'.

Post-retirement and death:

Tharp didn’t get the deserved credit and acknowledgment for her intensive work during the peak of her career. She continued to serve as a faculty member for the University of Colombia till 1983 and donated her map collection to the Map and Geography Division of the Library of Congress.

She is recognised as one of the fourth greatest cartographers of the 20th century, and her works were displayed on the 100th anniversary of the library. Tharp passed away on August 23, 2006, in New York due to cancer.

Famous quotation by Marie Tharp:

“I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities, a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to piece together. It was a once-in-a-lifetime — a once-in-the-history-of-the-world-opportunity for anyone, but especially for a woman in the 1940s.”