A new article on the life and career of Marie Tharp, written by our friend Betsy Mason, was published by Science News earlier this month. Plenty has been written about Tharp, whose work mapping the ocean floor helped provide the evidence for continental drift: numerous articles, a 2012 biography, two books for children just last year. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people who still haven’t heard of her, and should.
July 30 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of pioneering ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, whose seafloor maps provided evidence of continental drift. Columbia University’s Earth Institute is marking the event with blog posts, interviews, workshops and other social media and multimedia activity. See, for example, this overview of her legacy by Marie Denoia Aronsohn and a reprint of Tharp’s own piece, “Connect the Dots: Mapping the Seafloor and Discovering the Mid-ocean Ridge.”
The anniversary probably explains why two books about Tharp, aimed at children, are coming out this year:
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret
by Jess Keating
Tundra Books, 30 Jun 2020
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop
by Josie James
Henry Holt, 22 Sep 2020
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books
Add those to Robert Burleigh’s Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor (2016), also aimed at young readers, and Hali Felt’s 2012 biography of Tharp (for adults), Soundings, which I review here.
Older posts about Marie Tharp can be found here.
Update, July 30: Suzanne O’Connell at The Conversation: “As a geoscientist, I believe Tharp should be as famous as Jane Goodall or Neil Armstrong. Here’s why.”
Zealandia (Te Riu-a-Māui) is the name given to a proposed, and largely submerged eighth continent, of which New Zealand (Aotearoa) is the largest above-water remnant. Explore Zealandia is geoscience company GNS Science’s web portal to their maps of this largely submerged continent, including bathymetry, tectonics, and other data; the data is also available for download. [WAML]
I can’t believe that, other than a brief mention in 2010, I’ve never written anything about the cartographic artist Heinrich C. Berann (1917-1992), whose work includes panoramic paintings for National Geographic and, in his later years, for the National Park Service. (To be honest, they remind me of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps, but that surely should be the other way around.) He also worked with Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen to turn their physiographic maps of the ocean floor into works of art.
Some links: Kottke looks at his panoramic paintings; so did All Over the Map last year. Also last year, The Map Designer has examples from Berann’s entire career. This site is maintained by one of Berann’s grandsons.
The Guardian looks at efforts to map Doggerland, a prehistoric area of land in the North Sea between Britain and continental Europe that was submerged by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age. “Using seabed mapping data the team plans to produce a 3D chart revealing the rivers, lakes, hills and coastlines of the country. Specialist survey ships will take core sediment samples from selected areas to extract millions of fragments of DNA from the buried plants and animals.”
I’ve been meaning to read Soundings, Hali Felt’s biography of Marie Tharp, since it came out in 2012. Since then I’ve seen a flurry of articles, interviews, videos and other tributes concerning Tharp, whose reputation, which grew during her lifetime, continues to grow in the 12 years since her death in 2006 at the age of 86.
The bare bones of Tharp’s story are therefore fairly well known: while mapping the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, she discovered the presence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—and, more specifically, its rift valley, providing tangible evidence of continental drift. Because continental drift was at that point considered to be a crackpot theory, it took some doing for Tharp’s discovery to be accepted; and when it was her contributions were to some extent minimized.
While Felt’s book is positioned as a biography, its strength is in the details of that pivotal discovery: how and where it was made, and by whom, and in what context. Tharp’s work was not done in a vacuum, and how and why she was where she was is important. Felt sets the stage for us: not only does she take us through Tharp’s early childhood and rather variegated education and her arrival in 1948 at the Lamont Observatory, she gives us a short history of that Observatory, of the theory of continental drift, of her colleagues—notably her lifelong collaborator (and possibly life partner) Bruce Heezen and Observatory director (and sometime antagonist) Maurice Ewing. More than anything else, Soundings provides context for Tharp’s discovery: by the time we’re done, we know how important it was, and why. We’ve been well briefed.
Felt is less successful in building a portrait of Tharp herself. Some areas of her non-work life—her childhood, family and college education, for example—are extremely well covered, but other areas have considerable gaps, particularly those involving her personal life. The nature of Tharp’s relationship with Heezen is only hinted at, as is an early, unsuccessful marriage to someone else. Her later life, supported by a motley gang of eccentrics called Tharpophiles, is also incompletely covered. The elisions, however unintended, are frustrating. I suspect the author was a prisoner of her source material, which in places she follows very closely; I would have liked it if more had been done to fill in the gaps.
Soundings was published in hardcover by Henry Holt in 2012. It’s available in paperback and ebook from Picador.
This image went a bit viral earlier this week. Some context. It’s from an August 2015 blog post at Le Cartographe, in which Alexandre Nicolas discussed (and rendered, above) a projection produced in 1942 by South African oceanographer Athelstan Spilhaus. In Spilhaus’s oceanic projection, centred on Antarctica, the world’s oceans form a single, uninterrupted body of water. Which, you know, it is. The continents form the edges of the map; there is … some … spatial distortion. As Alexandre wrote in 2015, “This projection is rarely used and it’s a real shame!”
Previously: The Penguin Projection (speaking of Antarctica-centred projections).
On the WMS Facebook group, Bert Johnson had this to say about this latest profile: “Hers is a standout story, but I wish some of these journalists who keep running these would spend some time and effort discussing some of the other women—known and unknown—who made contributions and helped open the doors of cartography to women.”
Global sea level rise has been accelerating in recent decades, according to a new study based on 25 years of NASA and European satellite data. This acceleration has been driven mainly by increased ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica, and it has the potential to double the total sea level rise projected by 2100[. …]
The rate of sea level rise has risen from about 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch) per year in the 1990s to about 3.4 millimeters (0.13 inches) per year today. These increases have been measured by satellite altimeters since 1992, including the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3 missions, which have been jointly managed by NASA, France’s Centre national d’etudes spatiales (CNES), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The maps on this page depict the changes in sea level observed by those satellites between 1992 and 2014.
The Australian government has released high-resolution sea floor map data of the Great Barrier Reef; the data improves the view of the relief by a factor of eight, from 250-metre resolution to 30-metre resolution. The result of a collaboration between James Cook University, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Hydrographic Service, the data “can be used for policy, planning and scientific work. For example, this data is an important input for oceanographic modelling, which we can use to enhance our knowledge of climate change impacts, marine biodiversity, and species distribution.” Press release, data files.
Comparing century-old maps of kelp beds in the Pacific Northwest to modern aerial surveys, a University of Chicago professor was able to track the long-term abundance and health of the beds, which in most cases remained remarkably constant: Journal of Ecology article. The kelp bed maps, made from surveys in 1911 and 1912, were the result of U.S. concern about the nation’s potash supply, which in the runup to World War I was largely imported from Germany. The kelp beds were, for some reason, seen as an alternative fertilizer source. That plan never came to fruition, but the maps remained, to be put to use for an entirely different purpose more than a century after they were made. [WMS]
Audobon Alaska’s Ecological Atlas of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas maps the environment, biota and wildlife in the three seas surrounding the Bering Strait, as well as the human activity that puts them at risk. The cartography is by Daniel Huffman and not by coincidence excellent. It’s available for download as PDF files, either chapter-by-chapter or a whopping 125-megabyte single download; a print copy costs $125 with shipping and handling. [NACIS]
In the 1770s British surveyor George Gauld mapped the Florida Keys, taking careful note of the location and depth of Florida reefs. A study published last month in Science Advances compares Gauld’s maps with modern-day satellite imagery and concludes that half of the area occupied by coral in the eighteenth century has disappeared. As the Washington Post reports, the cause of the coral’s disappearance is unclear, though several potential human and natural factors are put forward. [WMS]