Soundings

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.

Physiographic Diagram: Atlantic Ocean

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.

Amazon | iBooks

About the Spilhaus Projection

Le Cartographe

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).

Marie Tharp on the BBC World Service

Still another profile of ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, this time from the BBC World Service’s Witness program: it’s a nine-minute audio clip called “Mapping the Ocean’s Secrets.” [Osher]

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.”

Mapping Global Sea Level Rise

NASA Earth Observatory:

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.

High-Resolution Sea Floor Maps of the Great Barrier Reef

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.

Century-Old Maps Reveal Long-Term Abundance of Kelp Beds

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]

Ecological Atlas of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas

Audubon Alaska, Ecological Atlas of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.

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]

18th-Century Maps Reveal Florida’s Missing Coral Reefs

From McClenachen et al., “Ghost reefs: Nautical charts document large spatial scale of coral reef loss over 240 years,” Science Advances 3, no. 9 (6 Sept 2017). Creative Commons licence.

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]

The Last Unmapped Places

Lois Parshley’s essay on the last unmapped, mysterious places—Greenlandic fjords, the slums of Haiti, the ocean’s depths, black holes in space—is a long read worth reading. Originally published last month as “Here Be Dragons: Finding the Blank Spaces in a Well-Mapped World” in the Virginia Quarterly Review, it’s been reprinted by the Guardian, in an edited, tighter version, as “Faultlines, Black Holes and Glaciers: Mapping Uncharted Territories.”

Mapping the Ocean Floor by 2030

Newsweek looks at efforts by a group of scientists and mariners to map most of the ocean floor by the year 2030. The objective was endorsed by a meeting of GEBCO, the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, last June. The scale of the project is vast:

To date, more than 85 percent of the seafloor has not been mapped using modern methods. Since 70 percent of the Earth is covered in oceans, this means that we quite literally don’t know our own planet. “We know the surface of Mars better than we do the seafloor,” says Martin Jakobsson, a researcher at Stockholm University.

[Leventhal/MAPS-L]

Marie Tharp: Continental Drift as ‘Girl Talk’

tharp-heezenAnother profile of ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, this time from Smithsonian.com’s Erin Blakemore. As Blakemore recounts, Tharp crunched and mapped the sonar sounding data collected by her collaborator, Bruce Heezen; her calculations revealed a huge valley in the middle of a ridge in the North Atlantic seafloor.

“When I showed what I found to Bruce,” she recalled, “he groaned and said ‘It cannot be. It looks too much like continental drift.’ … Bruce initially dismissed my interpretation of the profiles as ‘girl talk’.” It took almost a year for Heezen to believe her, despite a growing amount of evidence and her meticulous checking and re-checking of her work. He only changed his mind when evidence of earthquakes beneath the rift valley she had found was discovered—and when it became clear that the rift extended up and down the entire Atlantic. Today, it is considered Earth’s largest physical feature.

When Heezen—who published the work and took credit for it—announced his findings in 1956, it was no less than a seismic event in geology. But Tharp, like many other women scientists of her day, was shunted to the background.

I really ought to get to Hali Felt’s 2012 biography of Tharp, Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor, at some point. Amazon (Kindle), iBooks.

Previously: Marie Tharp ProfileSoundings: A Biography of Marie TharpMarie Tharp and Plate TectonicsMarie Tharp.

Canada Maps the Arctic Seafloor

CBC News reports on the Canadian Coast Guard’s project to map the continental shelf under the Arctic Ocean, now in its third and final year. This is part of Canada’s attempt to stake a claim to the continental shelf (and seas above it) beyond the 200-mile nautical limit, which other Arctic countries (hello, Russia) are also trying to do.

Previously: Arctic Maritime Jurisdiction Map.