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Marie Tharp

Found in: science; preK-2; 3-5; 6-8; 9-12

Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea: Marie Tharp Maps The Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raúl Colón (2016)

Marie Tharp (1920-2006) was a geologist and oceanographic cartographer best known for her work with Bruce Heezen that culminated in the first map of the entire ocean floor (1977). An earlier map (1957) of the North Atlantic revealed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and more importantly the Mid-Atlantic Rift supported the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift. Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea traces Tharp’s life and career from her early expeditions with her father who made soil maps for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to her pioneering work at Columbia University. Along the way, readers learn how difficult it was for a woman to be taken seriously in science and how reluctant some scientists can be to let go of old ideas and embrace the new. As a reviewer of another book about Marie Tharp observed “The only thing mid-20th-century scientists disliked more than being wrong was being told they were wrong by a woman.” Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea includes a biographical essay, glossary, bibliography of print and internet resources, and suggestions for activities. Raúl Colón’s illustrations portray methods of collecting sea floor data and of cartography.

Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt (2012) is a more detailed book aimed at an older audience. It is not a “just-the-facts, ma’am biography. The author has imagined much of the professional and personal relationships of Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen. Despite the authorial liberties, a 2013 review in the New York Times, Floating Ideas found the book an “eloquent testament both to Tharp’s importance and to Felt’s powers of imagination.”

Lesson Plans:

  • The Unseen Ocean Floor Teams of grade 3-10 students create models of the ocean floor and then take measurements to map it. The lesson can be adapted for younger students by having them create fewer features.
  • This version doesn’t use water:
  • Introduction To SONAR And Ocean Floor Mapping Students in grade 6 learn the physics of sonar and propagation of sound waves in different mediums, then examine and chart a model of an ocean basin using “sonar”.
  • See That Sound? Students in grades 9-12 compare multibeam and sidescan sonar systems and design a low-cost sidescan sonar system that could be built by an amateur ocean explorer.
  • A Model Of Sea-Floor Spreading Teacher's Guide K-12 students make a paper model to illustrating the concept of sea-floor spreading and the development of symmetrical magnetic "stripes" on either side of a mid- ocean spreading center.
  • Seafloor Spreading Centers: The Life Cycle of the Seafloor In this two-week unit, high school students rediscover plate tectonics in much the same way scientists learned about it in the 1960’s.





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