Soundings is the story of the enigmatic, unknown woman behind one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. Before Marie Tharp, geologist and gifted draftsperson, the whole world, including most of the scientific community, 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. The scientists at the lab were all male; the women who worked there were relegated to secretary or assistant. Through sheer willpower and obstinacy, Marie was given the job of interpreting the 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 to a major work: the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor, which laid the groundwork for proving the then-controversial theory of continental drift.
When combined, Marie’s scientific knowledge, her eye for detail and her skill as an artist revealed not a vast empty plane, but an entire world of mountains and volcanoes, ridges and rifts, and a gateway to the past that allowed scientists the means to imagine how the continents and the oceans had been created over time.
Just as Marie dedicated more than twenty years of her professional life to what became the Lamont Geological Observatory, engaged in the task of mapping every ocean on Earth, she dedicated her personal life to her great friendship with her co-worker, Bruce Heezen. Partners in work and in many ways, partners in life, Marie and Bruce were devoted to one another as they rose to greater and greater prominence in the scientific community, only to be envied and finally dismissed by their beloved institute. They went on together, refining and perfecting their work and contributing not only to humanity’s vision of the ocean floor, but to the way subsequent generations would view the Earth as a whole.
With an imagination as intuitive as Marie’s, brilliant young writer Hali Felt brings to vivid life the story of the pioneering scientist whose work became the basis for the work of others scientists for generations to come.
About Hali Felt
Hali Felt teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa and has completed residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, and Portland Writers in the Schools. In the past, she has reported for the Columbia Journalism Review and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She currently lives in Pittsburgh.
In her debut, Felt (Writing/Pittsburgh Univ.) ably enriches each of the biographical, historical and scientific threads she pursues. From the 1950s through the ’70s, Marie Tharp (1920–2006) mapped the entire ocean floor, an accomplishment honored by the Library of Congress in 1997, when she was named “one of the four greatest cartographers” of the 20th century. Trained in geology and mathematics, Tharp joined a team headed by Dr. Maurice Ewing at Columbia’s Lamont Geological Laboratory. They were searching for a relationship between the continental shelf and seismological events, and Tharp’s task was to collect data from ocean-bottom sounding and draft maps that they overlaid with data on earthquake activity. Tharp partnered with another member of the team, seismologist Bruce Heezen (who became her longtime lover), and they were able to correlate her maps with earthquake epicenters. This contributed to the discovery of the massive rift running through all the world’s oceans and a revival of interest in continental-drift theory, which led to our modern understanding of plate tectonics. Although the duo’s work was originally dismissed by Ewing, who targeted Tharp in particular, critics were silenced by evidence revealed in a Jacques Cousteau film. The author presents Tharp’s career through the prism of a woman’s struggle for recognition in a traditionally male scientific field. After Heezen’s tragic early death, Tharp collected and organized the record of their joint scientific accomplishments, from which Felt draws. – Kirkus Reviews
“Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor” by Hali Felt
The Washington Post Book Review – September 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
Hali Felt’s “Soundings” is as much about her obsession with ocean cartographer Marie Tharp as it is about Tharp herself. A short 2007 magazine article about Tharp grabbed Felt’s attention, leading to four years’ worth of research and interviews concerning Tharp’s life and her work with longtime friend and colleague Bruce Heezen.
Born in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1920, as a child Tharp was a tomboy in a mechanic’s jumpsuit who refused to attend Sunday school. As a student, she had few friends but great determination, earning a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in geology. As a woman, in 1952 she discovered a rift in the Atlantic Ocean that led scientists to confirm the theory of continental drift, but initially she received no credit for her findings.
At the heart of Felt’s story, however, is Tharp’s work with Heezen and the complicated relationship the two had. According to Felt, “Stories abound in which Marie hurled paperweights or Bruce took an electric eraser to weeks of her work, in which shouting matches about what went where and what to put where there weren’t any data lasted several hours.” Heezen died suddenly at the age of 53, and Felt vividly imagines how such news would have affected Tharp. [Read the full article...]
Floating Ideas - ‘Soundings,’ About Marie Tharp, by Hali Felt
The New York Times Book Review – January 25, 2013 (Excerpt)
The only thing mid-20th-century scientists disliked more than being wrong was being told they were wrong by a woman. Marie Tharp, barely acknowledged in her life and nearly forgotten since her death in 2006, frustrated her male colleagues on both fronts. Working at a time when female scientists set off reflex skepticism, Tharp drafted the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor, which led to the acceptance of the once-mocked, now fundamental theory of continental drift. Not bad for someone whose discoveries were initially dismissed as “girl talk.”
Hali Felt’s vividly written biography-with-creative-indulgences brings well-needed attention to Tharp’s story. “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.
Tharp spent most of her career working alongside a geologist named Bruce Heezen in what was then the Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia University. Heezen gave her boatloads of unanalyzed measurements of ocean depths, which Tharp unified to create her revelatory images. [Read the full article...]
CRIMSON DAWN Book One of the Darklife Saga by Ronnie Massey
Two Women Hunting A Rogue Vampire
Vampire Valeria Trumaine must confront old demons and face new possibilities as she struggles to bring a rogue vampire to justice. Her best friend and powerful Sidhe princess, Irulan, joins the hunt. Valeria will find that Irulan’s motives for keeping her safe are not what she thinks. And soon she is faced with an undeniable attraction that makes her question everything she knew about herself. [Read More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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