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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.  Here is my testimony to Marie Tharp (1920-2006), mapmaker and artist extraordinaire, whose  transformation of oceanographic sonar data into detailed drawings of the ocean floor changed the way the world viewed the Earth's surface and paved the way for the acceptance of plate tectonic theory. 

Tharp's famous 1977 map of the world's ocean showing the largest continuous mountain chain on the planet, 40,000 miles long.

early sketch of Atlantic sea floor

In her own words:  "Not too many people can say this about their lives:  The whole world was spread out before me (or at least, the 70 percent of it covered by oceans).  I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities, a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to piece together: mapping the world’s vast hidden seafloor.  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.   The nature of the times, the state of the science, and events large and small, logical and illogical, combined to make it all happen."

sketch of Atlantic off of Spain

You can see how the topography contours (bottom half) emerged from the ship track data (top half).  Imagine doing this for the entire ocean.

Copies of Tharp's maps can be purchased at Marie Tharp Maps.