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Harry Hammond Hess (May 24, 1906August 25, 1969) was a geologist and United States Navy officer in World War II.


Considered one of the "founding fathers" of the unifying theory of plate tectonics, Rear Admiral Dr. Harry Hammond Hess was born on May 24 1906 in New York Citymarker. He is best known for his theories on sea floor spreading, specifically work on relationships between island arcs, seafloor gravity anomalies, and serpentinized peridotite, suggesting that the convection of the Earth's mantle was the driving force behind this process. This work provided a conceptual base for the development of the theory of plate tectonics.

Teaching career

Harry Hess taught for a year (1932-1933) at Rutgersmarker University in New Jerseymarker and spent a year as a research associate at the Geophysical Laboratory of Washington, D.marker C.marker, before joining the faculty of Princeton Universitymarker in 1934. Hess remained at Princeton for the rest of his career and served as Geology Department Chair from 1950 to 1966. He was a visiting professor at the University of Cape Townmarker, South Africa (1949-1950), and the University of Cambridgemarker, Englandmarker (1965).

Military career

Hess joined the United States Navy during World War II, becoming captain of the USS Cape Johnson, a transport ship equipped with a new technology: sonar. This command would later prove to be key in Hess's development of his theory of sea floor spreading. Hess carefully tracked his travel routes to Pacific Oceanmarker landings on the Marianasmarker, Philippinesmarker, and Iwo Jimamarker, continuously using his ship's echo sounder. This unplanned wartime scientific surveying enabled Hess to collect ocean floor profiles across the North Pacific Oceanmarker, resulting in the discovery of flat-topped submarine volcanoes, which he termed guyots, after the nineteenth century geographer Arnold Henry Guyot. After the war, he remained in the Naval Reserve, rising to the rank of rear admiral.

Scientific Discoveries

In 1960, Hess made his single most important contribution, which is regarded as part of the major advance in geologic science of the 20th century. In a widely circulated report to the Office of Naval Research, he advanced the theory, now generally accepted, that the Earth's crust moved laterally away from long, volcanically active oceanic ridges. Seafloor spreading, as the process was later named, helped establish Alfred Wegener's, earlier (but generally dismissed at the time) concept of continental drift as scientifically respectable. This triggered a revolution in the earth sciences. Hess's report was formally published in his History of Ocean Basins (1962), which for a time was the single most referenced work in solid-earth geophysics. Hess was also involved in many other scientific endeavors, including the Mohole project (1957-1966), an investigation onto the feasibility and techniques of deep sea drilling.

Death

Hess died from a heart attack in Woods Hole, Massachusettsmarker, on August 25 1969, while chairing a meeting of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciencesmarker. He was buried in the Arlington National Cemeterymarker and was posthumously awarded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Distinguished Public Service Award.

References

  1. H. H. Hess, " History Of Ocean Basins" (November 1, 1962). IN: Petrologic studies: a volume in honor of A. F. Buddington. A. E. J. Engel, Harold L. James, and B. F. Leonard, editors. [New York?]: Geological Society of America, 1962. pp. 599-620.


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