Pathfinder-Class Oceanographic Survey Ship USNS Maury Renamed to USNS Marie Tharp
On March 8, International Women’s Day, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro, announced that the Pathfinder-class oceanographic survey ship formerly named USNS Maury (T-AGS 66) has been renamed USNS Marie Tharp (T-AGS 66).
This renaming honors Marie Tharp, a pioneering geologist and oceanographic cartographer who created the first scientific maps of the Atlantic Ocean floor and shaped our understanding of plate tectonics and continental drift.
The decision arrived after a congressionally mandated Naming Commission outlined several military assets across all branches of service that required renaming due to confederate ties. In September 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accepted all recommendations from the naming commission and gave each service until the end of 2023 to rename their assets.
“I’m pleased to announce the former USNS Maury will be renamed in honor of pioneering geologist and oceanographic cartographer, Marie Tharp. Her dedication to research brought life to the unknown ocean world and proved important information about the earth, all while being a woman in a male-dominated industry,” said Del Toro. “As the history of our great Nation evolves, we must put forth the effort to recognize figures who positively influenced our society. This renaming honors just one of the many historic women who have made a significant impact on not only our Navy, but our Nation.”
Marie Tharp, July 2001. Credit: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the estate of Marie Tharp
Tharp was born in 1920 and graduated from the Ohio University in 1943. Due to WWII, more women were recruited into a variety of professions, prompting the University of Michigan to open their geology program to women, resulting in Tharp completing her master’s degree in 1944. After working in her field for a few years, Tharp became one of the first women to work at the Lamont Geological Observatory. During this time, she met Bruce C. Heezen (namesake of T-AGS 64) and worked together using photographic data to locate downed military aircraft from WWII. Between 1946 and 1952, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s research vessel, Atlantis, used sonar to obtain depth measurements of the North Atlantic Ocean, which Tharp, in collaboration with her colleague, Heezen, used to create highly detailed seafloor profiles and maps. While examining these profiles, Tharp noticed a cleft in the ocean floor that she deduced to be a rift valley that ran along the ridge crest and continued along the length of its axis, evidence of continental drift. At the time, the consensus of the U.S. scientific community held continental drift to be impossible, but later examination bore out Tharp’s hypothesis. Her work thus proved instrumental to the development of Plate Tectonic Theory, a revolutionary idea in the field of geology at the time. Owing to this and other innovative mapping efforts (some which the Navy funded), the National Geographic Society awarded Tharp its highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, placing her among the ranks of other pioneering researchers and explorers such as Sir Ernest Shackleton, Charles Lindbergh, and Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd.
The logistical aspects associated with renaming the ship will begin henceforth and will continue until completion with minimal impact on operations and the crew.
T-AGS 66 was accepted in 2016 and named USNS Maury (T-AGS 66) after Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, the “Father of Modern Oceanography” who resigned from his Navy career to accept a command in the Confederate States Navy. The former USNS Maury was the only US Navy Vessel named after a Confederate military officer. T-AGS 66 is currently assigned to Military Sealift Command and is in the Persian Gulf.