Plate Tectonics and People

Harry Hess

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<h3><span style="font-size:10px;">By: Lindsay Prenkert</span></h3>
<h3>Biographical Information</h3>
<p>Harry Hess was born May 24, 1906 in New York City. He earned a Bachelors of Science degree from Yale Universtiy in 1927. after graduating he spent two years as an exploration geologist in Rhodesia before returing to the United States in 1929 and pursuing graduate studies at Princeton. After graduating from Princeton Harry taught at Rutgers from 1932-1933, was a research assistant at the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, D.C. from 1933-1934 and eventually joined the Princeton faculty in 1934. Harry was married to Annette Burns and had two sons; George and Frank. Harry Hess passed away on August 26, 1969.</p>
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<h3>Specific contributions to the theory of plate tectonics and/or our modern view of the solid Earth</h3>
<p>Hess's contributions the theory of plate tectonics all started when he was called to active duty during WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war he commanded a submarine base which was equipped for sounding the ocean floor, a failry new technique at the time. Throughout his time on the ship Hess was successful in measuring the oceans to their deepest point (to date) and discovered flat topped mountains all across the Pacific Ocean floor, which he named guyots.</p>
<p>Once the war was over Hess continued to research guyots and mid ocean ridges. By taking the research completed in 1953 by other scientists, when the discovery of the Great Global Rift happened, he was able to propose that the ocean floor is actually only a few hundred million years old, significantly younger than that of the continents. Hess theorized that the ages difference comes from the time "it takes for molten rock to ooze up from volcanically active mid-ocean ridges, spread sideways to create new seafloor, and disappear back into the Earth’s deep interior at the ocean trenches" (, a concept now known as sea-floor spreading.</p>
<p>Hess supported Wegener's continental drift theory and stated that the continents are actually transported by the shifting tectonic plates and not moving independently.</p>
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<h3>Other important scientific contributions</h3>
<p>Hess's theory of sea-floor spreading ultimately united a number of puzzles that existed within the area of marine biology and Earth science; the deep sea trenches, origin of mid-ocean ridges, and event he presence of island arcs. Hess also helped in the development of the national space station and was one of ten panel members asked to analyze rocks from the successful Apollo 11 mission occuring one month before his death.</p>
<h3>Other cool stuff you should know</h3>
<p>- Hess reports that he failed his first minerology course at Yale and was told by his professor that he has no future in this field</p>
<p>- During his time in the Navy Hess was ranked as a rear admiral, the equivalent of a Major General in the Army.</p>
<p>- In 1950 Hess was apointed to the head of the Geology department at Princeton.</p>
<p>- Hess was called on for advice during the Cuban Missle Crisis.</p>
<p>- Until his death Hess chaired the Space Science Board, a NASA advisory group.</p>
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