The very moment I stumbled upon the story of Marie Tharp I was fascinated. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know anything about her nor her once-in-a-lifetime discovery of the Mid-Ocean Ridge and Rift Valley, the largest geological feature on Earth. I grabbed my notebook and pen and dove into months and months of research.
I admire Tharp’s independence of thought and fearlessness. She was brave and confronted the scientists who dismissed her discovery because it challenged their preconceived ideas. Marie’s maps of the ocean floor made it clear that it isn’t a scientist’s job to make things the way one wishes them to be, they simply are as they are.
As I worked on Marie’s story, I began to think a bit differently about time. In comparison to the hundreds of millions of years it took one continent to separate into seven, our lifetimes are brief. To be alive on this incredible planet is a gift. Be amazed. Be curious. Be in awe of the beauty that can and can’t be seen.
I am so grateful to my editor, Christy Ottaviano, for allowing me to bring Marie Tharp’s story to life in scientific, historic, and spiritual detail.
The plane windows framed the landscape of lava fields, still and stark against the grey-blue sky as the volcano, Fagradalsfjall, spewed bright orange molten lava out of its blackness. Solidified, dark fingers of land reached toward the ocean to form the jagged coast of the land of fire and ice. We had arrived in Iceland, the only place in the world where Marie Tharp's discovery, the largest geological feature on Earth, the Mid-Ocean Ridge and Rift Valley is visible about sea level.
My daughter, husband and I drove through the immense Icelandic landscape toward Thingvellir National Park to witness, with our own eyes, the miraculous Mid-Atlantic Ridge. As is common in Iceland, the clouds soon shrouded the surreal mountain terrain and it began to rain. Clad from head to toe in rain gear, we eagerly joined the other tourists down the wet and slippery path toward Almannagja (Everyman's Fault), a mighty geological presence, which forms one side of a rift valley within the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the North American and Eurasian plates.
We walked past the towering, jagged cliffs glossy with water. As we neared the heights of the viewing platform, the clouds miraculously lifted and the sun broke through illuminating Thingvellir's turbulent geological past, where over the millennia, the tectonic plates of Earth's crust pulled and is still pulling apart at a rate of about one inch per year.
The expansive Thingvellir Lake rested peacefully in the distance. I stood in awe of the vision before me. In that moment it became clear that Thingvellir is a sacred place to which I had made a pilgrimage. I whispered, "I am standing upon the Mid-Atlantic Ridge," in the hopes of convincing myself that I was not in a dream. I imagined more distinctly how Marie Tharp must have felt when she clearly saw a definite association of topography with seismicity within the maps she drew.
Long before there was Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift and Marie Tharp's discovery, which led to the unified theory of plate tectonics, Icelanders considered Thingvellir unique. They, too, must have sensed the presence of the powerful geological forces responsible for the configuration of Earth; for it was here that Icelanders first gathered to discuss and decide the laws at the first Althing Assembly. Since that first meeting in AD 930, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Rift Valley has widened by 7 meters, about 23 feet, due to tectonic movement. Thingvellir, Icelandic for Parliament Plains, is home to the world's longest continuous assemblies, 850 years, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
I am so grateful to have had this dream come true. I want to thank my amazing husband for surprising me with a flight to Iceland (a belated 30 wedding anniversary gift). I also want to thank our gracious hosts at Guesthouse Geldingaholt for treating us like family, feeding us like kings, and making our stay in Iceland unforgettable. We travel to see the sights but more importantly we travel to meet the people who live in the places we dream of visiting. Thank you Sigga and Gummi.
There is a very sad ending this happy story, which I am now, after a year, strong enough to share. My beloved husband, Professor of Physics at the University of New Hampshire, Karsten Pohl, died suddenly and unexpectedly on October 13, 2021, two months after our celebratory visit to Iceland.
Please CLICK HERE to read more about his beautiful life and to donate to the Dr. Karsten Pohl Scholarship Fund at the University of New Hampshire.