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Maury, Matthew Fontaine

atlantic ocean tectonic currents

[maw ree] (1806–73) US oceanographer: conducted first systematic survey of ocean winds and currents.

Sometimes referred to as ‘the father of physical oceanography’, Maury was a US naval officer who was forced to retire due to a leg injury. In 1842 he became director of the US Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office, and organized the first systematic collection of information on winds and currents from merchant ships, greatly improving knowledge about oceanic and atmospheric circulation. In 1847 he began to publish pilot charts, which enabled sailing voyages to be dramatically shortened, cutting as much as a month from the New York to California voyage. Maury also produced the first bathymetric profile across the Atlantic (from Yucatan to Cape Verde), with a view to the laying of a submarine cable. By 1850 he knew that a sea floor ridge ran down the northern length of the Atlantic Ocean, but the significance of this and its relation to tectonic plate theory did not emerge for over a century. By the 1960s and Marie Tharp, by combining all available bathymetric soundings of the Atlantic, had also revealed the rift valley and saw its bearing on tectonic plate theory. The ridges were explored in 1974 by R D Ballard (1942– ) of the US Navy Reserve using manned submersibles; he also examined hot vents and their fauna. He discovered the Titanic in 1985.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 he became commander of the Confederate Navy, a move which later led to a period of exile in Mexico and England.

Maxwell, James Clerk [next] [back] Maury, Antonia (Caetana de Paiva Pereira)

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