Harry Hess



Occupation 1


Occupation 2

Princeton professor


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Maritime Nation Since 1950 (1951-present)






Robert A. McCaughey


Geologist and oceanographer, Hess began his sea-floor researches as a graduate student at Princeton in 1931. He continued these researches as a reserve naval officer until US entry into WW, when he entered the Navy full-time. There he served as a scientist, tracking submarine routes, and as the captain of ships. While at sea he regularly used sonar to map the ocean floor below. His mappings revealed the existence of flat-topped sea mounts coming up from the ocean floor, which he hypothesized might once have been islands above the surface and subject to weathering, as opposed to pointy sea mounts that had remained below the surface. He called these geological specimens "guyots," after an early Princeton geologist, Arnold Guyot.

Hess returned to Princeton after the war as a professor of geology, while retaining his commission in the Naval Reserve. In 1960 he published, what his absence of confirming evidence led him to call an "essay in geopoetry," an explanation for several of the recent discoveries in the field of ocean bottom geophysics. In this essay are most of the elements that now form the constituent parts of the theory of plate tectonics, among them the idea that the mid-Atlantic ridge described by Lamont scientists Ewing, Heezen and Tharp represented a break in the sea floor where convection cells in the the earth's mantle forced material upward, where it spread on either side of the opening, thus accounting for the sea-floor spreading that Robert Dietz had recently hypothesized. Other scientists quickly filled in the gaps of his reasoning and deep ocean floor drilling soon confirmed his basic arguments. He is accordingly given a full share in the credit for bringing the theory of plate tectonics to scientific acceptance.

Related Images

external image head0_harry_hess_0000.jpg
Image Id: 205

Related People

Wegener, Alfred Holmes, Arthur Dietz, Robert T.

Related Source

Evolution of Ocean Basins, The (1962)

Related Glossary

Plate Tectonics, Guyot,

Record ID: 405