Harry Hammond Hess

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Harry Hammond Hess
BornMay 24, 1906
New York City
DiedAugust 25, 1969 (age 63)
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
NationalityUnited States
Alma materPrinceton University
AwardsPenrose Medal (1966)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorArthur Francis Buddington
Doctoral studentsEugene Merle Shoemaker[1]
John Tuzo Wilson[2]
Ronald Oxburgh
InfluencesF. A. Vening-Meinesz[3]

Harry Hammond Hess (May 24, 1906 – August 25, 1969) was a geologist and a United States Navy officer in World War II.

Considered one of the "founding fathers" of the unifying theory of plate tectonics, Rear Admiral Harry Hammond Hess was born on May 24, 1906, in New York City. He is best known for his theories on sea floor spreading, specifically work on relationships between island arcs, seafloor gravity anomalies, and serpentinized peridotite, suggesting that the convection of the Earth's mantle was the driving force behind this process. This work provided a conceptual base for the development of the theory of plate tectonics.

Teaching career[edit]

Harry Hess taught for one year (1932–1933) at Rutgers University in New Jersey and spent a year as a research associate at the Geophysical Laboratory of Washington, D. C., before joining the faculty of Princeton University in 1934. Hess remained at Princeton for the rest of his career and served as Geology Department Chairman from 1950 to 1966. He was a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa (1949–1950), and the University of Cambridge, England (1965).

The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932[edit]

Hess accompanied Dr. Felix Vening Meinesz of Utrecht University on board the US Navy submarine USS S-48 to assist with the second U.S. expedition to obtain gravity measurements at sea. The expedition used a gravimeter, or gravity meter, designed by Meinesz.[4] The submarine traveled a route from Guantanamo, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, and return to Guantanamo through the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos region from 5 February through 25 March 1932. The description of operations and results of the expedition were published by the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office in The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932.[5]

Military and war career[edit]

Hess joined the United States Navy during World War II, becoming captain of the USS Cape Johnson, an attack transport ship equipped with a new technology: sonar. This command would later prove to be key in Hess's development of his theory of sea floor spreading. Hess carefully tracked his travel routes to Pacific Ocean landings on the Marianas, Philippines, and Iwo Jima, continuously using his ship's echo sounder. This unplanned wartime scientific surveying enabled Hess to collect ocean floor profiles across the North Pacific Ocean, resulting in the discovery of flat-topped submarine volcanoes, which he termed guyots, after the nineteenth century geographer Arnold Henry Guyot. After the war, he remained in the Naval Reserve, rising to the rank of rear admiral.

Scientific discoveries[edit]

In 1960, Hess made his single most important contribution, which is regarded as part of the major advance in geologic science of the 20th century. In a widely circulated report to the Office of Naval Research, he advanced the theory, now generally accepted, that the Earth's crust moved laterally away from long, volcanically active oceanic ridges. He only understood his ocean floor profiles across the North Pacific Ocean after Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen (1953, Lamont Group) discovered the Great Global Rift, running along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.[6][7] Seafloor spreading, as the process was later named, helped establish Alfred Wegener's earlier (but generally dismissed at the time) concept of continental drift as scientifically respectable. This triggered a revolution in the earth sciences.[8] Hess's report was formally published in his History of Ocean Basins (1962),[9] which for a time was the single most referenced work in solid-earth geophysics. Hess was also involved in many other scientific endeavours, including the Mohole project (1957–1966), an investigation onto the feasibility and techniques of deep sea drilling.

Accolades and affiliations[edit]

Hess was president of The Geological Society of America in 1963 and received their Penrose Medal in 1966.[10]


Hess died from a heart attack in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1969, while chairing a meeting of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences. He was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery and was posthumously awarded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Distinguished Public Service Award.

The Harry H. Hess Medal[edit]

The American Geophysical Union established the Harry H. Hess medal in his memory in 1984 to "honor outstanding achievements in research of the constitution and evolution of Earth and sister planets."[11][12][13]

Past recipients[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Hess, H.H. (1946). "Drowned ancient islands of the Pacific basin". Am. J. Sci. 244 (11): 772–91. Bibcode:1946AmJS..244..772H. doi:10.2475/ajs.244.11.772.
    • Also in:
      • —— (1947). "Drowned ancient islands of the Pacific basin". International Hydrographic Review. 24: 81–91.
      • —— (1948). "Drowned ancient islands of the Pacific basin". Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1947: 281–300.
  • ——; Maxwell, J. C. (1953). "Major structural features of the south-west Pacific: a preliminary interpretation of H. O. 5484, bathymetric chart, New Guinea to New Zealand.". Proceedings of the 7th Pacific Science Congress: Held at Auckland and Christchurch, New Zealand, 1949. 2. Wellington: Harry H. Tombs, Ltd. pp. 14–17.
  • —— (1954). "Geological hypotheses and the Earth's crust under the oceans". A Discussion on the Floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A. 222. pp. 341–48.
  • —— (1955). "The oceanic crust". Journal of Marine Research. 14: 423–39.
  • —— (1955). "Serpentines, orogeny and epeirogeny". In A. W. Poldervaart (ed.). Crust of the Earth. Geological Society of America, Special Paper No. 62 (Symposium). New York: The Society. pp. 391–407.
  • —— (1959). "The AMSOC hole to the Earth's mantle". Transactions of the American Geophysical Union. 40: 340–345. Bibcode:1959TrAGU..40..340H. doi:10.1029/tr040i004p00340.
    • Also in:
      • Hess, H.H. (1960). "The AMSOC hole to the Earth's mantle". American Scientist. 47: 254–263.
  • —— (1960). "Nature of great oceanic ridges". Preprints of the 1st International Oceanographic Congress (New York, August 31-September 12, 1959). Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science. (A). pp. 33–34.
  • —— (1960). "Evolution of ocean basins". Report to Office of Naval Research. Contract No. 1858(10), NR 081-067: 38. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)


  1. ^ Chemistry Tree profile Harry Hammond Hess
  2. ^ "J Tuzo Wilson". Virtual Geoscience Center. Society of Exploration Geophysics. Archived from the original on 2010-07-15.
  3. ^ Frankel, H. (1987). "The Continental Drift Debate". In H.T. Engelhardt Jr; A.L. Caplan (eds.). Scientific Controversies: Case Solutions in the resolution and closure of disputes in science and technology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-27560-6.
  4. ^ Duncan, Francis (2012). Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1591142218.
  5. ^ http://siris-libraries.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?uri=full=3100001~!210409!0 | The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932
  6. ^ Ewing, John; Ewing, Maurice (March 1959). "Seismic-refraction measurements in the Atlantic Ocean basins, in the Mediterranean Sea, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and in the Norwegian Sea". Geological Society of America Bulletin. 70 (3): 291–318. Bibcode:1959GSAB...70..291E. doi:10.1130/0016-7606(1959)70[291:SMITAO]2.0.CO;2.
  7. ^ Heezen, B. C. (1960). "The rift in the ocean floor". Scientific American. 203 (4): 98–110. Bibcode:1960SciAm.203d..98H. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1060-98.
  8. ^ Wilson, J. Tuzo (December 1968). "A Revolution in Earth Science". Geotimes. Washington DC. 13 (10): 10–16.
  9. ^ Hess, H. H. (November 1, 1962). "History of Ocean Basins". In A. E. J. Engel; Harold L. James; B. F. Leonard (eds.). Petrologic studies: a volume in honor of A. F. Buddington (PDF). Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America. pp. 599–620.
  10. ^ Eckel, Edwin (1982) Geological Society of America – Life History of a Learned Society, Boulder, Colorado, Geological Society of America Memoir 155, page 168, ISBN 0-8137-1155-X.
  11. ^ "Harry H. Hess Medal". American Geophysical Union. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
  12. ^ "Hess, Harry Hammond. Encyclopedia of Earth Science. New York Academy of Sciences, Timothy M. Kusky.
  13. ^ "Hess, Harry", Encyclopedia of Earth and Space Science, p. 375.
  14. ^ http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~sue/TJA_LindhurstLabWebsite/ListPublications/Papers_pdf/Seismo_1881.pdf
  15. ^ "Michael John O'Hara was Awarded the 2007 Harry H. Hess Medal" Archived 2015-12-24 at the Wayback Machine. ciw.edu.
  16. ^ Niu, Yaoling. "O'Hara Receives 2007 Harry H. Hess Medal". Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 89: 31. Bibcode:2008EOSTr..89...31N. doi:10.1029/2008EO040003.
  17. ^ "Professor David Walker Awarded Harry H. Hess Medal | Earth and Environmental Sciences". columbia.edu.
  18. ^ "NLSI Scientists Receive Career Awards". nasa.gov.
  19. ^ "Congratulations to Prof Bernie Wood on being awarded the Harry H Hess Medal of the American Geophysical Union. – University of Oxford Department of Earth Sciences" Archived 2013-09-19 at the Wayback Machine. ox.ac.uk.
  20. ^ https://honors.agu.org/winners/claude-p-jaupart/
  21. ^ https://eos.org/agu-news/alex-halliday-receives-2016-harry-h-hess-medal
  22. ^ http://news.agu.org/press-release/american-geophysical-union-announces-recipients-of-the-2017-union-medals-awards-and-prizes/
  23. ^ https://eos.org/agu-news/timothy-l-grove-receives-2018-harry-h-hess-medal

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]