Harry Hammond Hess

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Harry Hammond Hess
Harry Hess in 1941
BornMay 24, 1906 (1906-05-24)
New York City, New York, United States
DiedAugust 25, 1969 (1969-08-26) (aged 63)
Alma materPrinceton University
Known forDiscovering seafloor spreading
AwardsPenrose Medal (1966)
Scientific career
ThesisHydrothermal metamorphism of an ultrabasic intrusive at Schuyler, Virginia (1932)
Doctoral advisorArthur Francis Buddington
Doctoral studentsEugene Merle Shoemaker[1]
John Tuzo Wilson[2]
Ronald Oxburgh

Harry Hammond Hess (May 24, 1906 – August 25, 1969) was an American geologist and a United States Navy officer in World War II who is considered one of the "founding fathers" of the unifying theory of plate tectonics. 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.

Early life and education[edit]

Harry Hammond Hess was born on May 24, 1906, in New York City to Julian S. Hess, a member of the New York Stock Exchange, and Elizabeth Engel Hess. He attended Asbury Park High School in Asbury Park, New Jersey. In 1923, he entered Yale University, where he intended to study electrical engineering but ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in geology. Hess failed his first time taking mineralogy at Yale and was told he had no future in the field.[3] Despite this, he continued with his degree and was teaching geology at Princeton when World War II was declared.[4] He spent two years as an exploration geologist in Northern Rhodesia. In 1934 he married Annette Burns.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7][8]

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 19th-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.[9][10] 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.[11] Hess's report was formally published in his History of Ocean Basins (1962),[12] which for a time was the single most referenced work in solid-earth geophysics.[13] 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 elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1952 and the American Philosophical Society in 1960.[14][15] He was president of The Geological Society of America in 1963 and received their Penrose Medal in 1966.[16] In 1968, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[17]


Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

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 at 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."[18][19][20]

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. Vol. 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. Vol. 222. The Royal Society. pp. 341–48. JSTOR 99224.
  • —— (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. doi:10.1130/SPE62-p391.
  • —— (1959). "The AMSOC hole to the Earth's mantle". Transactions of the American Geophysical Union. 40 (4): 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 (2): 254–263. JSTOR 27827541.
  • —— (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}}: 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. ^ "Harry Hess: One of the Discoverers of Seafloor Spreading". American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  4. ^ "Harry Hess: One of the Discoverers of Seafloor Spreading". American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  5. ^ Menard, Henry William. The Ocean of Truth: A Personal History of Global Tectonics, p. 108. Accessed June 5, 2020. "In 1923 Harry went from Asbury Park High School in New Jersey to Yale, where he initially majored in electrical engineering."
  6. ^ Duncan, Francis (2012). Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1591142218.
  7. ^ Collins, Elmer Beauchamp; Hess, Harry Hammond; Brown, Thomas Townsend (1933). The Navy-Princeton Gravity Expedition to the West Indies in 1932. U.S. Government Printing Office.
  8. ^ "The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932 (catalog entry)". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Wilson, J. Tuzo (December 1968). "A Revolution in Earth Science". Geotimes. Washington DC. 13 (10): 10–16.
  12. ^ Hess, H. H. (November 1, 1962). "History of Ocean Basins" (PDF). In A. E. J. Engel; Harold L. James; B. F. Leonard (eds.). Petrologic studies: a volume in honor of A. F. Buddington. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America. pp. 599–620.
  13. ^ "In Appreciation of Harry Hammond Hess by Scott McVay". Princeton Alumni Weekly. Princeton University Press. October 28, 1969. pp. 10–11, 16–17.
  14. ^ "Harry Hess". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  15. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "Harry Hammond Hess". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  18. ^ "Harry H. Hess Medal". American Geophysical Union. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
  19. ^ "Hess, Harry Hammond. Encyclopedia of Earth Science. New York Academy of Sciences, Timothy M. Kusky.
  20. ^ "Hess, Harry", Encyclopedia of Earth and Space Science, p. 375.
  21. ^ "Harry H. Hess Medal". American Geophysical Union. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-07. Retrieved 2015-12-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "Michael John O'Hara was Awarded the 2007 Harry H. Hess Medal" Archived 2015-12-24 at the Wayback Machine. ciw.edu.
  24. ^ Niu, Yaoling (2008). "O'Hara Receives 2007 Harry H. Hess Medal". Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 89 (4): 31. Bibcode:2008EOSTr..89...31N. doi:10.1029/2008EO040003.
  25. ^ "Professor David Walker Awarded Harry H. Hess Medal | Earth and Environmental Sciences" Archived 2015-12-24 at the Wayback Machine. columbia.edu.
  26. ^ "NLSI Scientists Receive Career Awards". nasa.gov.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ "Claude P. Jaupart |".
  29. ^ "Alex Halliday Receives 2016 Harry H. Hess Medal". 23 December 2016.
  30. ^ "American Geophysical Union Announces Recipients of the 2017 Union Medals, Awards and Prizes".
  31. ^ "Timothy L. Grove Receives 2018 Harry H. Hess Medal". 27 December 2018.
  32. ^ {{Cite web|url=https://eos.org/agu-news/announcing-the-2020-agu-union-medal-award-and-prize-recipients%7Ctitle=Announcing the 2020 AGU Union Medal, Award, and Prize Recipients|date=11 November 2020

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]