GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 200-7
Presentation Time: 3:05 PM


LEWANDOWSKI, Katherine J., Department of Geology-Geography, Eastern Illinois University, 600 Lincoln Ave, Charleston, IL 61920

Until the mid-to-late 20thcentury women were not welcomed as scientists on research vessels at sea. Thus, the record of women participating in oceanographic research is sparse until that time. However, there were women who persevered against all odds in the first half of the 20thcentury and impacted the science significantly. Three women who did just that were Mary Sears, Elizabeth T. Bunce, and Marie Tharp. These women, working in the United States, advanced the science of oceanography, mostly without sailing on research cruises, as well as serving as role models for the next generation of women oceanographers. It was in the 1960s that it became acceptable for women to go to sea to conduct oceanographic research; however, at first, it was not very common. Elizabeth T. Bunce helped to force this change.

In order to get a sense of the scale of women participating in field work in oceanography in the late 20thand early 21stcenturies, publicly available data through the Deep-Sea Drilling Project, the Ocean Drilling Program, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, and the International Ocean Discovery Program was investigated. These programs provide a list of every scientist participating in each cruise and it is available on their website. The total number of women contracted as scientists as a percentage of the total shipboard scientific party was assessed for each research cruise. In addition, the number of women serving as a co-chief scientist was also assessed. Over the course of the nearly 50-year history of the programs, the participation of women on cruises has increased from about 10% up to about 32% in 2017. Women have served as co-chief scientists 45 times over that time, with the frequency increasing into the 21stcentury.

The tide is turning. Women are more visible in oceanography than they once were. Some of the stories of trail blazing women in oceanography are frequently told in books and on the internet, like that of Marie Tharp. Today, women hold positions of power within academia and professional organizations. However, more of these stories need to be told to keep up the momentum and attract the next generation of women oceanographers.