Oceanographer: Erwing William Maurice

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EWING, WILLIAM MAURICE (1906-1974). William Maurice Ewing, geophysicist and oceanographer, was born on May 12, 1906, in Lockney, Texas, the son of Floyd Ford and Hope (Hamilton) Ewing. He received three degrees from Rice Institute (now Rice University)-a B.A. in 1926, an M.A. in 1927, and a Ph.D. in 1931. He taught physics at the University of Pittsburgh (1929-30); physics, geology, and geophysics at Lehigh University (1930-44); and geology at Columbia University (1944-72). While on leave from the latter two universities from 1940 to 1946, he was a research associate on national defense projects at Woods Hole (Massachusetts) Oceanographic Institute. Back at Columbia University in 1947, he became professor of geology, and in 1959 he was named Higgins Professor of Geology there. He was the first director of Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory (later Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory), where he served from 1949 to 1972.

As a pioneer oceanographer Ewing led more than fifty expeditions to explore ocean bases.

He made many contributions in the development of oceanographic instruments now in use for exploration of the oceans, including the development and use of the deep-sea camera and the piston cover. During the war he discovered the SOFAR Channel, a continuous layer in the deep ocean where sound energy is trapped by focusing, thus providing a mechanism for a long-range communications system. Over the years the vast collection of data that Ewing and his associates collected contributed enormously to the present concept of oceans as youthful features. His work in earthquake seismology confirmed the layered structure of oceans, which had been first demonstrated by his refraction studies. Ewing, perhaps more than any other single person, laid the foundation for the revolutionary concept known as plate tectonics.

In 1954 he discovered the Sigsbee knolls in the deep basin of the...