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EWING, WILLIAM MAURICE

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 Gulf of Mexico, and he suggested that they might be salt domes. Fourteen years later he was the chief scientist aboard the oceanographic research ship Glomar Challenger when oil deposits were discovered beneath those salt domes.

Known worldwide for his contributions in geophysics and oceanography, Ewing was named head of the Division of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Marine Biomedical Institute of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in June 1972; he was also named professor of geological sciences at the university. He published over 300 papers in scientific journals and was on the editorial boards of several publications. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and to the national academies of several other countries. He was also elected to foreign membership in the Royal Society of London. He served as president of the American Geophysical Union and of the Seismological Society of America. He received eleven honorary degrees from universities around the world. In addition to numerous medals and prizes awarded him during his lifetime, President Richard M. Nixon presented him the national Medal of Science. He was a member of the Philosophical Society of Texas for more than twenty-five years.

Ewing was married to Avarilla Hildenbrand on October 31, 1928; they had one son. He was married to Margaret Sloan Kidder on February 19, 1944; they had two sons and two daughters. Both marriages ended in divorce. Ewing was married a third time, on May 6, 1965, to Harriet Greene Bassett, who survived him. He died on May 4, 1974, at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston and was buried at Palisades, New York. He was awarded posthumously, in the fall of 1974, the Penrose Medal, highest honor of the Geological Society of America. In 1976 the Geophysics Laboratory of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute was renamed Maurice Ewing Hall.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Proceedings of the Philosophical Society of Texas, 1973. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in America, 1968–69.

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

"EWING, WILLIAM MAURICE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/few03), accessed July 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.