William Ewing

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SEG’s Maurice Ewing Medal, created in 1977, recognizes individuals whose lifework, like the eponym’s, has given shape and substance to the science and profession of exploration geophysics. It has been estimated that Ewing’s con- tributions tripled the rate of our understanding of the earth.

No less than the emergence of marine geology as a science is owed Ewing. Before him, conjecture passed for scientific knowledge of what lay below the shallows of the continental shelves. What for centuries had been called “off soundings” was presumed an axoic monotony up to as recently as 1942. Like the featureless bottom of a tub, its raison d’etre was just to hold water.

Ewing disagreed. He dismissed the ocean as “a murky mess” he wished would evaporate to reveal the real wonders in the bottom. And what wonders they turned out to be-scapes so fantastic that Homer could have dreamed them for his own Poseidon. Yet the beauty of the findings was incidental to Ewing’s goal of solv- ing the geophysical enigmas of an entire planet. This sort of irrepressible curiosity more than made up for the fact that Ewing never received for- mal training in geology or geophysics. He toppled so many of the icons of classical geology, it’s a won&r he fell short of discover- ing seafloor spreading from his own investigations. Perhaps, being the great generalist he was, the avalanche of projects he generated left no timeto ponder the details.

Much of Ewing’s huge scientific undertaking would have been indefinitely postponed without those who toiled in the master’s shadow-retinues of students and as- sociates whom he alternately ignored or overwhelmed with his demands.