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Mary Sears

During World War II, Massachusetts native and STEM pioneer Mary Sears left her job as a research assistant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to answer her country’s call to duty. As a Navy lieutenant in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, she was appointed head the Navy Hydrographic Office’s new Oceanographic Unit, which was created in 1943. This marked the beginning of military efforts to consolidate oceanographic programs.

Sears’ research while in the WAVES proved critical to the survivability of U.S. submarines during the war. Her intelligence reports, “Submarine Supplements to the Sailing Directions,” predicted the presence of thermoclines – areas of rapid water temperature change – under which a submarine could hide to escape enemy detection by surface sonar. Following the war, the Navy Hydrographic Office formally established a Division of Oceanography and Sears was appointed its first officer-in-charge. In 1963, Sears retired from the U.S. Naval Reserve as a commander. Woods Hole designated her a senior scientist in its biology department, from which she retired in 1970.

NGA continues legendary oceanographer Mary Sears’ pioneering endeavors. The agency’s bathymetrists evaluate and extract hydrographic and bathymetric data to support safety in maritime navigation. To meet customer requirements, bathymetrists also create geospatial displays and textual reports of intelligence information. NGA Bathymetric Contour Charts play a vital role in underwater navigation and enable Navy submarines to support the nation’s interests around the world. These and other maritime safety efforts build on the foundation Mary Sears helped establish.