Sylvia Alice EarlBy jessicaz896
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Early Life
  • Born on August 30, 1935, in Gibbstown, New Jersey, USA
  • Had 2 brothers, one older and one younger
  • Daughter of Alice and Lewis Earle, who both encouraged her and taught her to have a love of nature, plants and animals
  • Grew up on a farm in New Jersey
  • When she was 12, her family moved to a small town north of Clearwater, Florida. The house was next to the Gulf of Mexico and there, she started to love the sea even more
  • Took her first dive in 1952, when deep-sea exploration was advancing rapidly
  • Loved scuba-diving
  • After she left Florida State University, she went to Duke for 2 years for her master’s degree, because they offered her a full scholarship and one of her favorite marine teachers, Dr. Humm, was teaching there
  • Decided to major in botany and study plants, particularly algae
  • She was often the only woman in her classes
  • Back then, many young women were teachers for their career, and Earle decided to become a marine teacher. However, she was told she would not be offered the job of a teacher because such a position would not be wasted on a female student. Later, though, she proved to many that she was as capable as any man.
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Scientific/Career Life
  • Scientists and non-scientists all were fascinated the Tektite II project captured the imagination of scientists and nonscientists alike because Earle’s team did the same work as previous all-male crews
  • Oceanographer and explorer known for her research on marine algae and her books and documentaries designed to raise awareness of the threats that overfishing and pollution pose to the world’s oceans
  • In 1965 she accepted a position as the resident director of Cape Haze Marine Laboratories in Sarasota, Fla.
  • She completed a Ph.D. in 1966, publishing her dissertation Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico in 1969. For this project she collected over 20,000 samples of algae.
  • In 1967 she became a research fellow at the Farlow Herbarium of Harvard University and a research scholar at the Radcliffe Institute.
  • In 1968 she discovered undersea dunes off the coast of the Bahamas.
  • In 1970 she led the first all-female team of women aquanauts as part of the Tektite II experiment, a project designed to explore the marine realm and test the viability of deep-water habitats and the health effects of prolonged living in underwater structures.
  • Her oceanographic research took her to such places as the Galapagos Islands, China, and the Bahamas.
  • In the 1970’s she began an association with the National Geographic Society to produce books and films on life in Earth’s oceans.
  • In 1976 she became a curator and a research biologist at the California Academy of Sciences.
  • She became curator of phycology at the California Academy of Sciences. She and her third husband, Graham Hawkes, a British engineer, designed the submersible Deep Rover, a vehicle capable of reaching depths of 914 meters (3,000 feet) beneath the surface of the ocean.
  • Earle served on the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere between 1980 and 1984.
  • Between 1990 and 1992 Earle was the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the first woman to serve in that position.
  • In 1998 she became the National Geographic Society’s first female explorer in residence.

About the Science
  • Earle was an Oceanographer,Marine botanist, and Environmentalist
  • Oceanographer – scientist who studies all aspects of the oceans, their boundaries, and their contents
  • Marine botanist – scientist who studies plants and vegetation growing near or under water
  • Environmentalist – scientist who seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment
  • Algae – Earle studied algae in particular. In general, algae are living organisms that are made up of one or more eukaryotic cells (cells with a true nucleus [the control center of the cell]) that contain chlorophyll (green pigment) and that are less complex than plants. Though commonly thought, algae are not actual plants. Many types of algae consist of single cells, though other types can form colonies or filaments of cells, or just simple tissues.
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Fun Facts
  • Earle first learned to dive with SCUBA gear while attending Florida State University.
  • Throughout her career she published over 100 scientific papers.
  • Her other works include Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans (1994), Wild Ocean: America’s Parks Under the Sea (1999) with American author Wolcott Henry, and The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One (2009).
  • SCUBA gear actually stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus gear
  • She discovered a red alga, to which she gave the name Hummbrella hydra.
  • Had 3 husbands, all of which she divorced – zoologist Jack Taylor, ichthyologist (fish biologist) Giles Mead, and engineer Graham Hawkes (who also designed the JIM Suit)
  • On Sept. 19, 1979, she set the world untethered diving record, descending 381 meters (1,250 feet) beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean in a JIM diving suit, a special diving apparatus. She walked on the bottom of the ocean floor, at a very dangerous depth.