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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Arnold L. Gordon

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Interview with Dr. Arnold L. Gordon
By Ronald Doel
At Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York
January 9, 1997

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Arnold L. Gordon; January 9, 1997

ABSTRACT: Born February 4, 1940 in Brooklyn, NY. Recalls his family background and childhood. Graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1957. Undergraduate education at Hunter College, major in geology; senior paper on ďClimate-Current Relationships of the North AtlanticĒ in 1961. Graduate school in physical oceanography at Columbia with a Ford fellowship under Georg Wust. Discusses his introduction to life at Lamont and the scientists there. Describes his decision to come to Columbia for graduate school; comments on working with Georg Wust and his exposure to the ďGerman schoolĒ of oceanography. Compares Lamont with several other institutions: Scripps, Woods Hole, and the Institute at Kiel. Describes the courses he took at Lamont and how the number of courses increased after he graduated. Comments on his collaborative work with Bruce Heezen and Rhodes Fairbridge soon after graduating; discusses the tension between Lamont and Schermerhom geologists over his years there. Comments on his tensions with Maurice Ewing and his wife, Harriet Greene; discusses his senior thesis and the guidance he received from his thesis committee; compares receiving funding from the AEC to NSF and ONR. Discusses the relationship between physical oceanography and meteorology in 1960s; describes his Antarctic research and how he came to work on it. Comments on what he sees as the critical difference between his generation of oceanographers and the current one. Discusses his work on the Southern Ocean Atlas and the help of George Deacon; comments on the challenges of teaching oceanography to current students. Describes his perspective of the political unrest at Columbia in the 1960s; recalls his work as interim department chair in 1976. Discusses the changing leadership of Lamont under Taiwani versus Ewing; comments on the Earth Institute and his reservations. Describes his successful collaborations with Soviet scientists during the Cold War.

Transcript

Session I | Session II | Session III

Doel:

This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Arnold Gordon. Weíre recording this on January 9, 1997 at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. One of the things that we do need to cover in this interview is your decision to come to Columbia and the work that you did on your — very soon after arriving, and I may have well asked this question already. But did you see other choices for universities in addition to Columbia that had intrigued you at the time?

Gordon:

Oh boy. I applied to a number of places I believe. But the only ones that I can remember right now are MIT and Columbia University. And it was either one. And I think as we spoke about last time, at MIT, and I went to visit MIT. I just wasnít too excited about the research. And so I — and then at Columbia it just seemed to - when I visited Lamont, spoke with Jack Nafe, the research opportunities seem to be sort of larger scale, more global scope rather than just some, I think some sediment transports along a local beach which is the MIT research had to offer. So I — that attracted me to Columbia, and also the fellowship which was a Ford Foundation fellowship that paid more money.

Doel:

I do remember we touched on [laughter] that briefly as well.

Gordon:

It was an eighteen hundred dollar stipend a year. And tuition, of course, was paid for.

Doel:

Right.

Gordon:

And I bought a car with that too. I lived and bought a car. [Laughter] Unbelievable.

Doel:

Was that unusual among the graduate students? Were you one of the few who had a car?

Gordon:

It was the second year I bought a car. No, no. It was — no, I believe it was fairly common. We might have shared rides going into New York City. We didnít have the shuttle bus then between Lamont and Columbia, so we shared, carpooled. No, I think most had cars. We were rich. Cars inexpensive. No air bags those days.

Doel:

One thing I was thinking about that came at the same time that you got your bachelorís degree was the appearance of the English language edition of Dafontís Physical Oceanography. Did you encounter that very soon after you came to Lamont?

Gordon:

Oh yes, I did. Because you see Georg Wust, German professor of physical oceanography, very famous, was a visiting professor here at Columbia. He started in, I think it was 1960, he was here for three years.

Doel:

Thatís right.

Gordon:

1963. And he and Albert Dafont were colleagues, worked together on this Davis set that was collected by the Germans in the south Atlantic in 1920s, 1925. The meteor expedition. So I learned a lot about the German oceanography and personalities of that time from Wust and, of course, I was and that Dafont volume, there were two volumes. And I learned from Wust that they were translated from German to English by Dafontís son, which Dafont — I forgot the first name. And Wust did not think very much of the translations. [Laughter] I found that volume one was a particularly useful book though.

Doel:

Iím aware youíve cited it on numerous occasions in your earliest papers.

Gordon:

Thatís right. Thatís right. No, I think itís the German school of oceanography which I suppose I then adhered to from the teachings of Wust were compatible or consistent with the way Dafont approached the field. And also the way Lamont did too. Itís global in scope, looking for the large-scale effects or importance of the phenomena you were studying. So whenever — going through Dafontís book, I always had a keen idea of exactly why what he was talking about was important. So I kind of — I liked that book. Volume two on tides and waves I think was not as useful.

Doel:

I was interested a moment ago when you termed it the German school of oceanography and youíve mentioned one characteristic. Were there other characteristics that helped define it as a school?

Gordon:

Boy. They were pretty strict. [Laughter] You would — had to be absolutely devoted to the work. Twenty-four hours a day which also fit into the Lamont personality? When Wust was here you — as a student, you werenít allowed to date or go out. You werenít allowed to have a social life. I donít think that really was enforced. He couldnít enforce it. But it was that kind of school. You would have somebody dedicated to that work. And I — it was the scope of the work at that time, in the 1920s, that that branch of German oceanography became more global in their reach that was I associated with this, with their approach. It was just large-scale, global type of issues, not small scale processes which other fields sort of pursued. So I think it was — part of that school was that high degree of dedication and to the work, commitment to the work. I remember, for instance, Klaus Berkey, who was one of Wustís first students, right after the war, Klaus Berkey, wandered into Wustís office and said he wants to study oceanography. Wust took him on as a graduate student. But Wust never really liked him because Klaus had a motorcycle, and went out with women. And because of that, when Klaus got his Ph.D. degree, he went off to Indonesia to pursue his work. And Klaus in my mind is the extraordinary leading oceanographer. His work in the Pacific and much areas of oceanography led to much of our understanding of NCEL [Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory], the oceanís role in NCEL, in El Nino nowadays. And so Berkey is — very good friends with Berkey and I respect him tremendously. But he and Wust had their rough spots.

Doel:

Did you know him at the time that — when did you come to meet him, during the time that you were a graduate student here?

Gordon:

Oh yes. Yes.

Doel:

I wonder, was there a difference in the way that oceanography as you were coming to learn it here, differed from what was evident at Scripps at that time?

Gordon:

No, I really think so. It was the Ewing school and it was just bringing Wust in here was right. And Ewingís approach, which then was the Lamont approach, is you look at the whole global ocean, you focus on phenomena, you use and develop quickly whatever tools you need to study that phenomena, and it was actually broad brush, large scale. The data sets were not precise, but you made up — theyíre made up by the number of data points. You square, in other fields of science, and I think what was going on in Woods Hole, Scripps at that time was that it was more refined precision instrumentation, fewer points were more focused on a small — on processes, turner waves or such, mixing. And the Lamont — the Ewing and Lamont approach was this grand approach of studying the globe which is now back in favor. At the time, you know, the Vema went out, just collected data, at every noon would stop and collect data if they needed it or not. [Laughter] And it led to this extraordinary library of data here at Lamont thatís still being used now. The magnetics data that led to open the doors to sea floor spreading. The sediment core lab that opened the doors to climate change. Gravity data and all that. That was the bottom photographs that were taken of the sea floor. The T grad data that Marc [Marcus] Langseth developed in heat flow. All these were quick and dirty instruments that you just used and used and used and collected enormous amounts of data. It was noisy but the patterns emerged. So that was what was strong about Lamont. What I really liked, loved about Lamont. And I absolutely made the right choice in coming here and Wustís philosophy sort of fit in exactly with that.

Doel:

Was it Ewingís idea to bring Wust here?

Gordon:

Yes. I understand yes. He — it was discussed through the Ford Foundation so the Ford Foundation paid Wust and paid for a graduate student. Just happened to walk into it just right.

Doel:

Indeed.

Gordon:

Which often characterizes what I do. I never — I never seemed to have any doubts that I wanted to study oceanography and pretty soon physical oceanography, a claim sort Of meteorology and then oceanography and then physical oceanography. You know, I think I said last time too, I never seemed to give much thought of exactly what I should do next. It always seemed that everything just unfolded and was there. And I — maybe what it is when you have some idea what you want to do, you recognize opportunity and seize opportunity. But it never seemed that I put very much thought into it. [Laughter] Just idiotís luck, but I think itís sort of having some idea of what youíre interested in and then recognizing opportunity when itís there. Thatís very important.

Doel:

I think thatís indeed right. When you were a graduate student, did you have much contact with Scripps and the Woods Hole?

Gordon:

Not too much. No. Interesting, I — Oh wait, no, Scripps you mentioned, thatís what I was thinking of. Not too much contact with Scripps. In fact, I donít even now have that much contact with Scripps. But Woods Hole I did because you see they — in 1963, in order to get field experience, I went on an expedition on a Woods Hole ship to the Indian Ocean. And Wust arranged that for me. So I — because on our ships we werenít doing very much in the way of physical oceanography. Ewing wanted Wust here to develop physical oceanographic studies at Lamont in the same sort of global framework as he developed the geology and geophysics. So there wasnít a cruise that I could get field experience on Lamont ships because they werenít doing the kind of work that I do, physical oceanography.

Doel:

And it was in part because the ships werenít equipped to do —?

Gordon:

Yes, they werenít equipped. And they just — and they didnít, yes, didnít have the knowledge of how to do it. So Woods Hole was certainly the leader in oceanographic field work at that time, may still be. And so itís logical that I go there. And I went on a cruise.

Doel:

That was your cruise on the Atlantis 2.

Gordon:

Atlantis 2, yes, thatís right.

Doel:

In 1963.

Gordon:

Yes. Yes. Okay, I mentioned that already.

Doel:

No, I saw it from your CV.

Gordon:

Oh good. Okay, yes, thatís right. That was — Wust arranged for that and it was a wonderful experience.

Doel:

What was it like?

Gordon:

Oh itís something. That was my first time out of the country? I suppose so. I might have been in Canada, but that doesnít count. I think it was the first time out of the country for me. And so we left on, I think about July 5th I believe out of Woods Hole, across the Atlantic, took some testation. Through the Mediterranean and in through the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean. And I had tremendous — learned so much then. Oh, it was a wonderful experience. It was the perfect thing to do. And I — you know, you sit on a watch. I didnít know anything. You sit on a watch eight off, four on, eight off. And on your watch your ship stops in predetermined positions to make observations of the ocean, and the watch takes care of those observations, making the observations and processing, writing down numbers. I was in charge of — at that point, computers were just beginning — and I was in charge doing the thermometer corrections on some old computer which was called a Bendix. And I donít think they made it. And it was about this — looked like a refrigerator. And it was paper tape and so I programmed it to do the corrections. You know when you read a thermometer, mercury thermometers; you have to make various corrections depending on the characteristics of that thermometer. And so I did that plus gathering data. The methods that we used in 1963 were nothing like we do now. I mean things are more electronic and computer-oriented now. But you just still learned at that point the value of making accurate observations. How difficult it is to observe the ocean. And the effort, the extraordinary effort that must be made to collect quality data.

Doel:

Who sailed with you on that voyage?

Gordon:

Yes. The, so letís see. Rocky Miller, Arthur Miller is his name. And we called him Rocky Miller. So he was the chief scientist. And the Indian Ocean was a focus of activity then. It was called the International Indian Ocean Expedition and many countries sent ships to the Indian Ocean.

Doel:

This was one of the international follow-ups of the IGY [International Geophysical Year].

Gordon:

Thatís right. Yes it was. Because the Indian Ocean was not covered well during the IGY. Itís amazing. Itís only a few years after the IGY and in my mind the IGY seems ancient where my cruise on the Atlantis 2 seems recent. [Laughter]

Doel:

Interesting you put it that way.

Gordon:

Yes. And, okay, so that was — I really learned a lot about the value of care needed collecting good data from these people. And these were the old-timers. The methods that we used in 1963 were essentially the same methods that Wust used in the 1920s. Little bit more electronics involved in doing some of the determining the salt content rapid in chemistry. It was an electronic method. But for the most part, the data collection [?] bottle were exactly what Wust used in the 1920s. Nothing really much better in about forty years. These guys were just experts at it and I you know, you had watch leaders. I got to know them very well. And when I — I remember when I got awarded the Bigelow Medal, thatís an award that Woods Hole gives every year, it was Ď94 that I got — But hearing from some of those watch leaders, one was in Brazil, [inaudible]. But getting letters from them, congratulations from them, was very nice. Those people sort of taught me how to do it and how to do it right. And that — during that cruise I also met Jacques Cousteau. Interesting. We stopped in Monaco and I picked up — we had to pick up a lot of wine to be delivered to Cousteauís ship in the Red Ship. He was filming a — oh one of his early movies, Land Without Light or something like that. And so I was, when we got to the Red Sea, I was in charge of, not in charge, I was on a little boat delivering the wine to the Calypso. And so we were invited to lunch with Cousteau and his wife, who I remember was wearing big hats, these big hats, but I canít remember.

Doel:

Thatís all right. We can always add that later if it comes to you.

Gordon:

Yes. So that was on lunch there and visited everything.

Doel:

Did Cousteau talk any about his meetings that he had had earlier on at Lamont?

Gordon:

No, he didnít.

Doel:

I was just wondering if he seemed to be well aware of the work that was being done at Lamont at the time.

Gordon:

No. I didnít. I was only on that — it was just lunch there. We wouldnít have talked about that. It was a Woods Hole ship. He probably didnít know I was from Lamont. I am aware that there was some interaction, some affiliation that was pursued between Cousteau and Lamont. But I think that Ewing did not feel that Cousteau was scientific enough. Was more of a publicity type to — that the affiliation would not have helped Lamont?

Doel:

And that once Lamont had the Vema, there wasnít as much need for access to —

Gordon:

No, you didnít need access to that ship or the [cross talk]

Doel:

Iím wondering what stories you heard about oceanography, particularly the Meteor Expedition or other developments from Wust? What sort of things come back to mind when you were talking about the personalities and the main issues?

Gordon:

Oh boy. Well there was a lot of intrigue on the Meteor. Iím in trouble with names now. The chief scientist on the Meteor, let me — almost on the tip of my tongue, Iíll forget this now.

Doel:

Again, we can get it.

Gordon:

Wust was married to his sister. So Wust came along. Wust was very young at that time, and a lot of people felt that he was in a position that was somewhat too high for his age and background. Which may be one reason — this is a slight aside. I remember when I was appointed assistant professor here in 1966, so Bruce Heezen said I was too young. He was against it. He said I was too young. And Wust said thatís a problem that solves itself. [Laughter] So that carried the day, and I got the appointment.

Doel:

Thatís interesting.

Gordon:

And, Mertz was the fellowís name. Alfred Mertz. So, then Alfred Mertz died on the ship in Buenos Aires, outside of Buenos Aires, and then came the issue what they do with the rest of the expedition. And the scientific crew said they want to go back to Germany and cancel the expedition. And the captain at that time sort of had an extraordinary amount of authority over what was done, not just the operation of the ship, said they canít do that. That Wust will be in charge of the Meteor. And a lot of people just didnít like that. It caused a lot of friction among the scientists that I believe continued after that too. So Wust was in charge of the Meteor Expedition after Mertz died. And he saw it to completion. So thereís always — I guess thereís always some thought that there was some further intrigue there, exactly why the captain supported Wust. And I donít really know too much about it. So itís — but it was a funny transition, it was a real conflict in the cruise. Do they finish it? If they continue, who would lead it, and I donít think Wust was sort of high on the list of the scientists to lead it if they continued. But the captain insisted and thatís how it worked out.

Doel:

Interesting. Interesting. As I recall, Wust was at Berlin, the Institute [?] during World War II. Did he talk about the experiences that he and the Institute had during the war?

Gordon:

Yes. Now, of course, I, being Jewish, and he knew that, and that was — it might have influenced his interaction with me. He worked for the Navy. He worked for the German Navy during the Second World War, and on the anti-submarine kind of warfare. Exactly how you find enemy submarines, in more particular how you hide your own submarines from the enemy surface ships. How to get the ships out of the North Sea, through the blockade there. So thatís sort of the work that he did at that time. He always said that he knew nothing of what was going on Germany at the time in terms of the concentration camps. He found out about it on some railroad station towards the end of the war, and he was shocked by it. He was finally — the capture of him on a ship — he was on a ship in the North Sea, and that ship was captured by an English Navy ship. And an oceanographer on there — so they had all the officers on the German ship lined up. And then the — on the British ship was an oceanographer, John Caruthers, and he recognized Wust. He took him out of the line to stay there. Humiliated by this was something that Wust was not a military man or something like that. So talked about his devotion, but he was thankful for John Caruthers for his — so I really donít know too much more about it. He never really alluded too much further to details. I believe in the Second World War, First World War, no, maybe not, I donít remember that. I thought that he did some forecasting of the air flow of mustard gas at the time. So he was doing meteorology work, meteorological work. I think he was just a very young at the time.

Doel:

Did you have occasion to visit the Institute in Kiel [?] during the time you were a graduate student?

Gordon:

Yes. No, right after. I went there in 1966. So a year after. Yes, I got my degree in Ď65. So I went there in Ď66 and Wust arranged a visit of all these people. And it was interesting. I met — I was the — he knew all of all the old guys there and some of the young ones too. So I became acquainted with the people of, say, sort of two generations ago. I probably know more of the ancient history of German oceanography than anybody else now. Probably as much as Berkey. So he arranged all sorts of visits for me to Kiel, and Hamburg and I spoke with a lot of people there. So, and that was the mid-sixties was the transition, as it was in this country too, of the old pre-World War II scientists by the new front line of the new people coming in, which I was like a member of. And the same thing was happening in Germany then. They rebuilt their oceanography and started funneling graduate students in the late fifties. They were getting their degrees in the early sixties. So I met a lot of people there. Gave my lectures on the Antarctic because I already was down on an Antarctic cruise in 1965. Lectures on the Caribbean which was my Ph.D. thesis.

Doel:

We need to cover all that in a moment. I donít want to —

Gordon:

But Dafont was, not Dafont, Dietrich, Guenther Dietrich was the director at Kiel at the time, stayed at his house when I was there.

Doel:

When you gave your talks, did you give them in English or German?

Gordon:

No, English of course. Yes, no, I was able — Iím not too great with languages. I was able, got a good memory, so I was able to memorize lots and lots of German words, and having the verb at the end made sense to me so that never bothered me. So I was able to read German fairly well, but to speak it is — I can understand many of the words. But speaking is a real different art form. Reading is fairly easy. German just — the words made sense to me, even the long sentences. I took very naturally to the German. So I read a lot of the German oceanography.

Doel:

One thing Iím really interested in, how did the Institutes of Kiel and Hamburg compare to Lamont? In terms of the training that was being offered or —

Gordon:

No, they were not very good at the time. It was just extraordinarily small-scale work. Very local work in the Baltic, even in the North Sea. They — after the war, they didnít turn global again or get out into the open ocean, boy, I think until the early seventies or mid-seventies even. So the work there was not — I didnít find it terribly interesting. It was more very localized like beach erosions, things like that. Which if I went to MIT I probably would have found fantastic. They were in the process of rebuilding then. It was 1966; it was still only twenty years after the war.

Doel:

Indeed. I was wondering if you had any impressions of the curriculum that was being offered, the kind of exposure.

Gordon:

Interesting. Too many courses, I always felt. You know, it was from Wust and from [W. Maurice] Ewing; the philosophy is you learn by doing. You learn in an apprenticeship type of arrangement. You go out on ships and you work with data, and you plot stuff, and thatís how you learned, as an apprenticeship with some person, some great person that knows a lot. And courses were never emphasized because, and thatís even nowadays here at Columbia, we have less courses in oceanography, in any particular area of oceanography, than Woods Hole or MIT or Scripps. Especially at Scripps. For many of the other oceanography schools, have a multitude of courses in the tiniest of fields, where here you donít. The courses are more general, and still youíre expected through an apprenticeship type of an arrangement, which I think is very appropriate for graduate school.

Doel:

I want to get back to that again when we later cover your time as chairman of the department. Thatís a very interesting point. Iím curious when you think back to your first few years at Columbia, which of the courses you did take stand out in your mind? Which were particularly helpful or influential?

Gordon:

Yes. Thatís interesting. Yes. Wust gave some lectures that were pretty dry. And it was almost out of Dafont. I remember going back to the 1960 visit to Kiel by the way, there was some famous — Helen Hanzett, oceanographer, was running a lab in Hamburg at the time, and he introduced me and I happened to say the word Dafont, the name Dafont. But Dafont is how the French would pronounce it. He stopped the lecture at that point. And he announced to the audience that by Dafont I really mean Dafont, something like that. [Laughter] Then he said, you can continue now. He was really upset. I didnít pronounce Alfred Dafontís name correctly. [Laughter] Thatís the German school of oceanography.

Doel:

Yes. Yes. That illustrates it well. He must have been quite on in years though?

Gordon:

They all were, yes. These were people close to retirement. Then I remember meeting Tomschact, he was the head of the hydrographic service in Hamburg. And he was really straight-laced. He looked to me like he was wearing clothes from the 1920s. Starched collar, round, and all that. His son, Matt Tomschact, at that point was a real rebel, and just the opposite. Absolute opposite of his father. And Tomschact, Matt Tomschact, is now a pretty well-known oceanographer in Australia. Still kind of a rebel. Boy I bet they didnít get along. [Laughter] So anyway, letís see, what courses? Okay. Wustís courses I thought were pretty dry and you were able to get it out of readings fairly easily. The two courses that stand out as being —

Doel:

I was just curious. How many people were attending his lectures?

Gordon:

Quite a number. There must have been about fifteen in that class. So everybody — at that time all of our graduate students attended all of the courses because there werenít many courses to attend. So the courses routinely had ten, fifteen people in them. So you just had a few courses in each one of the major fields. We do have more now, but itís still not — we donít cover the area in great depth for teaching. The two courses, Jack Nafeís lectures were particularly useful. He taught a course in geophysics. And what he made you do was made you think in fundamental terms and be able to solve problems on your feet more or less without — just memorize a few fundamentals, a few little concepts, a few constants here and there that you had to remember because you couldnít derive them easily. And from that you could do everything else. And heís right. So he taught an approach to the science that allows you to think fast and make estimates, fairly accurate estimates from — rapidly. You get all sorts of problems in physics that people have to deal with and just how to use it. Just common sense, sort of horse sense, with, a few little bits, armed with a few bits of information on various, all these various constants. The other ones that I really learned fluid dynamics in, was the course was taught by Richard Feffer. He was a meteorologist, atmospheric scientist, from the MIT School of Meteorology. He taught a series here that were basically fluid dynamics, geophysical fluid dynamics, and they applied as well to the ocean as they did to the atmosphere. So those were probably the most important courses, the series I took with Feffer on that brought me more into the modern world of geophysical fluid dynamics. And in his classes there were just like four of us because the general group did not take those. It was just three people in meteorology and me.

Doel:

At that time, MIT was one of the leaders?

Gordon:

Yes, thatís right. Dave Foltz did a lot of modeling work. I think Jules Charney just started there some other thing too. Not Foltz, Charney was already there. Yes, and this was the leader in that field of global atmospheric circulation.

Doel:

Dave Foltz had transferred from Chicago?

Gordon:

Yes. Thatís right. Was he still in Chicago at that time? I thought he was there at MIT.

Doel:

He may well have been.

Gordon:

Iím not sure. I know it was Chicago. But I thought he went to MIT, but maybe he didnít. Thatís a long while ago, and, yes, anyway. Thatís — I would think Fefferís lectures and Nafeís lectures were the most important in shaping the way I approached the science. Letís see. I canít think of any others actually. I took a course, at that time we had to take sixty credits. And forty of my sixty credits were in the physics department.

Doel:

Thatís very interesting.

Gordon:

Yes, you had to take them, because there werenít many courses in geology. So in physics, it was mathematical methods of physics. That was very valuable in teaching methods of data analysis. And then a course by Herbert Goldstein, a famous physicist on mechanics, mechanical physics. And those were very important courses. That stretched me to my limit though with the second semester course with Goldstein. At that point I knew I reached my limit of understanding of physics. I couldnít understand what they were doing. [Laughter] There was no way. So I knew I reached my limit then. It was a tough — it was tough.

Doel:

It sounds it.

Gordon:

But I, yes. So, thermodynamics and optics. So a lot of courses in physics. We donít do that anymore. Most of the courses are all within the department now.

Doel:

When did that transition occur? Was it gradual?

Gordon:

It was more gradual. But I think it occurred pretty early. I think by the late seventies very few of our students were taking courses outside of our department. We added courses all the time. In fact, now within the department, weíre said to have too many courses. Now this might be inconsistent with what I said earlier where I donít think we have many courses. But basically Lamont covers such an enormous spectrum of the Earth Sciences. We have a lot of width, but our courses donít have that much depth. Even in oceanography now, in physical oceanography, and even if you include the atmospheric courses, youíre really only talking that we only have about six, seven courses, somewhere in there. Where schools of oceanography would probably have more on the order of twenty courses. And then in the other fields of geophysics and geochemistry, they also — We just cover so much. Not too many in any particular area. They really do add up. Right now the average attendance in our courses is probably only about five, six, and seven, somewhere in there. Yes, less people now. We can cover more area. We canít, if we bring a hundred students a year, got about a hundred courses. Each student is here for four, five years, say five years, thatís five people per course. And maybe thatís it.

Doel:

Did you take any courses in geology during the time that you were here as a graduate student?

Gordon:

No. No. I didnít. As I mentioned, as an undergraduate I was a geology major, but that was only out of the goodness of the head of the department that gave credit for a course I never took. Donít tell anybody. [Laughter] But I had geology courses there that were graduate. Not as many as here. I donít think I had any geology courses here at Columbia. Yes, so, because I think I believe I took forty credits in physics. And the rest and I think I had about sixty-five altogether. Some twenty-five in this department. With just Nafe, Feffer, oh Heezen, submarine geology. That was a pretty dry course also. Didnít really get too much out of that. Yes, too many in the Wust course and Heezenís course were sort of the old-fashioned way, where theyíre kind of dry lectures of this is here and thatís there, and you didnít get much of a sense of the processes, the dynamics of the processes that were going on and didnít —

Doel:

Interesting. And that was characteristic of Bruce Heezenís course?

Gordon:

Oh yes. Now some people would disagree with that of course.

Doel:

One of the reasons that Iíve asked you about that is itís very soon after your Ph.D. that you write a number of pieces and some together with Rhodes Fairbridge. And I was curious if — how well you had come to know him before your Ph.D. or was that something that didnít come about?

Gordon:

No. Gee. Did I ever take a course? I donít think I had a course with him. But I know from him and others that he was very impressed with my performance on the oral exams. And Rhodes Fairbanks, Fairbridge, was, he just knew, had enormous amounts of knowledge in his brain. He had enormous of knowledge which allowed him to produce those series of encyclopedias; one on oceanography and one on other areas of the science. And so it must have been that from my exposure to him in the oral exams, he probably thought I also knew a lot. And luckily I just happened to know the answers to the questions and I knew nothing more. [Laughter] And so he just asked me to write a number of those articles for that encyclopedia. Which were kind of odd, me being a — well I think that was published in Ď66.

Doel:

Thatís right.

Gordon:

I think it was about then. So I must have written them just about the time I got the Ph.D. in Ď65 I suppose. Oneís on the Caribbean, I know that. Oneís on the Atlantic. [inaudible] But thatís — I suppose it was just the exposure I had to Fairbridge through the oral exams. I donít remember taking a course with him. [Laughter]

Doel:

Thatís interesting. How were his relations with Lamont during the time?

Gordon:

Well, I mean, obviously that was the early sixties and in the sixties was this conflict between the Lamont dominance of the future of the department and the Schermerhorn dominance.

Doel:

Indeed.

Gordon:

The Schermerhorn were more classical geologists, and Lamont was getting into new areas of oceanography. So there were enormous amount of friction there. I probably know less about that then the people who arrived at Lamont earlier. Like the people who probably got here in 1955, they would have a better view of that transition.

Doel:

But Iím interested in how that — how you experienced that as a graduate student. Clearly you were aware of the tensions at the time.

Gordon:

Yes. Yes. Well not as aware as when I was on the faculty because really tensions came in when there were — when somebody retired from downtown. Universities have a habit of trying to replace somebody who retires with somebody whoís exactly like that person. But this was during one of the transition periods as we might be going through now where the replacement could be from a completely different field. And what happens then is when youíre fighting for this dominance is the support you get from the next level up, the university provost. So all of those — all that interaction I was not involved with, being only a student. So I donít think I was aware of the transition going on. The focus was moving more up here all the time. I think that I might have been the first chairman of the — I really wasnít chairman of the — although Iíve used that before, I donít like to say I was chairman of the department. Hold the faculty meetings here, at Lamont, up until then they were always held down at Schermerhorn. I moved them up here.

Doel:

Thatís interesting.

Gordon:

I just thought about that. We used to meet in Lamont Hall. I think afterwards, there was a period, transition period, where it was going both places after that. But certainly the center of the department was felt to be downtown until, when I was coordinator, I called it, of the department.

Doel:

Coordinator of —

Gordon:

Must have been 1972, somewhere in there. I forgot. Early seventies. Itís at that point when I think it became clear that Lamont won the battle and we really were dominant at this point.

Doel:

Did beginning — your CV actually lists you as chairman, Department of Geological Sciences, Ď76.

Gordon:

Oh that late? Okay. So we were still downtown until —

Doel:

Until that time.

Gordon:

Until at least then, yes. The faculty meetings were definitely down at Schermerhorn. And it was a — and I think even then, towards the mid-seventies, people were already complaining about how many of us had to travel down to Schermerhorn and whether those few have to come up here.

Doel:

Whatís interesting and weíre getting a little ahead of our story, but itís pertinent here. That came during Manik Taiwaniís time as director. How did things change in the relationship between Lamont and campus under Manik Talwani?

Gordon:

You know I really do not have — unaware. But nothing comes to mind right away. By the time Taiwani took over director here, I believe it was clear in everybodyís mind that Lamont was the center of the geology department. I think the main battles were fought during Ewingís time. It was just details sort of during Taiwaniís time: where you met, things like this. I donít think there was — there was, Iím trying to think of who was still around then. Holmes just had died probably. And he was one of the old timers from downtown. And that was an icon in my mind. That was probably in Ď76, Ď77 sometime in there. And that sort of in my mind marked the real transition. It was between geology department and Lamont, it came up here. The power was certainly here at that point. Fairbanks retired, Fairbridge retired quite a bit later. I canít even think of the other people who were down there then. Yes, not too much help there. I was not —

Doel:

Thatís fine. Iím wondering —

Gordon:

In many ways, me being in physical oceanography here, which was the real transition which occurred in the eighties was physical oceanography was definitely on the edge of Lamont research. I was always fighting the battle that a lone kind of outsider on the edges with marine geology and geophysics and seismology dominating all the actions at Lamont. So maybe what happened between — not that I dominate very much now, but fields of oceanography and atmospheric science and their related climatology is certainly the dominant force within Lamont right now.

Doel:

Indeed. And it was a much smaller part of Lamont during the years that weíre talking about.

Gordon:

Absolutely, almost nothing.

Doel:

I was curious too: as a graduate student, which of the other graduate students were you particularly close to?

Gordon:

Well there was Dennis Hayes, you know him and Jim [James D.] Hays and Charlie Hollister. Those were the — the four of us hung out together. Jim Hays and Dennis Hayes are still here of course. Hollister is at Woods Hole.

Doel:

When you say hung out together, what sort of things — did you meet on a fairly regular basis?

Gordon:

Yes. We were a carpool. I would always with Jim Hays — I donít know how long, but we went out to lunch together every day from then until, boy, probably the mid- seventies. I would never do that now. It takes so much time. And so with the other fellows, we were, it was more Denny, me and Hollister. My interaction with Jim Hays was somewhat separate. I was close to those guys. Like, for instance, when we all passed our oral exams, Hollister, Dennis Hayes and I did it the same year, we had this gigantic party at Charlie Hollisterís house. He made a punch bowl full of martinis. And we just got so drunk, and it snowed that day. And we started a snowball fight and brought the snow into the house. And his wife was really angry. We evidently ruined some Queen Anne chairs. I remember driving home that day. It was in the ice storm. And I had to make a ninety degree right turn into my driveway. Instead I made a 270 degree left turn, amazing, amazing. But those are the kind of things that we did together. So were kind of, we were just — and I would — At that time, letís see Denny, was married, and I would be over their house for dinner most of the time. Yes, no, so I was very friendly with those three; less so with some other graduate students at the time. Tom Herron, Paul Grimm. I was friendly with them probably at the next level down.

Doel:

Looking back on it, did you feel you learned as much from fellow students as your professors? Or in your case did you find —

Gordon:

Thatís interesting, you do. You learn as much from fellow graduate students. I think thatís still the case now. Youíre able to interact with fellow graduate students on a more informal, sociable level. And it wasnít so much your — as your fellow graduate students were doing their research, you would talk about your research. And you really learned a lot about, at that time, the other branches of the field. So interaction among students, your peers when theyíre students, but particularly students who are a few years advanced from you, I think are a very important way — part of this apprenticeship approach. So the apprenters and the apprentices interact, but so do the apprentices or whatever it is. Thatís wrong, but itís a — so I do think that your — that interaction among students was then and is now very important part of the education. Youíre not asking, youíre not afraid of asking the silly question to a fellow graduate student where you would be afraid of doing that with a professor. So.

Doel:

Given what we were talking about a moment ago, the interdisciplinary of the different fields that were coming into contact. How important were the seminars, the colloquia for helping to keep a community at Lamont?

Gordon:

Well, I thought that was pretty important. That was the one place. We didnít have a cafeteria then. You see, we just had a truck that parked out there, near whatís the Butler Building now. And he brought in sandwiches. You didnít get together at lunch time here. I think those seminars, the Friday afternoon colloquium which was all they had at that time. Seismologists I think already had a seminar series in the sixties. For the most part it was just the Friday afternoon. That was very important for people to get together. It was a smaller group then, and you had like one — you had Lamont, you had one person in every one of the major areas and you all went to that seminar. And I think that was pretty important at keeping us together and keeping our interdisciplinary objectives alive. Meeting places, like cafeterias, I think are pretty important. I enjoy it whenever I go there and sit down or either just go there and get a sandwich and come back here. [Laughter] So I felt that that earth science colloquium was pretty important.

Doel:

When you think back on it, were there any colloquia that were particularly memorable for you? Or visitors who came through?

Gordon:

No, I canít think of any off-hand. No. Not really. I really remember only our own. I think at that point most of the lectures must have been given by our own people, because I remember those. The magnetics one that Herseler gave or Chuck Drakeís lectures, I thought they were pretty good. He really got — I learned a lot from those. I donít remember anybody from the outside. I wonder what percentage of the speakers came from the outside then? Yes, so I. Nothing particular comes to mind.

Doel:

Yes. Thatís interesting. Were there other — and of course, Georg Wust was a visitor for the three years. Were there other people who came in as visitors for a long term who became memorable for you?

Gordon:

No.

Doel:

Okay.

Gordon:

Sorry about that. [Laughter] Again, you know, I was on the — being in oceanography I was on the edge of things.

Doel:

Yes, I can understand that.

Gordon:

Yes. I was not in the central core. I knew everybody within Lamont, and I was friendly with everyone in Lamont. But from a research end, I was on the edge at that point and only during the late seventies and in through the eighties was the area that I represent brought into the mainstream of Lamont because the other places faded. You know, they — because of funding changes and stuff. So, there was a lot of, you know — famous seismologists came through here, but not directly relevant to myself. Iím trying to think, there were some oceanographers that came through. But God, it was years ago. I donít have much of a memory for the — but that we did have some physical oceanographers come through. I think it was a pretty rare occurrence. That there were people friendly with Wust who would come through and give some lectures here. But it wasnít Berkey. Berkey did not come to Lamont until quite late, until the late seventies. And they had some people from Woods Hole. Worthington, Fritz Fuglister, thatís right, they gave lectures here. They were pretty good. Memorable, you know, I donít know. Rarely do I hear lectures that change the course of what I do. It was pretty flexible.

Doel:

How about, from your perspective, how were relations between Ewing and Wust during his visit?

Gordon:

Oh, no, they were pretty good. I was unaware of any problems if they had them. Wust was, I think, he was extended one year. No, I thought it was pretty good. No, I would — Wustís, I think, stay might have been extended one year, from Ď62 to Ď63. I think he got along with Ewing very well. Both had a very similar approach. No problem there at all. Ewing was an imposing character. You know, and I would go into that office and say, maybe the last time too. I said he was at the end of a long hall. It was one of these things as I walked towards that office the hall got longer and longer. And his desk was — the room was so cluttered with things. It was always an experience to go in and talk with Maurice Ewing and particularly at the times when his interaction with the university was always difficult, paranoid. Both sides I think. And he was afraid of university dominance of Lamont. So Polykarp Kusch, who was the Nobel Laureate in physics, asked me to serve on some committee that was to form an alliance, research/education alliance, between oceanography and the School of Business fisheries. And I accepted, I was just an assistant professor. Because Ewing refused to cooperate with this, Kusch was at that point the provost.

Doel:

This was — he had succeeded [Jacques] Barzun as provost?

Gordon:

Thatís right. Was there anybody in between? I donít remember. So I sat on that. And I got to know a lot of people at the university. I thought it was a great idea. Ewing was furious, he was mad at me. So his wife was even madder.

Doel:

This is Harriet?

Gordon:

Harriet. She called me a traitor.

Doel:

Is that right?

Gordon:

Oh yes. How could you do this to Ewing? You know, I guess, playing ball with the university when the proper thing I should have done was, you know refuse to serve on that.

Doel:

Thatís very interesting. How much contact did you have with Harriet during those years?

Gordon:

A lot. Yes, she would be the — you had to get through Harriet to see Ewing.

Doel:

I was just going to ask you that question because those who had been here earlier, before —

Gordon:

Oh had much more access.

Doel:

Had much more access to —

Gordon:

To Ewing, yes. I also had access to Ewing, but you would have — more and more, in the later days, you would always have to get through Harriet first. And she would be there when we were talking, you see. So when I went to meet with him, sheíd be sitting there. No, she was a pretty powerful influence the last, say, five years he was here. I forgot when he left. Seventy-two was it?

Doel:

Seventy-two.

Gordon:

Seventy-two. He died in seventy-four.

Doel:

Thatís right.

Gordon:

She was a pretty strong influence on Ewing and interactions with the other people. Ewing was not — Ewingís greatest contribution to the science was the data set that he left. This enormous global data set. Collect data if you need it or not. And make sure it was done. I donít view him as anyone who came through with any grand schemes of lasting quality. Grand concepts of how the earth works. He was against plate tectonics. And even when it was being supported strongly here by people like [Walter C.] Pitman and seismologists and so, he was against it. He still didnít believe it. It was Harry Hessís idea at Princeton and Ewing didnít like Hess. [Laughter] Or [inaudible]. It was a —

Doel:

The other Vine, weíll make sure that gets on the —

Gordon:

So anyway, Ewing was against plate tectonics even though the data that he collected overwhelmingly showed it was correct. The continents were moving; the sea floor was spreading. Believable.

Doel:

When you think back, can you think of a time when Ewing did begin to accept, when he actually did —?

Gordon:

I donít think so.

Doel:

Finally. Donít think he ever —

Gordon:

I donít think he ever did. No. Well, he died in seventy-four. He was still — there was still a possibility he was wrong at that time. Just the accumulated evidence during that period and since then is just overwhelming. There was no doubt about it. And you measure it now too. You know with the GPSs and the — you can actually measure the sea floor spreading. So itís not a — you know, at some point it became so obvious. I donít know. Itís — he was pretty stubborn and was very personality-driven. I think a lot of his interaction with the university was not really what it should be. His interaction with his fellow scientists I think was not what he. He brought people in here to do his bidding. If he saw something was needed, he would bring somebody in here. If they showed any great science and independence, then he had problems with them. Not unusual for dictators.

Doel:

I wonder if youíre thinking of the Heezen controversy?

Gordon:

Yes. The same thing. He couldnít show any — Itís not unusual for dictators like that. And it was interesting. But he was a great man.

Doel:

On the plate tectonics issue which, of course, comes to a head in those few years right after you finish your own dissertation. Was that something that effectively split the Lamont community because clearly a number of people, who were fairly close to Ewing, both professionally and otherwise, also had reservations about drift. How did you perceive that issue?

Gordon:

Itís odd because, you know, not having any history before then or any great knowledge of geophysics that I was going on. So I just knew Walter Pitman quite well. And he was on the ship with me in the Antarctic where they collected that magnetics record that showed the symmetry between the magnetic anomalies on either side of the South Pacific ridge which then supported strongly the sea floor spreading ideas. And he — so to me, yes, it was pretty obvious. Didnít think there was any problem at all. So I never understood Ewingís reluctance to accept that theory, nor the data. It seemed strange to me. So being not directly involved with that area of research, I donít have any special knowledge of any of the details. I suspect that it was beginning of a split within the staff at Lamont and with Ewing. It already started earlier with [J. Laurence] Kulp in geochemistry, where he showed some independence and then you become Ewingís enemy. Even in the case of sea floor spreading. It showed adherence to a theory of somebody else and you become Ewingís enemy.

Doel:

You mentioned a moment ago, the Altanan cruise that you were on. And you were on a number of cruises in that period, particularly from Ď65 through Ď71.

Gordon:

Yes. Well, Iím going down next year too. Not just on Altanan. I still keep going.

Doel:

Indeed. Indeed. One thing I want to get to today is how you came to your thesis research. And you mentioned a moment ago that the paper which appears in 1967, ďCirculation of the Caribbean Sea,Ē is what is actually your dissertation.

Gordon:

Thatís part of it. Yes. That was a — Wust chose the Caribbean as the research project that he would work on when he was at Lamont. And it was an obvious thing to do because of the data that was collected there in the IGY, and it hasnít been, there wasnít any really substantial work done on the Caribbean. So it was a very natural thing to do. And I was the student that came in. So he put me on the Caribbean. And the first years I just contoured data points. They werenít even plotted by computer. You had to plot them by hand, and contour them by hand. And he would walk by and see if everything was — you know, heíd pick out some contour problem immediately. And things that I could do now, but I always wondered how he could do it. You know, you could just experience. You just learn. You just look and you can see something thatís not right. And then so he published his work on the water masses and the [?] stratification of the Caribbean. One of the Vema reports. Youíll find it some place around here. Youíll see after his name, it says the assistance of Arnold Gordon. I didnít quite make it to co-author, but I was the assistant. And then the next step was as routine in the German school, was you first describe the distribution of ocean properties. And the next thing you do is you describe the dynamics which at that point meant geostrophic flow of the region. That was my thesis. The geostrophic currents of the Caribbean and mixing within the Caribbean. So that was my Ph.D. thesis. It was a number of different chapters. There was only one chapter I published in JGR.

Doel:

Iím holding a copy of it right here in the moment. And indeed you thank Wust and you also thank Jack Nafe and a Dr. Agia.

Gordon:

Agia. Thatís right. So Agia. Tok Agia. He was brought in, I guess by Ewing, also probably around the time of 1963. And I never really got along with him very well.

Doel:

What sort of person was he?

Gordon:

Well if you — you couldnít understand what he was talking about. His language — very few people could actually understand what he was talking about because his pronunciation was so bad. And I only found out later that his Japanese was equally as bad. So it was just a speed impediment that he had. [Laughter] And I never could understand what he was talking about. And he was highly theoretical. And not data oriented at all. So I — my own personal interest in the research were quite different than his.

Doel:

Was that characteristic of the Japanese?

Gordon:

Oh, absolutely. He was a student of Hidaka. You know, that was all they had. They werenít making observations any more, and they were mostly into theoretical topics. And at that time, and he was a student of Hidaka, and thatís what he did. So he was not data-oriented as I was, and so it was a mismatch there. So I never really got too close to him research-wise. And he didnít — he then left Lamont, went to Texas A & M, probably late sixties, early seventies, something like that.

Doel:

Had he been actually part of your committee?

Gordon:

Yes. He was on the committee. It had, it was Nafe, Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel on the committee. And [Taro] Takahashi and somebody else. Could it have been Fairbridge? [Laughter] I donít really remember, that was years ago. Too long ago.

Doel:

Heís not mentioned at least in the acknowledgments, if indeed he was.

Gordon:

Even if he was. He was sitting in that office way down there, and so I would go into the other end.

Doel:

Youíre pointing to the other end of the —

Gordon:

Two modules down sort of. So I would go in there once in a while and, you know, talk to him about the thesis. And I never — I ran into some problem with him. He didnít like the way some of my contours ran into the land. And he said thatís impossible and I said it was possible. And I absolutely was correct. [Laughter] So we disagreed on some points of the science too. So, yes, but no, he was fine. I donít think he was a major force within Lamont. He was too theoretical. Too remote from what else was going on and too theoretical at that time. Lamont, strongly observational then, as it still is now.

Doel:

You also credit the AEC for funding for this research.

Gordon:

Oh, Atomic Energy Commission. Yes, thatís right. Yes, they funded that research. Thatís right. All I got from the Ford Foundation was a stipend and tuition paid for. And I believe that Wust was covered by the AEC. And but that research was funded by, yes — and Sam Gerard was the chief, the principal investigator of that contract. And we had that money. They changed their names many, many times. Finally ended up with DOE and had some names in between too. They were pretty solid support for the work that we were doing from the early sixties, right through to probably the early eighties. Their interest was to understand dispersion within the ocean.

Doel:

Because of the possibility of dumping radioactive material?

Gordon:

Radioactive. Yes. So that was their interest. Currents, mixing in the ocean, Caribbean because of the origin of the deep waters, the overflow from the various confining passages.

Doel:

Yes. How were they as a patron compared to say NSF [National Science Foundation]?

Gordon:

Oh, well youíre taught their spatial and temporal differences that you distinguish. Everything was easy then. It was with NSF and ONR [Office of Naval Research]. You know you just had to make a call. Ewing had all these special links that you just had to — with the Navy, you just had to maybe write a letter and theyíd give you a few hundred thousand dollars. You know, that was before the days of elaborate proposals, hoops that you had to jump through as the money became tighter. So no, that was pretty easy. They gave you the money, and then they went away. Had complete freedom of doing pretty much whatever you wanted. I was not aware of the funding agency.

Doel:

It was rather transparent, you knew then at that stage. There are lots of other questions to ask about some of the earlier publications, but I realize that weíre out of time. Let me thank you very much for this session. We certainly will continue.

Gordon:

Good.

Session I | Session II | Session III