Oral History Transcript — Dr. Marcus G. Langseth
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Interview with Dr. Marcus G. Langseth
Marcus G. Langseth; December 25, 1995
ABSTRACT: In 1954, begins graduate education at Columbia University. Discusses his first year core classes with particular attention to Walter Bucherí s and Alfreida Van Ardrovís courses, teaching styles, and research. Interaction among the graduate students and the seminar series mentioned. Works with J. Lamar Worzel on a new gravimeter during the summer before the first year at Columbia. Makes his first cruise, on Vema 7, during the summer between the first and second graduate school years. His work measuring velocity and physical properties of sediment cores. Assigned to work with the precision depth recorder. Briefly describes Bermuda station. Lists the research performed on the cruise. The handling of explosives for seismic reflections and concern for the safety of the handlers. Some of the interpretations from the precision depth recorder remembered. Gives the itinerary of the cruise. Describes Worzel and Sam Gerardís research on the cruise and their personalities. Characterizes Julie Hirshman and Charles Drake. Tells anecdotes of the captain and crew. Details the living quarters on the ship and free time reading. History and description of the Vema recounted. States the cost of the cruise and how the cost was met. Lists his second year graduate courses and describes the teaching styles of Frank Press and Bruce Heezen. During the second year, he develops an interest in seismology and refraction seismology. Explains the importance of recent scientific papers and the emphasis placed upon them rather than upon textbooks. Mentions prominent visitors showing up at lectures. Explores the relationship between Columbia University and Lamont Geological Observatory. Makes the cruise of Vema 10 and Theta 1 in the summer following the second year of graduate work. Seismic refraction profile and parallel track taken across Madera. Difficulties working with the precision depth recorder during the cruise mentioned. Gives a description of the Theta. Conducts seismic refraction work with a Spanish patrol boat, Patrilerro 17. Describes the instrumentation used and the challenges using the instruments at sea. Explains how vessels were picked and outfitted. The communication and support between the scientists on the ship and Lamont scientists on land. Recalls the difficulty getting Lamont to send parts and supplies to the ship. Receives a draft notice upon return from second cruise. Tries to get out of being drafted, explores his feelings toward his conscription. Performs war work with explosives and cratering at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Lamont scientist Henry J. Dorman also drafted. Dormanís work modeling seismic propagation. Mentions the early use of computers at Aberdeen. Equipment that Langseth used while at Aberdeen. Seeing Sputnik pass overhead while performing night patrol duties. Leave time.
TranscriptSession I | Session II | Session III
Doel:This is Ronald Doel and this is a continuing interview with Marcus Langseth. Today is December 21, 1995 and we are recording this at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. In our first interview we had gone through the end of your undergraduate period and the early time you had spent in the summer at Lamont. When you came to Columbia in 1954, Iím wondering how you began to get a sense of what you would study. What the curriculum for you as an entering graduate student would be?
Langseth:I did not arrive with a specific research topic. I arrived with an interest in geology.
Doel:I should have simply said how did you then determine your — how did you select your first year of courses? Or were all of those pretty much determined?
Langseth:They were pretty much determined. We had then and we still have what we call core courses which are essentially the set of courses which are meant to make you conversant with other earth scientists or other geophysicists. I had not at that point picked out any particular research topic. But I felt confident that if I came to the Observatory and took advantage of some of the opportunities that were here that it wouldnít be long before I found something that I would get involved in.
Doel:I expect that was typical of most of the entering graduate students? Was it not? Most of you did not have a particular topic early on?
Langseth:I think so. Other than geophysics.
Doel:The broad area.
Langseth:The broad area of geophysics. But in those days it wasnít maybe quite so broad as it is now. That is, it wasnít so rich in so many different areas of research. I think most people who came into geophysics in 1954 or 1953 for example expected really to be working in all areas: in seismology, in gravity and magnetics. You didnít feel that you had to specialize in geothermal problems. And weíve kind of gone back to that. We went through an era of intense specialization and I think weíve kind of arced back where people recognize they have to be more interdisciplinary.
Doel:Thatís an interesting observation. When did that change happen, the latter change, would you think?
Langseth:Well, I think plate tectonics was the main motivation for pulling people back together. Because suddenly to understand these models and be able to participate in further research based on this framework, you had to have a broader view.
Doel:Thatís interesting because that implies you already sensed the fragmentation very strongly say in the early mid-1960s before plate tectonics became the guiding force.
Langseth:And perhaps that was necessary that people selected sort of areas and looked at them very intensely — maybe some of them with blinders on as they forged ahead pushing magnetic measurements and so forth. And then the grand synthesis occurs and pulls them all back.
Doel:What do you remember particularly from the core courses or any other courses that you took in the first year?
Langseth:Well at the time Walter [H.] Bucher was here and there was a structural geology course and that was always fascinating because Bucher was really a scientist. And although, I think, his ideas donít carry much credence nowadays, he was so full of ideas and so enthusiastic.
Doel:He generated ideas quite often.
Langseth:He generated ideas and heíd have lots of little experiments. And he liked analogue models, hands on models of things. And I remember one of his models was to fill a Christmas ornament with wax and then heat it so that it expanded and then that would crack the ball and then he would compare the configuration of these cracks.
Doel:Sort of expanding earth.
Langseth:That was expanding earth because I think [Harold] Jeffries was an expanding earth person or maybe he contracted. [Laughs] But those are the kind of things he would do, and those are stimulating sort of ideas. And I think heís the first person that actually you met that had a global perspective on things — not a local perspective or a disciplinary, restricted perspective, but a global, Catholic look.
Doel:Of course much of geology, traditional geology, at that point was regional or local and that was fairly true of the Columbia department as other places. How did Bucher fit into the department as it was structured in the mid-thirties?
Langseth:Just as an instructor. I donít think he had a lot of interaction. He was a very strong booster of [W.] Maurice Ewing. I think he recognized that describing what was below the oceans was very critical to understanding the earth. I think he recognized that and was a big booster of Maurice Ewing. And Maurice Ewing I think was very fond of him and interacted with him, but not scientifically to my knowledge.
Doel:It was more on the level of support.
Langseth:Support within the department.
Doel:Given the methods and the approaches. Who else did you have contact with in the Columbia department that first year?
Langseth:Well the first year I had to take some physics courses and make up for things I didnít learn at Waynesburg, and I think I had three physics courses and one math course and one geology course. To give you some idea of how they set you out. And then the next year added other courses.
Doel:So you spent quite a bit of time in Pupin Hall then, I would imagine?
Langseth:Yes, the old Pupin.
Doel:Do you remember who you took those courses from?
Langseth:Oh, they were grand. Elfrida Von Nardroff — his daughter, you know, was on the $64,000 Question. Von Nardroff was one of these people who would march in and draw a deep breath and begin to write from one side of the room to the other. He had his lecture all memorized. It just came out. There were no interruptions, nothing. No back talk.
Doel:Not much interaction.
Langseth:Just ďhere it comes.Ē But the classes were large and maybe it worked fairly well. And then there was Edwin Booth who worked up at Nevis I believe in electronics, and Electricity and Magnetism I believe was the course. And then there was the man in thermodynamics. I canít remember who he was. Borsch, I think his name was.
Doel:That might be. We can check on that.
Langseth:B-O-R-C-H — something like that. So that was kind of a year of catching up. Coming up to Columbia speed, which was pretty trying and was a pretty heavy course load. And then the next year more into geology and more geophysics.
Doel:Which was the geology course that you had in the first year?
Doel:It was Bucherís?
Langseth:Yes. And then there were things like economic geology — Behre, Charles [H.] Behre. Out of the geology department I guess the other thing was Arthur [N.] Strahlerís geomorphology course. That was another course that I took in the geology department. Otherwise I began to specialize more in the geophysics courses. A course from Bruce [C.] Heezen
Doel:This is all the second year that weíre talking about?
Doel:I just wanted to be sure.
Langseth:And Frank Press taught a course in geophysics, general geophysics.
Doel:I want to get back to that in just a moment. But during that first year Iím curious how often say you would interact out of the classroom with people like Bucher? Did that happen often or was it only occasionally?
Langseth:No, not with people like Bucher. He did have a little lab and he had a lab assistant who would help him make these experiments and give demonstrations when we had lab courses.
Doel:Things like the ornament filled with? What other ones do you recall?
Langseth:Well, he also used to make these plastic models out of some type of pitch. He had various varieties of viscosity pitches that he would make. He would make up strata and then push them together and watch them develop folds and naps. He was a specialist in Alpine geology. He was from Switzerland and so he carried that European tradition. Those types of experiments. He also, you know — He had firmly in his mind a concept which became very important later on. And that is that even when things were solid you could assign a viscosity to them if you applied the stress long enough it would give — a phenomenon we know as creep now. And that led him into studying glaciology, glaciers.
Doel:Thatís interesting. Let me ask this first. Did he talk much about his years at Cincinnati before he came to Columbia?
Doel:What I had started to mention a moment ago was that what you say reminded me of some of the early work of [M.] King Hubbert who also had been at Columbia. Had left of course long before the time that you had arrived and even before Bucher had arrived. Was there any mention of Hubbertís work?
Langseth:Yes, yes. I think Bucher had a keen appreciation for Hubbertís work. I donít remember specifics about that but I know that he did refer to him and since he was very interested in models and modeling, and scaling models properly, that he used Hubbert as a base.
Doel:If I recall correctly it was in the 1930s that Hubbert himself had gotten interested in the broad questions of viscosity and the strength of materials.
Doel:Did you learn more at that time from fellow graduate students than you did in the classroom?
Langseth:Probably so. We were all kind of herded into a room in the basement of Schermerhorn hall.
Doel:Did everyone have a desk there?
Langseth:Everyone had a desk in a large room and Manik Talwani was there at that time. Charlie [Charles E.] Bentley whoís now at [University of] Wisconsin was there. Mark Landisman, who went on to SMU [Southern Methodist University] in Dallas. A German student who was visiting, Stephen Mueller, who has gone on to some fame, was also there. It was quite an outstanding group. And I think we probably learned more from each other than we did from our classes. We would help each other with problems. Physics problems were always a tough bear for everybody and also the math or whatever was needed. A lot of conversation back and forth. I think in retrospect that was more stimulating than the course work.
Doel:I think thatís true for a lot of scientists entering into graduate school. Do you recall any of those interactions in particular when you think back?
Langseth:In what sense? You mean in terms of what we actually —?
Doel:Either in terms of learning new concepts or in terms of what simply seemed particularly memorable for you as you look back on those days.
Langseth:Well not particularly that. Nothing comes to mind. I remember another person there was Maury [Maurice] Davidson whoís now at Lamont, engineering. And he was fascinated as I think most of us were by the apparent organic cycles, that they seemed to have a period of about 250,000 years which then was the accepted rotation rate for the galaxy. And those kinds of thoughts werenít firmly penned in knowledge but nonetheless fun to think about. Those kinds of ideas. And then the far more basic.
Doel:Simply getting through the physics material that you had on your plate. Was there discussion do you recall from those early years the first year and the second year about continental drift? Was that something that anyone in the group had a particular interest in?
Langseth:Not in those first two years that I recall. Thatís something that might be hard to uncork as to when. There were some ideas that were floating around. Iím not quite sure where theyíre placed in time. I think most of them are post-Army career when I first began to hear ideas that were along the lines of continental drift and what weíre finding in the ocean really means.
Doel:So after say 1958, by the time that youíre back from the Army service?
Langseth:I donít recall in any lecture or either in seminars. The only thing I do remember was paleomagnetism had its start in the early fifties and there were discoveries of the earthís poles and there were discoveries of apparent displacements, relative displacements between continental regions. But then of course people spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this wasnít due to continental drift. This was due to some curious magnetic phenomenon that we didnít understand.
Doel:Of course in the early 1950s the idea of the earthís pole flipping in terms of reverse magnetism was itself, revolutionary.
Langseth:Oh yes, I mean you had to do a leap in your thinking to accept something like that. And thatís one thing Maurice Ewing pointed both Manik Talwani and me in that direction. He pointed us to papers on paleomagnetism. We used to have a practice in those days that the graduate students would give a seminar. I think this was really the start of the seminar series here. That the graduate student would be assigned a paper and then weíd have to come in and present it and discuss it to a group which would have Frank Press and Maurice Ewing and others gathered. And you would discuss it. And we kept getting assigned paleomagnetic papers.
Doel:So you became quite an expert on paleomagnetism?
Langseth:Not really. [Laughs]
Doel:This was after you were here at Lamont? Correct?
Langseth:Right, thatís when we were in school.
Doel:How often were you actually at Lamont in the first or the second year as opposed to —?
Langseth:Well, I had a desk here. Although I lived in the city, I would come up and spend as much time at Lamont as possible. During the first year, most of it was downtown. The second year I spent a lot of time here, because in the second year I had a cruise under my belt and some data to work on. So Iíd come up and work on the data. This was seismic data by the way. Not geothermal data.
Doel:That is something I would have presumed — you had mentioned in the earlier interview that that was something that you had done, been associated with that first summer in your undergraduate years here at Lamont. Seismic work.
Doel:When you were living in New York at Columbia, did you share quarters with other graduate students?
Langseth:The first year, no. I roomed in an apartment on 121st Street and there was another guy rooming there but he was going to Teachers College. The second year I roomed with a bunch of Columbia students, graduate students, but they were not Lamont people. They were — a guy in the Law School and two engineers.
Doel:Iím curious how much after hourís interaction you had with people like Manik Talwani and Mark Landisman in those early days when you were at Columbia?
Langseth:Not the first two years, not a whole lot. But we spent long hours there in our dungeon.
Langseth:In Schermerhorn. But the social interaction was not great.
Doel:Was it in part because of the amount of work that all of you had?
Langseth:In part it was the amount of work. In part because I think most of us had come there with other strings tied. I mean Mark Landismanís family was in Brooklyn. I had some cousins over in New Jersey and stuff. This allowed us an opportunity. Breaking ties I guess is part of the process.
Doel:The group becomes cemented better the more that you move through the graduate years?
Doel:I want to make sure that we cover your first summer because that was the first time that you were involved in a cruise?
Langseth:No, I think the first summer here before starting graduate school I spent here at Lamont working for Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel. He was trying to develop a new type of gravimeter which was basically a pendulum apparatus with feedback to kind of keep the pendulum operating. It was based on the old [Felix A.] Vening Meinesz system.
Doel:What was particularly new about his development of the Vening-Meinesz system?
Langseth:He was trying to develop it aboard a surface ship.
Doel:Whereas all that worked were by submarine?
Langseth:By submarines. The basic idea was to try to average out the accelerations. The development never went very far and in retrospect when I look back on it, it was an impossible design. Had I known more about feedback circuits and things of that type I would have recognized that. But people spent quite a bit of time on it. Most of it was spent in trying to — it was in an evacuated container, was trying to get a good vacuum on the thing that would hold and not drift. And then there was a temperature design to keep the temperature regulated. And these things, or most of the things that I worked on, were the temperature regulation and trying to keep the vacuum on the system and to keep them uniform. That was essential to the operation of the device. And so those kind of struggles. I wonder sometimes why I survived that because itís kind of discouraging to come in day after day and to find out they hadnít behaved at all after putting in quite a bit of work on it.
Doel:In those earlier days when you were trying to keep the instrument in operation, how often would you get reliable data from it?
Langseth:Iím not sure we ever got reliable data. The system had chronic drift problems and part of that was simply because the feedback system did not have enough resonance to it. In other words the gravitational field didnít control the electronics that you had built around the control system. Plus the other sources of drift such as temperature and pressure and things of that sort. So it was not a design that was going to come to fruition unless there was a significant change in the mechanical design.
Doel:Was that a particular frustration for Worzel at the time?
Langseth:I donít know. He didnít come visit it very often. [Laughter] There was another young man who was an electronics expert who was working on it with me and we would go over and report to him and Maurice Ewing at the time and they would just kind of say ďWell, I guess weíre where we were last week.Ē
Doel:As you say, that must have been a frustrating time.
Langseth:It was frustrating. I realize now that what I should have been doing was not been messing with the temperature control system and the vacuum system but going back and doing a very thorough analysis of the dynamics of the whole system. And that would have uncovered what the problem was.
Doel:I suspect thatís not the inclination of most graduate students when first exposed to this kind of instrumentation.
Langseth:But there was another advanced graduate student, George [H.] Sutton at that time. And I remember riding in a car with him when he says ďWhat you need to do with that you know is sit down and do a very good feedback analysis (which existed at that time) of the whole system. And see if it actually could work.Ē So it was said to me.
Doel:Many things are said — but are still difficult.
Langseth:But I remember that because he turned out to be dead right.
Doel:Now I want to be sure of the chronology. Is this the first summer or the second?
Langseth:This is the first summer. Iím pretty sure.
Doel:And how long was the time that you were on this cruise and using this —?
Langseth:Well now it wasnít a cruise.
Doel:It was not a cruise, it was simply trying to develop —
Langseth:It was over in the basement of the old machine shop. Sort of a dungeon operation besides me. But part of that was to try to get it into a stable environment to start with. So that year was spent nursing this ill-fated gravimeter. Then I started graduate school and spent most of my time on the Columbia campus taking a lot of remedial physics, some geology courses. Then it was the next summer that I went on a cruise of the Vema. That would have been Vema cruise 7. Manik Talwani was on that cruise I remember, and Bruce Heezen was on for a while and Joe Worzel was on for a while. Ed [Edward] Miller, Sam [Robert D.] Gerard, Sam Robert Gerard or Robert Sam Gerard I should say.
Doel:What do you remember particularly from the preparations for the cruise? What did you have to know or what did you try to know?
Langseth:Well Manik and I were assigned making velocity measurements and whatever physical property measurements we could make on sediment cores that were being taken. And George Sutton and I think Jack [John E.] Nafe had developed a system where you put a pulse of sound on one side of the core and watch it pick it up and receive it on the other side and calculate the velocity. This actually was reported; thereís a technical report around about the physical properties of marine sediments. So that this was one of our assignments. I was also — Iím not quite sure who made this selection — but I was also assigned the depth recorder. So got to know at that time a man named Bernie [Bernard] Luskin who came to Lamont. Bernie then worked for Times Facsimile I believe originally. In fact, Times Facsimile, of course, made the facsimile recording devices which are used for sending images, black and white images. That recorder was what was adapted to our precision depth recorder because it had a very accurate time base.
Doel:Thatís interesting. I didnít realize that.
Langseth:I think this recorder had been out once before and it was mated with a standard Navy sounding system. And this was a very important development because the timing base on this facsimile recorder was precise enough so that it could measure the time of return to about a millisecond which was equivalent to half a fathom or meter.
Doel:Order of magnitude development.
Langseth:Big step up. And itís very important because then you begin to actually see bed forms on the bottom. And in fact there was enough energy in the sounds so you could see strata in the upper ten to twenty meters on the sediment.
Doel:A remarkably fruitful development wasnít it, the precision depth recorder?
Langseth:And thatís one that Bruce Heezen glammed on to for example. But I was assigned to nurse that machine.
Doel:Who else, as you recall, were principally involved in the PDR [precision depth recorder]?
Langseth:Well Bernie Luskin was the guy who worked on the recorder. So I remember making a trip to Times Facsimile and learning about how to operate it. The key points were how to change the paper. Things of that sort. And then I met the ship in Bermuda and I was met there by Gordon [R.] Hamilton whoís another person youíll probably talk to or have talked to.
Langseth:And he kind of instructed me about this Navy depth sounder and the main warning I remember was stay away from the transformer, it has 4,000 volts on it or something like that.
Doel:Thatís a good warning to heed. What had you known of the Bermuda operation before you —?
Langseth:Very little and I donít know much about it after going there. The ship was in. We spent most of our time working on the ship or at the White Horse Inn which was just at the end of the dock.
Doel:Okay. What sort of place was that?
Langseth:Just a bar, the White Horse. I think itís probably still there, probably upscale.
Doel:When you say you didnít know much about what was happening down in Bermuda, was it simply because of the amount of other work that you had to do in preparation for the cruise? Or was it the classification that existed?
Langseth:I really donít know. I remember making a visit to the Bermuda station and my impression was that it seemed very empty. Not much seemed to be going on. I donít think there were many people there. They may have all been at the beach for all I know. I donít really have much memory of it. Certainly not much interaction with it.
Doel:How long was the cruise?
Langseth:Well it was all summer. I think there were three legs to it if I remember right. And Worzel took one and Heezen took the other, and Ed Miller took the last. Ed Miller came out to test his new proton procession magnetometer. Ed Miller was the mathematician. And that was a new development. It didnít work worth a dime. But got to exercise all the basic principles involved. We also had a seismic hose. Letís see [Mark G.] Landisman was on that cruise for a while. We had a seismic hose that had been lent to us by some oil company, I think its Texaco. That should be checked on, or give credit where it isnít clue. But it was really close to the streamers we use nowadays, there were multi-channel sizers. Nowhere near as long. And an incredible pain to repair. I remember spending many hours sitting on the deck trying to splice those teeny wires together and then trying to flange them all up and waterproof them so they would survive when they were put out. But we did seismic reflection on that cruise. It was kind of brute force sort of activity. Using 50 pound charges as a sound source for example.
Doel:Of course it had just been three voyages earlier on the Vema where the accident had happened to John [F.] Hennion.
Langseth:That would be true.
Doel:Was that something —?
Langseth:No, no. Not with John Hennion. The accident that was where Doc and John Ewing and Nafe were washed overboard.
Doel:Thatís quite right, they were washed overboard.
Langseth:The accident with John Hennion occurred much later.
Doel:Youíre quite right. Was there much concern in those days about using the explosive charges?
Langseth:I think there was an appreciation. I donít think there was a strong concern. I actually was in the Ordinance Corps in the Army so I did get some training in the handling of explosives. But I think I was one of the few people who had any background. John Hennion was the other. The rest of the people learned hands on, on the job training. But I mean there were precautions taken. And as you may have learned from Walter C. Pitman, the accident with John Hennion was simply a matter of going outside that envelope of safe use with explosives. Thatís very ironic because he was the one person who was most expert in the handling of explosives, and apparently survived a very risky job in the Korean War and here he suddenly — it was just an error. I think the reconstruction is that a spark went into a fuse he hadnít de-capped and tied to another cap and eventually — They had bad explosives and they were using very unwise methods for setting them off, detonating them.
Doel:When you were sailing on that first cruise though, that was before you had gotten into the Army so it was before you had any real —?
Langseth:On the first and second cruise, thatís right. And I did not handle explosives the first cruise. I did on the second cruise handle some explosives but together with someone else. But it wasnít until I got back out of the Army that we were into seismic reflection with a vengeance. These were some of the early experiments with seismic reflection and seismic refraction.
Doel:Simply to test how well the methods were going to work in particular terrains?
Langseth:Right. Now if I remember right, check, Chuck [Charles L.] Drake also came on that last leg and thatís when we actually did some explosives work.
Doel:The first cruise.
Langseth:The first cruise, right. I may be wrong about that. Vema 7 is the number to remember.
Doel:Thatís good. Weíll get a chance to check the record on that. Iím curious how much time you had on that voyage to actually talk with others who were there about what it was that you were learning as the data began to come iní? Was there much time to?
Langseth:I think there was, but it was primarily kind of the responsibility of the guy whoís assigned as the chief scientist. He wasnít chief scientist, of course. The chief scientist was Maurice Ewing who was back here in his office sending his delegates or representatives out to operate the ship. But at that time we had not had the ship very long. I think we had it about two years or something like that. So everything is quite new on the ship and we were just learning how to get different things to operate. So a lot of it was centered on making things operate on the ship and making it an effective oceanographic tool. The bigger question of what we were actually learning, I donít recall that we were working with models in those days; what the sea floor was like. But there were interests in sediment thickness which we were getting from some of the reflection data. And sea mounts and sea floor features. Canyons were a big, hot item at that time.
Doel:But that was Heezen, Bruce Heezenís work. And it would have been right at that time that he was thick in the turbidity current.
Langseth:Right. And Bruce, I would say, was in the forefront of those. He did talk science out there. And I remember his particular interest, and youíre jarring my memory really, was in finding turbidities which were associated with the Grandís Banks earthquake that broke the canyons. So he was out chasing that. And plus there were these deep sea channels that were very interesting because one — they didnít realize they were on the sea floor before this time. And they also had meanders in them just like rivers so that they were fun to try to track with the ship. Particularly in those days of celestial navigation, steering by the seat of your pants.
Doel:How did that actually work in practice? Say Heezen had found a feature like that which he wanted to track; did he have the freedom to ask that the ship be —?
Langseth:Oh yes. He could go up to the bridge and tell them "you know we crossed it going on this course, letís go back this way.Ē And if we wanted to track it for a few miles, he might lay out a number of different legs. And then weíd all hover over the depth recorder and watch it show up again and maybe change the plans if that was necessary. There was considerable freedom. I think more freedom earlier on than later, which weíll get to.
Doel:Because itís interesting to imagine how — to ask, how often Maurice Ewing would send instructions to do something or to —? Did he get involved in the details that you recall at all in those early cruises that you were on?
Langseth:I may not have known if he was because the communications would be coming directly to the chief scientist. I donít remember either someone saying arg, arg, arg, I wanted to go here but I have to go there. But I think you got to show up in port on time in those days was the big —
Doel:That was the big thing. How reliably was the precision depth recorder working during that cruise?
Langseth:Quite well. I got quite good with electronic instruments and it wasnít very difficult to keep it going. That recorder worked very well. That wasnít true on the second cruise. On the first cruise it was working very well.
Doel:In addition to Bruce, say, talking about the meanders and turbidity, do you recall any other discussions with anyone else who was there over how to interpret what you were seeing from the PDR?
Langseth:Well, I think, and this is why I think Chuck Drake was on that cruise, cause he was another person who was doing the reflection work. And we could see on reflection work, you know, strong returns, which a fellow by the name of Sam [Samuel] Katz who was working here at that time had identified as the sedimentary layer. And there was this layering scheme that was developing; layer 1, layer 2, and layer 3. And I can remember some discussion of that. But again more directed toward interpreting and understanding the data at hand, not what its consequences might be.
Doel:And these are the layers of the abyssal plains that we were talking about here?
Langseth:No, these reflections you would see a strong basement reflection and then there was an internal reflector that was later identified with the Eocene strata which was a chert layer and it had a strong reflection. Things were coarse enough that you could actually see the bottom of this one, then the basement. But our problem was we would shoot these shots maybe every twenty minutes or so. So they were so far apart that it was very difficult to correlate them. And we recorded them on this paper that was photographic paper that you had to rush into the dark room to develop it. And so to compare one shot with another, you had to lay them out somewhere and get them all lined up which we rarely succeeded in doing. And since they were twenty minutes apart — I mean the reflector was here and then it was there. What we were seeing was basement topography. But weíd be down in a valley and then over a mountain and then the valley at the other side. It wasnít until we began to increase the density of the shots that we actually began to trace the basement topography and the thickness of the sediment layer.
Doel:I guess that was one of the down sides of the length of the cruises that were somewhat typical of the early days throughout the Vemaís career.
Langseth:You mean a month long.
Doel:You covered quite a bit of terrain and hence you wouldnít have the resolution of any particular area.
Langseth:This was going out and reconnoitering the sea floor. It was not experiments, other than the experiment that Bruce Heezen had out, that were strongly based on previous data or a map that was developing, ďLetís go out and fill in the map here.Ē That wasnít —
Doel:Where did the cruise go from Bermuda?
Doel:Iím curious in particular if you crossed the ridge. If that was something that came up in discussions?
Langseth:No, we did not. I think with Bruce we went north up toward the Nova Scotia coast. Donít hold me to this. I think with Joe [Worzel] we went south because I know we crossed into the Sargasso Sea. And the other cruise Iím not quite sure where we went. We may have actually gone out north and east of Bermuda. But that may actually be indicative of the level of communication because those of us who were the Indians in this outfit were not that informed about where we were at any one time.
Doel:I hear what youíre saying.
Doel:Just in thinking back, were there any moments during that voyage that turned out to be particularly memorable for you? Or were there a lot of candidates for that?
Langseth:There are quite a few candidates for that kind of thing. I guess the thing — Iím not sure I should even tell this story. This device we had for measuring the velocity of sediments. Those had an old Dumont oscilloscope and then it had a Polaroid camera mounted. And the Polaroid camera was mounted on this hood-like arrangement. It was up here and then there was a mirror that flipped down. So flip the mirror up, get your settings all right on the oscilloscope and then when you had a picture to take, you flipped the mirror down and clicked the camera and youíd get a picture that would show the travel time across the core. Well for some reason we began to get pictures of — now someone was playing with the thing, while Manik and I were somewhere else. There was somebody playing with it and we couldnít figure out who it is until we got the clever idea weíd turn the mirror around so that when the person clicked the picture, heíd take a picture of himself. Well.
Doel:It was clever indeed.
Langseth:It turned out to be Joe [Lamar] Worzel. [Laughter]
Doel:Is that right?
Langseth:Thereís Joe, looking.
Doel:What did he say when he was discovered?
Langseth:I think he dismissed it. Oh no, he had a good sense of humor. I think he was saying something like I was just trying to do it right or something. He was one who would try to make a comeback to top you if he could. Checking on you guys to see if you knew what you were doing or something would be a typical Worzel remark in a situation like that.
Doel:What was it like to work with Joe Worzel on that cruise?
Langseth:Joe is extremely talented. He was a guy who could fix anything, a true factotum. And the heavier the work the more he liked it. In those days he was a pretty stout, healthy specimen so he liked to work with the winch and the wires and cables. I remember we wound some wire on that cruise in which we had to wind wire out of a drum up forward and string it across the deck and wind it onto the winch. Well thatís quite an operation because you have to keep some tension in the wire and actually I had worked with Joe in putting a motor on the spool up forward to keep some tension on it but it had burned out. So we did it mainly by standing on boards, running it through pulleys and people standing on boards to take up the slack in the wire. But he seemed to thrive on that kind of activity. That was something he seemed to enjoy. I liked working with Joe.
Doel:And he liked that more than others when you think back on it?
Langseth:I think so, yes. Rough and ready sort of things. Another person who impressed me on that cruise was Robert or Sam Gerard who is a very talented guy and very creative, inventive. And he was always trying to develop something new on the cruise. I think he was in charge of taking large volume water samples. They were just beginning to take these things. In fact, he developed a very large volume water sampler thatís known as Gerard Bottom. Itís used in almost every institution except Lamont.
Doel:Why is that?
Langseth:Well itís just because we got out of that particular business. But these were samples for Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker and Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp for determining the deep sea geochemistry.
Doel:When you say that, what sort of things came to mind about his inventiveness?
Langseth:Well there are two aspects of his inventiveness. One was that he was always talking about something he was going to make or some new way to do something. Then the other was that if there was something that needed to be modified on the ship, he could always seem to find some way to make it work a little bit better or a little bit slicker. I canít think of those specific instances. They would surround such things as esoteric as getting a plunger to fit solidly inside the barrel so that the water doesnít leak either in or out on its way up from the bottom. Those were the kind of things that he would do. Joe was on a big scale and Samís kind of intermediate scale.
Doel:Thatís an interesting way to put it.
Langseth:Then I was at a small scale.
Doel:Was there anyone else on that cruise that had your interests and abilities in the electronic aspect or did you pretty much feel to be the one who handled those details?
Langseth:Well there was Julie [Jules] Hirshman who was on that cruise and heíd been out earlier. I think heíd been on a number of cruises. He was kind of the old salt. And he had a good feel for instruments as well. He ran the magnetometer. We did have a flux gate magnetometer on board. So he was knowledgeable. Of course Chuck Drake, when he was on board, was knowledgeable.
Doel:Did you have much interaction with him at that time on the ship?
Langseth:Yes. I think so. Heís that kind of person. Heís outgoing and personable. I think there was quite a bit of interaction with everybody on board. But I enjoyed working with him because he had a lot of interesting ideas. Knew how to do things. He was another one of these persons that seemed to know exactly how to do something most efficiently and effectively, a very effective person.
Doel:Very methodical in carrying it out?
Langseth:Methodical wouldnít be the right word, no. Just effective.
Doel:Whoís the captain at that time? Was it already Henry [C.] Kohler?
Langseth:No. The captain on that cruise was Captain [?] Bracks. That was his only cruise as I recall. And at that time we still had sails on the Vema. We had a man along by the name of George Johnson who was actually a son of the Johnson family. Lots and lots of money.
Doel:The Johnson Wax company?
Langseth:Right. But George was somewhat retarded and Doc had taken him along. Put him on board as a step and fetch it. George in return in gratitude had bought a new suit of sails for the Vema. Now thatís not a trivial amount of money for a big schooner. And George wanted to have those sails up and he would harangue Bracks to put the sails up. Heíd say you know the wind is blowing, itís a beautiful day, itís a good day to put the rags up he would say. And Bracks was actually afraid of the sails. We didnít have a crew to sail the boat, to actually handle it. So there was this ongoing conflict and I remember there was one day when Bracks put them up and actually the boat sailed pretty well. But then they came down and were lashed down for good. But that was mainly to satisfy George to see the sails as they go up. It was the only time I ever saw the full sails other than the topsails which it did not have. That I saw the sails up and see the boat actually move under the sail.
Doel:I imagine that was a feeling of power to see the ship in full trim.
Langseth:Right. The other thing that I recall is that there was the crew was strictly a pick up crew. I think Bracks had picked it up off the clocks clown in New York. And it was a nonunion crew and this was the most interesting collection of characters Iíve ever seen. There was a Cuban, a Finn, just a rough and tumble bunch. We all survived, we got there, but I wondered how the captain managed with that crew on board. The boson I remember being Finnish and toothless. The Cuban would coax his shipmates into poker games. And I think by the end of the cruise he had all their pay. But those may be apocryphal stories. There was an interesting cruise from that aspect.
Doel:It sounds it. Did they ask you much about what it was you were doing? Were they curious about what was going on?
Langseth:No. Now there was a young man who had come out of college, a bright young guy, who had signed on with the crew. I think somebody had talked him into this. He was quite a different sort of person. He would spend a lot of time back with the scientists. I remember he was a very good musician and I donít think he brought any instruments along and so forth, but we enjoyed talking about music and things while we were out there. I canít remember what his name is. That was his one and only cruise.
Doel:And you were all quartered in the back of the Vema. Is that right?
Langseth:Well below decks but aft. And in those days they didnít have any cabins. Or did they? Yes I think they had just started to put in some wooden cubicles. But I for example slept on a two tiered bunk that was just up against the bulkheads and then empty space out into the below decks area.
Doel:Did you find you had much time for reading during the cruise?
Langseth:Yes. Thatís a prime activity before going to sleep or something like that. Or even people would sit on watch and read. I never did that. But a lot of people did. So that I didnít read as much as other people did. I would usually read three or four books in a cruise.
Doel:Did you bring along any scientific texts or was it mostly for relaxation?
Langseth:No, we had scientific texts. Although in those days they were pretty lean on board the ship. Eventually we built a library and books on board that people could read. But weíd bring along text books with the best of intentions.
Doel:One always feels better when the book is at least at hand.
Langseth:I think on that first cruise was the first time I had ever read The Origin of the Species [by Charles Darwin] for example.
Doel:Is that right? Thatís interesting.
Langseth:And that wasnít mine, I borrowed it from someone. There was some elevating activity on board. [Laughter]
Doel:Were you reading any geophysics?
Langseth:I think if I remember right I probably brought along my Nettleton and was boning up on general geophysics.
Langseth:Right. I think I still have the book. In fact I can see it, Geophysical Prospecting for Oil by Nettleton.
Doel:The old McGraw Hill edition. It was pre-war around 1940 I think.
Langseth:It may be.
Doel:Were there any other aspects of that cruise that have come back to mind that I havenít asked you about? Other types of experiences?
Langseth:Well at that time the Vema was still pretty much in the shape that we had taken her which was a luxury yacht that had been stripped by the maritime people and then further stripped by this fellow Kennedy who had owned it briefly. And then sold it. In fact he sailed it I think the first couple of times as captain on the first couple of cruises.
Doel:Thatís interesting. I didnít realize that he had been the former owner.
Langseth:And we bought it from him, I believe. Worzel can straighten you out on all the details there. So she had wooden decks and teak houses and still had quite a few of the appointments that would lead you to think that it was quite an elegant yacht at one time. And even to her dying day she had very elegant lines. The hull has beautiful sweep too, very fine lines. The beam on her was about thirty feet, pretty narrow. Things I remember mainly were one, getting terribly seasick the first couple of days. And the fact that the ship had a pretty bad smell to it. Iím not sure what that was from. The mixture of diesel fuel and I think I can smell it now as a matter of fact. Out of memory, olfactory memory is one of the sharpest. I know the first couple of times I would go down the ladder to go below decks, I would have to stop and draw a breath.
Doel:Did you have much to compare the Vema with other oceanographic ships at that point?
Langseth:No I didnít. This was a new and rather isolated experience as far as other ships were concerned. There were stories you know about the Atlantis because Bruce [Heezen] had been out on the Atlantis. So that there wasnít a whole lot of interaction nor were we working with any of the other ships.
Langseth:So there was one other person. In fact he was the person who knew more about electronics than any one. And that was Charlie [Charles] Kershaw was on that cruise. And heís an Englishman.
Doel:What was his background?
Langseth:I donít know. He made a number of trips on the ship. I think he eventually married a Puerto Rican gal and I havenít seen him since. But he was an interesting person. He was the only one that spoke Spanish on the boat, of the English-speaking crowd. The Cuban, of course, spoke Spanish.
Doel:I was just thinking of the crew when you had said that that must have opened up some doors to — How difficult was it to use the Vema to do the science that you wanted to do? Clearly the Vema was being modified throughout this time. Did you experience it as a real frustration to use the Vema to —?
Langseth:No. I think she was really quite well suited for oceanographic work. As time proved. In those days the deck was rather cluttered. But you know wooden decks are the very best type of deck for working and we changed to steel decks for waterproofing purposes and safety; Coast Guard regulations more than anything else. But the ship rode funny underway but it was very good when it was heave to. And Iím not quite sure why that is. But she sits easily in the water. And later on we learned to do things like put some physalis and spacils up so she would hold. You could actually just hold her into a heavy sea. I think we used to take cores in that ship when we had ten to fifteen foot waves running.
Doel:Thatís remarkable. I didnít realize that.
Langseth:All the deck operations were mainly handled from mid-ships and she just sat easily. She was a good working vessel. And as far as acoustics were concerned, she was good. The engine that was in her — when I first got on we had an old Burmeister-Wain engine, the original engine that was installed in her. Magnificent piece of machinery. But it didnít put a lot of noise into the water. So acoustically she was pretty quiet. So I think she showed promise, despite the fact that she wasnít designed for that purpose, of being a pretty good entry ship into the oceanographic business.
Doel:Did you have a fairly steady electric supply or did that become a problem at any point?
Langseth:Oh thatís an interesting story all on its own. There was a saw on there that was next to a ladder. And to start the saw you had to push the saw up against the ladder. There would be a little arcing and then the saw would start if you could survive it. But we had a good chief engineer and he was there from start to finish. At least in my career on the Vema. A guy by the name of, we used to call him ďChiefy,Ē but his name was John Coffin. He was a Nova Scotia. And I think he came with the ship. And he ran a good engine room. He really knew engines. You can check his name.
Doel:Weíll make sure we check that. I was struck when you said that about individuals who came with the ship. Were there any others whose careers continued on to the post-Lamont days of Vema?
Langseth:Yes, I think the assistant engineer. I think the engineering crews were the ones that came along with it. Some people that we used as coring bosons — I believe Cary Oxner for example who was here until fairly recently. Maybe Abel Corning who was a Newfoundlander. You have to get some of these guys who pre-date me to bring you up on that. In fact now thinking back on that first cruise, Chiefy was not on. We had a Norwegian engineer by the name of Christensen, I think. Big, round, jolly sort of fellow. Told wonderful jokes. I donít know enough about the early history to know how many of them came. I know we did inherit some of the people who sailed with Kennedy, because Kennedy brought them along initially. If you get it first hand from some of these people, apparently Kennedy was quite an extraordinary person and very cheap. So youíll get lots of stories from that end. Now that was at an awkward intermediate stage when we were really learning how to operate the ship and our first attempts to do that were not really very good as Captain Bracks and his polyglot crew demonstrated. Seamanship was not at a very high level but we managed.
Doel:How did Ewing feel about that sort of issue at the time? Clearly he wanted to stretch a dollar as far as he could, but on the other hand you do want to make sure of reliability. Do you remember any discussions about that?
Langseth:Not with him. And in fact I donít have much recollection of his interaction with that particular cruise. But I think that Joe Worzel was taking a strong hand in that and Joe shared Docís penny pinching mentality. And I think they were trying to figure out how to operate the ship as inexpensively as possible. For one reason to give them a better chance of getting funding for its operations. If I remember right, in those days the daily cost of operating the ship was about a thousand dollars. And today itís more on the order of five to six thousand dollars a day to operate a ship. So it is being operated on a shoe string but they had to get out of that muck.
Doel:Do you remember who the chief patrons were for the cruise that you went on, Vema 7?
Doel:It was the Navy.
Langseth:I think that was before NSF [National Science Foundation] was invented.
Doel:That was before they had any real money to invest. NSF in fact existed from Ď52 on but its first budgets were extremely small.
Langseth:No, this was strictly a Navy supported, this one.
Doel:How much talk during those first two years or during the cruise of classified research? Was any of that going on during the Vema 7?
Langseth:No. I think we were aware that some of the sonar work that was being done in Bermuda was classified but thatís as far as it went.
Doel:It wasnít a topic in other words that really came up as a discussion?
Langseth:You go ahead.
Doel:I wanted to turn to cover a few things we didnít cover in your second year but to give you a chance. Was there anything else we didnít cover that you wanted to mention about the first year?
Langseth:I donít think so. I donít know whether I have any notes from that. I havenít looked to see if I have any notes from that cruise.
Doel:It would be real interesting if you did find that. And if you did, we could take a look at some of that.
Langseth:I donít think I was a very conscientious note taker at that time. I should have been, I realize. Later I developed better habits at sea in terms of taking notes and keeping a written track record of what I was up to and what the ship was up to and how things were going.
Doel:How soon did you start doing that?
Langseth:Probably when I began to get responsibilities as chief scientist on the ship. That would have been in Ď62, 1962 or so.
Doel:A few years before you actually got the Ph.D.?
Doel:You had mentioned earlier the second year that you were taking more of the geophysics courses, those that Press and Bruce Heezen and others were offering.
Doel:Which ones do you recall taking during that year? What was it that was being offered? Seismology Iím sure was the course.
Langseth:But I think I took something called marine geology which Bruce Heezen taught. Then a geophysics course. It was not an equivalent of what became, what is now called geophysical theory, but a geophysics course that Frank Press taught which was kind of an entry level sort of course to teach you about magnetics and seismology and all of those kinds of things.
Doel:Did he concentrate particularly on the techniques and the methods or did you also get a good mixture of theory?
Langseth:Mainly techniques. He was a terrible lecturer. Both of them were as I recall. They also were not too punctual and sometimes didnít show up.
Doel:How many were in those graduate seminars?
Langseth:Well those classes were relatively small. It would be mainly all of the gaggle of geophysicists that were there and that would be seven or eight of us. And sometimes weíd teach and it was a pretty informal affair. And I think it to some extent reflected sort of the attitude Lamont had. There was a saying that Jack [E.]Oliver had, I donít know whether he invented it or not but do not let schooling interfere with your education. Which I thought was not a bad slogan.
Doel:What would happen if either Bruce Heezen or Frank Press didnít show up? Would you hold the seminar?
Langseth:Oh no. Weíd escape from Schermerhorn and go out for pizza or something.
Doel:What do you remember particularly about Bruce Heezenís course?
Langseth:He used to use people in the class a lot. And I donít remember a whole lot about his courses except they tended to be scattered. You know, not focused. It was not very difficult from one lecture to the next to follow some development of a hypothesis. But we were introduced to people like [Philip] Kunen and [Francis] Sheperd and all the people that were working in marine geology. He stressed papers. And, you know, reading papers and critiquing them.
Doel:So you would get a reading list the previous week and come in to discuss these —?
Langseth:Right. But I donít remember some theme emerging from his classes other than itís a lot of fun to explore the sea floor.
Doel:Would there be guest lecturers who would come?
Langseth:No, these would be inside. He might collar some advanced graduate student to go down and give a talk or somebody who was in the class to give a talk or fill in for him. Because he was off to some conference or something. Pretty informal. Weíve changed our ways from those days.
Doel:You remember yourself doing any particular seminar within that course?
Langseth:I think I probably did. I canít remember what I did. I probably talked about how you run about a precision depth recorder or some mundane subject like that. Not just that but what you got out of it and how it operated and what it showed.
Doel:That would be the kind of opportunity where you could share tacit knowledge of the sort you developed on the cruises —
Doel:To others who were there. Was there any particular field that by the second year you found yourself getting particularly interested in?
Langseth:It was mainly refraction seismology and seismology in general that I was interested in. Because Iíd worked with Jack earlier on seismology and I had this diversion to gravimetry. But I was most interested and I think that was the influences of Chuck Drake and Jack Nafe. That seemed to be something that was really going to show us something.
Doel:What texts do you remember reading in seismology at the time? I gather there were not many texts in the sense that we think of today.
Langseth:You know I was trying to think of that last time and I canít remember. There was a text and I think itís the same one that Jack Oliver pointed me to at that time. But I donít recall specifically was there a text in seismology. I think there were books like [Edward C.] Bullardís book on earthquake seismology.
Doel:Thatís the sort of thing Iím thinking of too. Just how much of that did you —?
Langseth:Those were the types of books. I donít remember having a favorite book that I carried around and tried to understand. More interested in papers and what different people were doing at the present time. I think that had a lot to do with the philosophy of the place at the time. At this time weíre not too interested in texts, weíre interested in recent papers, and what people who are at the cutting edge of the science were doing.
Doel:Indeed. And pre-prints I would imagine.
Langseth:Pre-prints, right. Those would be discussion points. I can remember even now thinking back to those days on the ship, a recent paper; somebody came out and showed this thing looks like this, maybe in the igneous basement, or something of that sort. Or just lava flows or these kinds of things were discussed. And they usually were in the context of recent papers or pre-prints that people had seen. Or maybe even something that was being done at Lamont.
Doel:As you think back on it, was the work that the people like, you know Gutenberg, what they were doing at the time, did it seem relevant particularly to undersea applications of seismology?
Langseth:Not that I recall. Of course it was very relevant once we got the hang of things. But no, I think the simple answer is no. We did not have, although we had an active bunch of seismologists here that were working on teleseismic signals, surface waves and all those things.
Doel:Were people from England, particularly Cambridge, coming through Lamont during those days? Iím wondering if you had any kind of contact with people like Jeffries.
Langseth:Well [Harold C.] Jeffries was here. Heís made a couple of visits. I forget when his last one was shortly before he passed on.
Doel:That was in fairly recent times, within the last ten years.
Langseth:Yes, right. I remember once being assigned or giving a seminar, one of the Friday afternoon seminars, and walking in and finding Jeffries sitting in the front row. Knees suddenly weakened. Sinking feeling even though youíve been talking to some fairly bright people before that. I found that somewhat intimidating. But he was here. There was Ms. [Inge] Lehman who was the woman seismologist who discovered the inner core of the earth. She was here for a short time. There were people like [Sir Edward C.] Bullard, who made fairly regular visits. [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz was a regular. We had Tony [Anthony S.] Laughton here as a student I think or maybe post-doctoral student but he was here for quite a while. So he was about my age and we were peers at that time. There must have been others. I was wondering whether Maurice Hill — that would have been before my time. You have to check with some of the older fellows about that. I remember [S. Keith] Runcorn coming by and giving us a lecture.
Doel:Now was this in the, this is the 1950s that youíre thinking of?
Langseth:Iím trying to remember. It was in Schermerhorn and I think it may have been in my second year that he came. He was pushing continental drift at that time.
Doel:He had really gotten interested by then in paleomagnetics.
Langseth:In paleomagnetics. And liked the explanation that, I think he wanted to change the poles, actually move the poles underneath the skin of the earth. Keep the earth the same but move the poles. And I remember he [Runcorn] had some demonstration about a fly walking across a spinning sphere. What it would do to the spin access over a long time. I donít know whether it physically made any sense or not.
Doel:I am wondering if you continue that model, what the physical equivalent was.
Langseth:He — Reading about the recent tragedy of his being bludgeoned to death in some cheap hotel in San Diego, the thing that immediately came to mind. This was a guy that was really a teacher to the world. Heíd travel around the world spreading his own ideas and concepts very vigorously and they were very stimulating. Some of them bore fruit; some of them did not. But he was one of those rare groups of individuals who traveled around, went to different institutions, and planted seeds, either thoughts or ideas. Itís a real shame to lose people like that because he was obviously still at it down at Scripps. I think he made a visit early on. Tom [Thomas F.] Gaskell comes to mind for some reason but I donít know whether he ever visited here at Lamont. He once said something that was interesting. He said ďYou know, those of us from the UK have to visit here every so often to remind your agencies that youíre doing good science. Apparently they donít believe you, but if some Englishman comes by and tells them that theyíre doing good science they somehow believe it.Ē
Doel:The more distant the authority is sometimes operating.
Langseth:No, I think itís kind of the way they say it. They were big boosters of the blooming science in the United States. And they did a great favor by stopping in at ONR [Office of Naval Research] or other agencies and telling them how important this was and how good these people were, and that they should support it. And I think they actually did have an impact, like Gaskellís. Although he was somewhat of a blow hard but I donít think he was puffing steam at that particular moment.
Doel:Iím sure individuals like Teddy Bullard were quite influential.
Langseth:Very influential. Quite.
Doel:Do you remember him from the early years that you were a graduate student?
Langseth:Yes. Well he of course was kind of — the first papers I got when I became interested in geothermal things and this would be after I got out of the Army. And he was a remarkable person because I wrote a paper about it and he found out I was interested. He would go out of his way to come talk to you about specifics of instrumentation and experience in what you were doing. A really interesting person and very helpful, friendly, supportive.
Doel:I want to get to that, particularly given how difficult it had been to get a reliable instrument for measuring heat flow. Bullardís pioneering work. Were there other things that you recall particularly from your second year of your graduate years?
Langseth:Well in the second year I think weíre getting into the thing where we are getting more specialized and beginning to think about what weíre going maybe to do as a thesis project. And I think I had sort of begun to focus on seismology as maybe the thing I was most interested in at that point. I was somewhat isolated because as I say I was rooming on West End Avenue with graduate students but they were in engineering and the Law School, not in earth science. And so my interests to some extent were dispersed because of this, because we did form sort of a social entity.
Doel:So you would see quite a bit of these folks during weekends?
Langseth:And less of the people at school although I did come up to Lamont to work in research. But I probably could drum up the courses I took. I know I took economic geology and I took geomorphology. And the submarine geology in geophysics. And mathematical physics.
Doel:In what department was the mathematical physics?
Langseth:The physics department under one Dr. [?] Foley. Fortunately, students donít have to take that course any more.
Doel:Itís one of the things that are changed in the curriculum for many places at this point. Iím curious about second year — what you sensed as the relation between those who were in more traditional fields of geology of the Columbia department and the emergence of the growing strength of Lamont?
Langseth:I think you could see almost the separation was there from the time I came. But you could see a growing separation between the two institutions. I mean from the inside perspective you say well this thing is growing like Topsy. This is great. You didnít worry too much about people. You honored them. You thought they were fine people. [Ralph J.] Holmes, mineralogy, and [Arie] Poldervaart was here in petrology. World class figures in geology. Marshall Kay, [Walter H.] Bucher. But they were somehow something apart. Because it was downtown, it was in Schermerhorn, an official Columbia University building; they were almost like going to high school. You know what I mean. You go back here for the course work and the floors smell of oil and the woodwork is dark. And when you want to get serious about thinking about how the earth works youíre going to go up and work at Lamont. I think there was that feeling you would get.
Doel:Sounds like a feeling among the graduate students.
Langseth:It may have not been fair. The student would get that feeling when he came in. Although he had many fine students and merge them from under the tutelage of the likes of Marshall Kay.
Doel:What I was particularly curious about is whether you recalled any point then where someone in the faculty would talk about what the development of Lamont meant for them, either institutionally or —?
Langseth:I mentioned that Walter Bucher would talk about this mainly in the class context and as I say he was a booster of Maurice Ewingís efforts. Other than that I donít recall any discussion. John Imbrie was here, he was a young professor at that time. And he was also very interested in Lamont because he saw it as a major source of marine paleontological data.
Langseth:So, and the second year tends to kind of fade away in my memory for some reason. My education really started when I got out of the army. I think — to some extent.
Langseth:Sort of a mental warm up.
Doel:Do you think it had to do with the social setting? You mentioned that as being significant.
Langseth:It may. It may have. But then the summer after the second year I went to see Cliff [Clifford] Tutra and Jack [John E.] Nafe, Bruce Heezen, — and on a Canadian sealing vessel that we had chartered to accompany the Vema across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. And this would have been Vema cruise 10. And the Theta 1, I believe there is a Theta 2, Thetaís the name of the ship. And —
Doel:How did Lamont come to charter that particular vessel?
Langseth:We wanted to do a seismic refraction profile all across the Atlantic Ocean —
Doel:Clearly you needed two vessels to do that.
Langseth:And we also wanted to do sort of a parallel track, sounding to get some better idea about the trends of the features we were going over. And so we pounded across Maderra, as I recall. They a — We of course had to equip the sealing vessel with the kinds of things we had on the Vema. And again I was nursing the precision depth recorder but it didnít work worth a nickel. I think the ship was just too noisy. No matter what we did we couldnít get the noise level down. So, we could actually see the bottom below about a thousand meters or maybe a thousand fathoms. So a lot of our —
Doel:So, the whole data just drowned in the noise?
Langseth:Right. So, I donít think we got any worthwhile bathymetric data. Now, on the cruise across — Oh, we got quite a bit of seismic data. I think — [Charles] Kershaw was, — Was it Kershaw who was on that cruise? Maybe so. I know Maury Davidson was along on that cruise and — So we had a magnetometer.
Doel:Do you remember any discussions on the magnetic work that was being done?
Langseth:No, not in the context or with the importance that came later. There was discussion of Maurice Hillís — I think he had written a paper saying that there wasnít any magnetic anomaly associated with the crust of the mid-Atlantic range, or maybe vice versa. Iím not sure, [maybe] Iím misquoting. But for some reason Bruce [Heezen] was against — He was against whatever Maurice Hill was promoting. [Laughter] So he wanted to — And I guess Maurice Hill was saying there werenít — There wasnít a rift valley and Bruce was just beginning to get into the ďBruce rift valley mode.Ē In fact, I think, Bruce rode the ship over. And I remember that well because the sealing vessel was primarily a refrigerator hull. All of the engine and the crew quarters and everything were at the aft end of this boat. The whole middle section was an empty hull for putting seal skins in and it was also used as a trawler for putting fish in — and it was also refrigerated. We put some explosives in there for our refraction work. But it wasnít very much. And we foolishly put them in the aft end of this huge hull. So that, when the ship got under way, it rode like this [Laughter] — The front end was so light you could —
Doel:Youíre keeping your hand up as you make the motions so the back end is deep in the water.
Langseth:The center of rotation was somewhere back around the engine, you see?
Langseth:And our bunks were up in the for peak of this, thing. So —
Doel:Did you get seasick?
Langseth:So, all the way across the ocean you just got thrown up in the air. After a day or two I usually get my sea legs but there were times when this thing would buck up so violently, it would literally throw you off your bunk. You would just levitate up and then down again. Now the reason I remember Bruce was that the anchor chain, hauler pipes ran right through this space that we were sleeping in. So, every time this boat would go up and come back down these anchor chains would lift off and then come back again. They would clang like you were in a cathedral belfry someplace. And — I must have very high tolerance, I was very young at the time and it didnít seem to bother me very much. But it drove Bruce nuts. And one day — one night he jumped out of his bunk and he grabbed this two by four and began to beat the pipe [Laughter]. Heís going bang! ďNo more you son of a snake [Laughter] bleep, bleep, bleep.Ē And rapping on these, fighting back. The next day the engineers were up there cutting a hole in the hauler pipes essentially lashing the anchor chains down so they clanged a little bit but not anywhere near as bad as they were. That was, that was quite a ride across the ocean. And anytime the weather was rough — To get from the fork you had to go across this big expansive deck and it still had a considerable amount of seal oil and stuff in it so it was slick. And itís worth your life, to get across there. Weíd tie life lines across but before we got that smart — It was the favorite entertainment to a — after you had made a successful crossing to go up in the bridge and watch the other people emerge. To come across for breakfast. [Laughter] That was — We went over to Spain after we left Maderra. And then Jack Nafe and Chuck [Charles L.] Drake joined us. [W.] Maurice Ewing came over to take the Vema into the Mediterranean. We parted company. And we did some work with the Spanish. Doing refraction work, as difficult as it is. In fact my first paper is in Spanish. Written by a Spanish scientist who was out with us.
Langseth:I think Iím fourth author, fifth author or something or fourth author or something like that on this paper. His name was Guy Baportes I remember that. And we did refraction work with a Spanish patrol boat. Patriolerro 17, as I recall.
Doel:Youíve got a good memory for —
Langseth:And — We did refraction work on the shelf there. That was a lot of fun. A lot of stories emerged because in those days we used to use these three hundred pound death charges. When we got at very long ranges to get enough energy. And every time one of these things would go off in shallow water it would shut the ship down. Because it would give it such a bang it would throw all the circuit breakers out of the switchboard in the ship. [Laughter] Then we had a Norwegian engineer again, canít remember what his name was. But every time that would happen of course the engine room would go pitch dark then the engine would quit. It wasnít long before he came storming up the ladder cursing and swearing. [Laughter]
Doel:Was it difficult when you had to use that high energy to keep your electronics and your data gathering.
Langseth:No, it seemed to work —
Langseth:— to work pretty well.
Doel:You could insulate your instruments but the ship was —
Langseth:Well, we had that up in the forepeak. On the deck — We had the seismic equipment up there. And thatís something else I inherited, by that time — the radios and the seismic equipment. The radios were very key to these two shipsí seismic experiments of course.
Doel:It had to be.
Langseth:Not only for communication but the shot instants were transmitted back and forth by radio.
Doel:Right. Did you find that worked rather well?
Langseth:Yes, that worked well. Fairly well. By todayís standards terrible. [Laughter] But those were —
Doel:Relative standards —
Langseth:Well, at the time.
Doel:Right, the critical one. How did that cooperative arrangement come about with the Spaniards? Was that Ewingís doing or was there a great deal of local interest by the Spanish government at knowing the structure?
Langseth:You know, I donít know how that connection was made. It possibly was made with Jack Nafe. Possibly with Chuck Drake. But I wouldnít be surprised if somehow Maurice Ewing was involved. Another possible person involved there would be Brackett Hersey. He was interested in the Caribbean, I mean Mediterranean, at that time, and may have pointed us to this group. He — Guy Baportes was a republican and Franco was still in power at that time. He was a very interesting person.
Doel:I could imagine.
Langseth:I remember him well.
Doel:Did you know Brackett Hersey already at that point or was that just someone you came to meet?
Langseth:No. I never knew Brackett very well. Just came with meeting, you know — various occasions. But, I did not work with him or know him very well at that time.
Doel:Okay. You mentioned a moment ago the difficulty in isolating the noise on the Canadian troller. Was that something that was exceedingly difficult to tell about a vessel prior to the time you put in for a voyage?
Langseth:In those days it was. Right. It really is a function of how much of the mechanical noise that is developed in a ship is transmitted in the hull. And that really boils down to how itís mounted; how the engine is mounted. And how much noise the engine makes. What itís gearing to the drive shaft and things like that.
Doel:Was that something that as you did more and more voyages with more different types of vessels became easier to predict?
Doel:In terms of knowing what vessels to pick.
Langseth:And also knowing how to mount the transducers and things in the hulls so they were isolated and in a favorable spot. There are sort of, areas in a shipís hull where the vibrations are much stronger than others. And, if you learn where the quieter spots are, you usually want to mount your transducers there. But, I think, we actually towed this transducer because we didnít fly dock this ship and mount anything on the hull. This was a transducer that was towed alongside the ship.
Langseth:But, still it seemed to be very noisy. And I remember writing back for parts, to try and salvage the situation. And getting to Cadiz and finding the parts had not been sent.
Doel:Thatís got to be a frustration.
Langseth:Yes. Well, that was kind of how things were in those days. They changed a little later on. Itís just nobody back here responded. Out of sight, out of mind. [Laughter]
Doel:Is that right? Thatís —
Langseth:Well Iím sure it wasnít quite —
Doel:No, no, I fully understand. — Iím just — it raises an interesting issue — how responsive — how well the organization at that time could respond —?
Doel:— when you had difficulties.
Langseth:It wasnít very good at responding, in fact. What you didnít put on in the dock here or in Bermuda, where we had other —where we often docked. Usually you didnít, you didnít get much resupply from home or even much support from home, as I recall. Of course this is based on one isolated incident but I think it was rather typical.
Langseth:But you were pretty self-sufficient. You had to depend on your own resources once you were — through the line off.
Doel:Did any of that kind of problem come from the way purchasing needed to be done? In terms of maybe contracts? Was there a lack of flexibility in how that operated or rather Ė
Langseth:I donít think there was an organization back here for handling it, is what it really boiled down to.
Doel:That needed to be developed.
Langseth:We didnít develop what — We have a marine coordinator now. Who, before people go to sea, makes sure they have the proper equipment and the proper budget for it, so forth. In those days we worked out of a big pot of money. It wouldnít be big by todayís standards but it was a single pot of money. So that, Iím sure there was some approval process. It probably went through Ewing, to decide whether you were going to spend money on these transformers or a new transducer, and whether you were going to ship it across the ocean or not. But it was not organized efficiently or effectively enough to really respond in a short time to a problem like that. Thatís — I was not close enough to the organization to know if thatís true or not, but that would be my guess, having later having responsibilities in this area.
Doel:I know weíre not going to have too much time to cover additional topics during this morning, but I recall you saying off tape that one of the memorable events from that second voyage was the notice that you got immediately on returning.
Langseth:When I got back, I think we docked somewhere in New Jersey or Staten Island. There was a gleeful group there mainly of my peers, fellow student graduate students announcing that I had received my draft notice and was to report forthwith to Whitehall and sign up in the Army.
Doel:How many other students were affected at that time by the draft?
Langseth:Very few. I donít think any of my contemporaries were in there. But when I got in the Army I found that there was a whole bunch of people that were drafted out of various universities. And we actually, many of us, wound up in what was known as special something, we had a company. Most of us worked in the ballistics research laboratory in Aberdeen Proving Ground. And it was made up of a collection of engineers, scientists, and other people, some of whom had Ph.D.ís, some masterís degrees, some were caught mid-graduate school as I was. But it was a pretty exceptional group of people that had come together and most of us worked in the ballistics research lab.
Doel:How did you feel when you had gotten word that you were drafted? Did it seem a real disappointment or upset?
Langseth:It was very upsetting. I tried to go to my draft board and explain to them that I had completed two years of graduate school and this was going to be a terrible disruption in my education and so forth. They were totally unsympathetic. ďEverybody takes their turn around here.Ē I did make an effort to try to get out of it but without any luck. But once in the Army, I tended to make the best of it.
Doel:What was it like — the experience at Aberdeen for you?
Langseth:Well the experience at Aberdeen was interesting. I worked for a man by the name of Beauregard Perkins. A wonderful man with elegant manners, style. I think heíd worked most of his career as a government scientist. He had a group which was known as ground shock and thatís what I worked in. The main thing we did was blow holes in the grounds to see how large a crater we could make with different size charges. So I was back in the charge business. Itís interesting because later on when I got involved in the moon — and cratering is a very important process on the moon — I realized that I was actually doing model studies of lunar cratering when I was in the Army.
Doel:I think actually Ralph [B.] Baldwin may have used some of that data in the phases of the moon, at least some of the more early data from World War II.
Langseth:Possibly. I know a lot of the work was duplicated because most of our work I think was considered classified. We produced reports which showed you know how much acceleration we had in different — this was mainly tests of different kinds of soil; either clays or sands. In retrospect, interesting and probably valuable scientific work and, you know, I enjoyed it because we set up the whole experiment ourselves. We had some fairly advanced equipment for that time. There were some very high speed cameras for recording the accelerations.
Doel:Was [Harold E.] Edgarton involved in that at all?
Doel:Iím curious if you remember discussing the lunar crater issue at all?
Langseth:In the Army?
Doel:When you were in the Army. That wasnít something that came up by anybody?
Langseth:No, no. I wish it had. Then I might have made the connection. But I did become interested in cratering and how you actually deformed the ground. How much of it is plastic defamation and learned a little bit about shock theory and shock waves.
Doel:Who were you reading particularly on shock waves?
Langseth:Boy, I really have a bad memory on that. I was reading something. Relationship comes from — it may have been something from Baldwin. We had some internal documents that we looked at. Part of this group was actually involved in some of the underground nuclear testing out west which I never participated in. I wanted to go. I did have this idea that we could set off a nuclear explosion on an atoll and make the ocean lithosphere bounce up and down and learn something about its elastic properties. They were exploding things on atolls but they never wired it for that kind of experiment.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Then you knew of the work being done at the Nevada test site.
Langseth:Right. And they were doing similar sorts of things really.
Doel:How large were the explosions at Aberdeen?
Langseth:At Aberdeen? These were little quarter pound, penny like charges, little spherical yellow balls. That didnít since we shot them off as buried charges; we buried them at various depths, as part of this.
Doel:Were any of them above the surface or was it pretty much below ground?
Langseth:No, the people who used to set things off above the surface were the people next door and they would set off fifty pound charges of TNT in the open air. They were testing essentially aircraft structures and how you damaged aircraft structures. And thatís one whale of a noise. Iíve shot off a lot of fifty pound charges under water but hear one go off in the air is a heck of a racket. So as you can see I got deeply into the explosives business in the Army. But there I had to have an exam and instruction and demonstrate my ability to set up a charge and set if off safely.
Doel:Did any members of that group — you mention there were Ph.D.ís and masters and others — stay in that field later on?
Langseth:Well actually I came there as a result — Maurice Ewing wrote to Beauregard Perkins since Beauregard was a friend of his and told him that he should pluck me out of the troops that were passing through the Army at that time. And there was a guy who was there earlier who was from Lamont, Jim [Henry J.] Dorman. And actually when you ask me whether somebody was drafted other than me, yes, Jim Dorman was another one that was drafted into the Army. He worked in the same group and he had been working with Jack Oliver on modeling experiments, laboratory modeling of seismic wave propagation. And what Jim did in the Army was to further advance modeling of seismic propagation. Another area of responsibility for us was — any time that explosions were set off in the testing ground there at Aberdeen Proving Ground specifically on Spesusha Island, which is the little island out in the Chesapeake, occasionally they would cause some damage across the hay due to focusing and the effects of the right atmospheric conditions. When you set off one of those fifty pound charges here, it will break a window over in a town across the bay. So one of our responsibilities was monitoring the air shock from air blasts that were set off by the Army, and assuring the people that the damage had nothing to do with our testing across the Bay. Well thereís a little give-and-take there. Of course when people discovered that this could happen they began to find other things that they could blame on us. So thatís why we would actually go over and monitor shots and find that there were half-truths.
Doel:Youíre quite right. These are always complicated relationships.
Langseth:Very complicated relationships.
Doel:What level of security clearance did you need or did you get?
Langseth:I think you automatically got a secret security clearance there. I did not work on anything at a higher level. One other interesting facet of the Army experience was that we had a fellow in our company who had been drafted and he worked for Bell Labs. And he had just begun to work on magnetic memories for computers and during his — we stayed there for about a year and a half. We had your six weeks or nine week basic training and we were shipped out and the rest of the Army career was the Aberdeen Proving Ground. He completely changed-over the memory in the computer system at Aberdeen Proving Ground to magnetic core memories which were the very hot thing at that point. He as a result got a rather special position there. They had one of the very early — I think Von Neuman worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground. But we had one of the early versions of Uniac or Uliac. I know the computer we had; we did some of our work with the computer, integrating these accelerometer things and to determine displacements and total energy. And the computers, there were rooms full of little boxes with tubes on them.
Langseth:It took about five people in there, you know, to keep it running. Changing vacuum tubes. Everything, two of everything and as soon as one vacuum tube would blow out somebody would come and replace it while they used the spare. Flip flop circuits; there are all just zillions of flip flop circuits. So going over to the magnetic core memory was a big space saving thing.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. And of course thatís at a critical time in computer development too, in the mid-1950s. Were there any other instrument techniques that you learned through Aberdeen that later proved important in your career?
Langseth:Not particularly, although I got a more refined appreciation for certain types of instrumentation like accelerometers and recording equipment which was somewhat more advanced than what we were using. But basically the same principles. But I used very little of that subsequently.
Doel:Basically what you were exposed to at Aberdeen was not fundamentally different in any sense from the equipment that you had already been exposed to?
Langseth:I did try to take advantage of — you know, in the Army you have a lot of forced down time so that I did try to catch up or keep up with what was going on and read some books. I canít remember exactly what books I had but I think I did have things like Mathematical Physics and other things. And there were some other people in there that you could talk to and help you out or you could help them out in your reading and interests.
Doel:I should mention just on the tape that you came back from that voyage in 1955 and it was Ď56 through Ď58; those were the years that you were actually at Aberdeen.
Langseth:Youíre probably referring to my resume and Iím wondering if itís correct. Because I think it was the fall of Ď55 that I went into the Army.
Doel:So perhaps then Ď55 to Ď57?
Langseth:Ď57 maybe. I emerged in the summer. I got an early out, three months early.
Doel:Do you remember if Sputnik had already gone up by the time that you got out?
Langseth:Sputnik went up while I was in the Army. So that would have been Ď58 wasnít it?
Doel:Well that would have been November of Ď57 for Sputnik.
Doel:So it then could have been the following summer.
Langseth:Then Ď58, right, that I was out. And I entered — my first cruise was in Ď55. The cruise on the Vema was Ď56. Because I went to graduate school in Ď54.
Doel:Okay, that makes sense.
Langseth:I lost a year.
Doel:We just caught it up.
Langseth:We just found it. Just found it, thank you. Yes, I remember that well because one of the things you do in the Army is serve KP and when youíre on KP you have to muster outside the mess hall at four in the morning. And it was particularly nice because I think it was the day after the Sputnik went up and it was a perfectly clear, crystal clear, cool night and standing out there and watching this.
Doel:And you could see it.
Langseth:You could see it flying overhead. Talking about it.
Doel:You could see the little changes in brightness as it went by. Thatís very interesting.
Langseth:Crisp, clear air of Ft. Dix. No, that would have been Aberdeen Proving Ground. The only good thing I can say about K.P.
Doel:A good way to put it.
Langseth:It was very important to get there early because you had to be there early because the jobs were given out as you arrived and if you were the last guy you always got the grease pits.
Doel:You were motivated indeed. Let me just ask one last question. I know we have to break now for lunch, but during any of those down time periods, could you get back up to Lamont? Were you back up here much during your Aberdeen days?
Langseth:I donít recall coming up to Lamont during that period. I may be wrong. You didnít get a whole lot of leave time. I know the one leave I did take I had just bought an automobile, learned to drive finally and drove to Texas to meet my father. That expedition occurred while I was in the Army.
Doel:You had mentioned that in the first Interview.
Langseth:In the first interview that I had looked him up. That would have been 1957 probably. That is really the only extended leave I can remember taking in the Army. Probably two weeks I think. That was the usual amount that you got. Itís possible that I came back up here and visited at Lamont.
Doel:Do you remember letters from any of the people that you were closest with?
Langseth:Here at Lamont? Iím not much of a letter writer. At least I wasnít in those days. I donít recall having an active correspondence with anyone here until it came time to try to get an early out, in which I got some help from Lamont so I could go on a cruise when I got out.
Doel:And this was then in 1958 when you went on that cruise?
This probably ought to be what we pick up on when we do the interviews. I want to thank you very much again.