Oral History Transcript — Dr. Marcus G. Langseth
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Interview with Dr. Marcus G. Langseth
Marcus G. Langseth; June 3, 1996
ABSTRACT: Circumnavigates South America during a yearlong cruise on Vema 15, in 1958. Begins the cruise as a gravity observer. He experiences problems with the new shipboard gravimeter, a German-built Eskania. His primary concern is with the Alidade Table. Discusses the beginning of the first worldwide cruises. By the early 1960s, instruments and measurements are integrated on the cruises as a result of new instruments being introduced and upgraded. Explains the importance of the instrument shop for the development of Lamont and names individuals who were particularly adept at modifying instruments. Langseth discusses his work with the heat flow instrument. He modifies the instrument while on a cruise. Recounts the history of the thermal probe developed at Lamont, which became known as the Ewing thermo gram. His introduction to thermal measurements remembered. Details problems encountered using the Ewing thermo gram. His studies of heat flow measurements. Explains Sir Edward C. Bullard’s research and how it was regarded at Lamont. Bullard’s sea flow conjecture is dispelled. Compares Lamont to Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Harry Hess and sea floor spreading. Develops a thermal model of sea floor spreading with Xavier Le Pichon. Describes Ewing’s interest in the heat flow program, his scientific style, and his input on scientific papers coming out of Lamont. Foreign visitors at Lamont discussed. George Wüst’s influence on the temperature profile work and on Lamont. Characterizes Wüst and gives his impressions of Le Pichon. He encounters support for plate tectonics while in Ceylon and in Cape Town. More on the thermal model of sea floor spreading that he creates with Le Pichon. Narrates the history behind starting the model. Walter Elsasser’s research and Ewing’s opinion of Elsasser’s work described. Lists influences on his research. His 1962 paper discussed. Characterizes Lamont scientists as intense data collectors. The sea floor photograph collection at Lamont, drawbacks to the photographs, how they were used, and the potential of imaging for oceanic research. Description given of Bruce Heezen’s personality and research. Discusses captains and crews of the Lamont ships. Describes Vema Captain Henry Kohler and his crew. Kohler offers advice about operating instruments at sea. Kohler’s relationship to the scientists on the ship explored. Lamont acquires a second ship, the Conrad. Problems retaining captains on the Conrad. Compares the Conrad’s atmosphere with that of Kohler’s Vema. Gives a description of the Conrad and mentions his voyages on that ship. His experience firing Peter Olander, captain of the Conrad. Operations at Lamont changed with the acquisition of a second ship. Briefly mentions ocean data collected by, or for, the Lamont biologists. Discusses the impact of changed funding habits at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Naval Research on oceanographic institutions, Lamont directors, and Lamont’s machine shop. The new type of funding undermines the Lamont machine shop and leads, in part, to Lamont buying, rather than making or modifying, instruments. States that the availability of commercially available instruments also affected the machine shop and machinist Angelo Ludas. Recounts his first experience as chief scientist on Vema 18, December 1961 through early January 1962. Explains how Ewing communicated with Lamont scientists at sea. Marries, Lillian, a biologist working for Paul Burkholder. Characterizes Burkholder’s personality and science. Discusses dissertation on heat flow in the Indian Ocean. Brief mention made of the Indian Ocean Expedition. Topics for a future interview listed.
TranscriptSession I | Session II | Session III
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this a continuing interview, the third session, with Marcus Langseth. We’re recording this on the third of June, 1996, at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. At the end of the last interview, you had mentioned that after you came out from military service, in the late 1950s, ‘58, as I recall, you had gone almost immediately on board a cruise on the Vema. I’m curious what that cruise’s objectives were and what role you played on that cruise.
Langseth:Well, they changed. My role on the cruise changed as the cruise progressed. This was a year-long cruise.
Doel:This was one of the very first year-long cruises, wasn’t it?
Langseth:I think so. Extra-long cruise. It was Vema 15, the designation, and it was a cruise that circumnavigated South America. I started out as a gravity observer. The first principal or chief scientist on board was Joe Worzel, as I recall. At that time, we were just testing a new shipboard gravimeter, which at that time was a new innovation, a device that would continuously measure the gravity field. It was not highly successful. The gravimeter was too sensitive and did not have enough damping to take out the accelerations of the waves and so forth.
Doel:And this was not something that you could modify on board the cruise?
Langseth:That’s right. It would have to go back. This was a German-built Askania gravimeter material. It was really the first model of later successful models. So information went back to Askania, and they made some revisions, and people worked on it, and within a year or two it was a working instrument that was on board all of our cruises.
Doel:Were you involved in that aspect, getting the information back to the company?
Langseth:No. I was really just a hired hand on board the boat. My primary concern was what we called a stable table. To measure the gravity, you have to keep the instrument level, and since the Vema has considerable motion when she’s at sea, this is a fairly challenging endeavor.
Doel:How well did that work out?
Langseth:Not very well. It was a curious sort of thing. It was something we had gotten from, I think, the Coast and Geodetic Survey — which is, I guess, now under NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency] — and what was called an Alidade Table. It was thing they would set up on a ship for making sightings back to land for triangulation purposes for mapping off the coast. It was a pretty archaic machine by the time we got it and so trying to get this to work on the Vema — it seemed to work fairly well. But since the gravimeter didn’t work very well, we never got the whole system together.
Doel:What vintage was that piece of equipment? Was it post World War Two?
Langseth:It was post World War Two. It actually was made up of two different components. There was a table that was used by the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and there then was a Navy leveling reference that was used in gunnery for determining the ship attitude when you fired guns from a ship — these two were linked together. That was kind of the activity that I was involved in — mating these two.
Doel:How much of that was actually done while you were at sea? Did you have it working by the time that you left the port?
Langseth:We did. We actually had it working in the garage behind Joe Worzel’s house before we went out.
Doel:One of the things that are interesting in this period is that the first worldwide cruises started at that point. What made it possible to do the longer cruises opposed to the shorter hauls that had been typical before?
Langseth:I’m not sure I know. I’m not sure I know. That’s probably a question for John Ewing, who would have been in on the planning. But obviously there was a change either in the funding level we were getting, or the objectives of Maurice Ewing. We were kind of at the edge of developing an underway geophysical program that was very incisive, eventually became very incisive with the bathymetry, of course, and the magnetometer, the gravimeter. We were at that time still developing the seismic reflection system. All of these systems were beginning to show signs of coming together, and I think it was — and this is a pure guess — the light bulb in Maurice Ewing’s head that said, “Well we’ve got this geophysical ship that we can send around the world. Let’s go map the world oceans.”
Doel:The way that it sounds — was it a combination of both the instruments becoming sensitive and reliable enough that you could integrate it, as well as learning how to integrate all these kinds of measurements and measuring systems together?
Langseth:That was all a very slowly evolving thing. Of course, everything was recorded separately on this cruise we’re talking about, for example, but new instruments were being introduced. Instruments were being upgraded as time went on. Vema 15, very rudimentary stages of developing this geophysical ship. But things were beginning to develop — by probably the early 1960s we had a ship which did all the things that I was describing earlier.
Doel:I’m curious whether you could discern an impact from the IGY [International Geophysical Year]?
Langseth:Well the IGY occurred while I was in the Army.
Doel:It did coincide more or less directly with that.
Langseth:My guess is that it had some impact, but probably at levels that helped the government, or indicated to the government that this was an important direction for us to go in as far as the national research agenda was concerned. I don’t know first-hand.
Doel:I’m curious, too, you mentioned a moment ago the evolution of the instruments and the instrument systems. Who seemed to you particularly adept at developing ways of making these instrument systems work on board ship?
Langseth:That’s a difficult question to answer. There was a fellow by the name of Bernie [Bernard] Luskin, who was here — you may have heard his name before. He developed the precision depth recorder. These instruments were mainly made-up of other existing instruments that we adapted for use — we might make modifications of — John Ewing was a very important person in this development. Joe Worzel played a role with the gravimeter and some other aspects of it. There was a cast of people. At that time, our instrument shop was very active, and filled with very expert machinists and people, so that you could go there and say, “I need to make this” and you’d have it on a yellow piece of paper with a thick number two-pencil drawing — and they can convert it into something that actually worked. I always felt the instrument shop was rather critical to that development early on. For example, devices such as the air gun — the pneumatic sound source that was developed here and, of course, is still in wide use — was made in the machine shop and by people like John Ewing and Roger Zaunere. But Maurice Ewing’s technique was sort of — he would take somebody that looked like they were interested and showed some potential, and he would essentially give them the job. For example, it was on Vema. 15 that I inherited the heat flow instrument, which had been developed by Robert [D.] Gerard, he brought it out, and we tried it out a couple of times, made a few measurements. But then Maurice Ewing declared that I was to kind of push the heat flow thing, working with Robert Gerard. He liked to mate up particularly students or someone who looked like they were going to go to sea, with a particular instrument and let them run with it.
Doel:How did that work out in practice on Vema 15, with you and Sam Gerard?
Langseth:Sam came out with the instrument. The first couple of legs, we made a couple tries with it, but there were the usual bugs. There’s a funny story involved with it, because at that time, we used to use the darkroom a lot — particularly for developing seismic records — and this heat flow instrument, which used film recording was kept in the darkroom. I knocked it off the counter one time in a flail, it came off during a roll or something like that, and I felt responsible for it. Sam was not on the ship at the time, so I tried to put it back together and in doing so I came up with some ideas about how it might work better. Sam came back on later in the cruise, and we worked together on it, and then we made some successful measurements.
Doel:What sort of ideas did you come up with to modify it?
Langseth:There was a sort of strange optical system in it that used galvanometers and recorded on film, and it was basically just a simple mechanical variation in the optical system that made it work more realistically, no spectacular breakthrough. My engineering skills are very limited. You find a lot of people who are involved in working with instruments, picture themselves as amateur engineers. Some people are quite good at it, but I’m not particularly good at it. But I enjoy it.
Doel:I recall you saying you enjoyed it, but it felt that way in one of the earlier interviews that we did. What relation did this instrument have to those for measuring heat flow that had been used by, say, Teddy [Sir Edward C.] Bullard, earlier than that?
Langseth:That sounds like a question you know something about. [Laughter] Because as I understand it, and this predates me, but Teddy Bullard had loaned Maurice Ewing his probe that he had developed at Cambridge. In fact, it sat in the same garage where I was working on the gravimeter — and I understand that some students had gone out with it, but I don’t think it had ever come out of the box. And then I think Ewing had the idea of a more practical system than the Bullard probe.
Doel:He had looked at carefully at the Bullard probe and seen —
Langseth:He had looked at it, but then I think he had an idea — there were two facets to the idea. One was to attach the temperature recording sensors directly to the piston core, which means that if you attach these sensors with every piston core, you could get a temperature gradient measurement. In addition, you obtained a core on which you could make the measurements of the thermal properties of the sediment and obtain a more accurate, more representative measurement of heat flow. I think that was basically his idea, which he then asked Sam [Gerard] or commandeered Sam into essentially designing and building — Sam is a good engineer. He’s not a trained engineer, but he’s remarkably inventive, and so he kind of put the idea into reality.
Doel:That’s very interesting. So the idea of putting the thermal probe as an outrigger on the core came from Ewing and was developed then by Sam Gerard and yourself?
Langseth:By Sam Gerard, right.
Doel:Did you play a role in working with Sam in —
Langseth:In that early development? No. He just arrived with this instrument on the ship. In fact, I was very skeptical about it at the time. I never realized that my destiny had come on board at that point.
Doel:That’s what I wanted to ask you about particularly, how much experience you had had with that area of geophysics at all.
Langseth:None. I don’t know whether it was Doc or Sam gave me Art Maxwell’s thesis — Art Maxwell was at Scripps. He had gone to sea with Teddy Bullard and made some measurements in the Pacific, and eventually that program was turned over to Dick [R.P.] Von Herzen. Dick Von Herzen and I continued to be colleagues and close friends ever since. He moved to Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution] subsequently. They went in the direction of improving the Bullard probe and the instrument that I inherited became known as the Ewing thermo gram.
Doel:Dick Von Herzen stayed with Lamont certainly through the 1960s, didn’t he?
Langseth:No. Dick Von Herzen was at Scripps [Institution of Oceanography]. I don’t recall exactly when he went to Woods Hole. I can remember writing a letter of recommendation for him, but it must have been in the early sixties.
Doel:Okay. I misunderstood on that point.
Langseth:Yes, I can’t really place it in time.
Doel:I’m particularly curious why you felt skeptical about the instrument when you first encountered it.
Langseth:I don’t know. It looked like a Rube Goldberg rig rate, you know, because it was taped onto the core pipe and all these wires were running up the core pipe and disappeared into a pressure vessel that looked like it could stand a little more engineering. So that it just kind-of looked like it was designed to try out — and see what was wrong with it.
Doel:Were there any worries on the part of the people who were principally concerned with the cores, that placing this instrument in the package might affect the coring?
Langseth:If they did, they would be overruled by Maurice Ewing. There were people that said those probes out there are causing the cores to bend more often. And there was a requirement in making these measurements that once you stuck the core in; you had to leave it there for about six to eight minutes — in the mud. So that ran the risk that if you drifted away from the core or something like that, you stood the chance of bending it when you pulled it out.
Doel:But you needed that amount of time for the instrument to heat —
Langseth:— to equilibrate with the sediment.
Doel:And how did you come to learn about heat flow measurements and the significance, the broader program? How much experience —
Langseth:I think that, you know, as I say, someone gave me Art Maxwell’s thesis, which had a summary of the background in it. Then when I returned home, Maurice Ewing called me in and declared that I would — should run this program. At that time I worked with Sam [Gerard] on it. Sam was primarily working in oceanography, so he wasn’t terribly distressed with me being assigned to kind of watch this through. I kind-of regarded that I would work with Sam, but my primary responsibility would be to make this program work. And, of course, Doe gave me some papers by Bullard on the Bullard probe, and then Scripps was continuing to publish some things. In fact, if you look at my bookshelf, somewhere there is a book on heat conduction with Maurice Ewing’s name in it. [Laughter]
Doel:That’s interesting. We’re looking on the bookshelf behind you now.
Langseth:This is it. Oops, I’ve cleverly covered up Maurice Ewing with my own library sticker.
Doel:Your sticker is over his.
Langseth:He loaned me that book. [Laughter] Since these things were just being developed at that time and the whole concept was evolving, there wasn’t a whole lot to learn. I mean, there wasn’t a whole lot of reading you had to do to become the world’s expert — because it was maybe three or four papers deep at that time.
Doel:Do you remember which other papers seemed particularly significant to you?
Langseth:Well, I mentioned Maxwell’s thesis and also some of the work that Dick Von Herzen was doing. But Bullard’s paper was the seminal paper in heat flow, and that was 1959, something of that sort.
Doel:How was the program that Bullard had developed at Cambridge regarded? Was that seen as one —?
Langseth:— His geophysics program?
Doel:Particularly his heat flow measurement work.
Langseth:It was considered as being very exciting at the time. His first results — he made some measurements in the Atlantic — and the surprising result was that the heat flow in the ocean was about the same as people had measured in the continents. In fact, the first continental heat flow measurements were made by Bullard, or at least the first really significant ones in deep mines in South Africa. This myth that the heat flow in the oceans as the same on the continents persisted for decades. In fact, I still see it even in tests, SAT tests and things like this, and it’s still there. And, in fact, the heat flow from the oceans is much higher than it is from the continents. But it took a long time to discover this. That’s a much longer evolving discovery. So that Bullard had the concept. The basic concept was, was that the deep waters of the ocean are extremely stable thermally, so that the crust beneath should have had plenty of time to equilibrate. As a consequence, even if you measured the temperature gradient in the uppermost crust, say in the sediments, you should get a gradient which reflects what the heat flow is from great depth. And that was the whole concept, and that was Bullard’s idea, and one he was trying to exploit. But Bullard was a very broad sort of guy and was interested in global problems. And I think that he was happy enough to see a couple of young students carry the ball. He was very — inspiring in a way, but he was a very giving sort of guy. You know, if he stopped here in New York, he would come in and talk with me and see how we were doing and encourage me, and he would approve or disapprove of things we were thinking about trying out. Always very encouraging.
Doel:So you didn’t feel competition as much as a broader encouragement from him?
Langseth:Right. No. The real competition was at Scripps. That was an institutional thing, really, but we did have a sort of open competition, and our approach was quite different from theirs. Ours was, we’ll just make measurements every place we go. We’ll just put them on these piston cores — since we’re going to take a lot of cores — and just accumulate heat flow data globally. And Scripps was tending more to try to attack specific problems. They became interested in trying to determine the heat flow pattern over ridges, mid-ocean ridges.
Doel:And concentrating particularly in the Pacific at that time?
Langseth:They did a lot of work in the Pacific, but then there was the Indian Ocean expedition, so they did quite a bit of work there.
Doel:That was circa 1960, as I recall? The early l960s?
Langseth:Right. Right. And they did some work in the Atlantic as well. They picked a very difficult job when they decided to go after the mid-ocean ridges, because the ridges were mainly dominated by hydrothermal circulation. What Bullard conjectured about the sea flow was not true at all. It was not in equilibrium with the deep crust.
Doel:I was just thinking about that. How quickly did the people at Scripps come to recognize this? Was this one of the issues that —
Langseth:It wasn’t something Scripps recognized, and it wasn’t something that I recognized, I’m sorry to say. [Laughter] I had inklings of it. There’s a guy by the name of Olive Lister, who was a Cambridge product. He was a Bullard student — he eventually wound up at the University of Washington. He wrote the first papers that conjectured that hydrothermal circulation was a very important feature. And it’s so obvious that one wonders later how one possibly could have ignored it, because here’s a water saturated equilibrium, you have all this volcanic activity that we were well aware of at that time, which meant that probably the crust was quite porous — You’re bound to have a lot of hydrothermal activity.
Doel:Does this paper appear in the mid-1960s?
Langseth:I think it’s 1972, actually.
Doel:That late —
Langseth:Yes, it’s that late. Now, there were other indications. I mean, I was aware of it. I published a paper in 1966 which talks about circulation in the crust, with Manik Talwani on the Reykjanes Ridge. I had gotten the ideas, really, from Pálmason — I can’t remember what his first name is, I should — Gutmundur. Gutmundur Pálmason, an Icelander. And the Icelanders, of course, had tremendous experience with drilling into a ridge.
Doel:Yes. They have one right in the country.
Langseth:Right. And they had holes where the temperature gradient was virtually zero, because water was being drawn down as recharge into the hydrothermal systems. So they were very tuned into the idea of hydrothermal circulation. I went to a meeting on ridges down in Princeton — I can’t remember when — in which he pointed out that we should be aware that the likelihood of hydrothermal circulation is very great.
Doel:Do you remember if Harry [H.] Hess was in that meeting?
Langseth:He was. Harry Hess was at that meeting. Frank Press was at that meeting.
Doel:Interesting. I was thinking of Hess, particularly, since given that he died in the late 1960s. We know at least when-
Langseth:Right. I was at the meeting where Harry Hess died. There was a planning meeting for the Apollo program. He was chairing it and then called it together and died of a heart attack, I think after the first or second day.
Doel:That must have been a rather difficult experience for all of you.
Langseth:It was. Yes. Because Frank Press took over from that, and I was very impressed with how competent Frank was, both with dealing with a very difficult situation, and, two, pushing forward in a very skillful and intelligent way to some conclusion. What we were planning were Apollo 18 through 24. [Laughter]
Doel:The truly scientific missions that would have — [Laughter] Indeed. Indeed.
Langseth:But it was at this meeting that I got some clues about this. You’ll see a paper that I wrote with Dick Von Herzen in 1970, which does not deal with this — I should have — all the evidence was there. I had thought about the problem, but I didn’t come up with the fundamental idea.
Doel:I’m curious what you remember from that meeting at Princeton [University], how the discussion went after the Icelandic fellow, Pálmason, had made his [inaudible].
Langseth:This was an aside. We broke up into subcommittees of one type or another. And since he was in geothermal work in Iceland, we were just sitting together and talking and telling each other what we were doing, and it was just an aside he made to me. It wasn’t something that was discussed in detail. In fact, we had no hint of the high temperature vents or anything at the ridge axes.
Doel:Right. Was there discussion about how recent the volcanic activity had been, as well? Did that color discussions about —?
Langseth:Yes. That did color the thinking of people. I think that most of the young scientists that were there had become quite convinced from the dredging of fresh volcanic from the ridge axes, and the lack of sediment as shown by the seismic data — all of these things led people to begin to think that the mid-ocean ridges were young now. When was this? Was these post plate tectonics? It was probably pre-plate tectonics but it was post seafloor spreading. So there would have been some skeptics there, but not many at that point.
Doel:I’m curious if you recall when you first saw or heard about Hess’ sea-floor spreading — the geopoetry paper.
Langseth:As soon as it came out. It kind-of spread like wildfire. And I think that was, what? ‘62, or something like that?
Doel:‘62 is when it was actually finally published. It had circulated —
Langseth:Yes. The idea was circulating around in ‘61.
Doel:Drafts were out.
Langseth:Yes. I didn’t see any of the drafts that I recall. I believe my first encounter with it was as a paper.
Doel:Do you remember discussions about — I’m sorry.
Langseth:Oh, sure. There were lots of discussions about that. [Laughter]
Doel:Do any particularly come to mind, when you think back to the earliest discussions you had on this —?
Langseth:Well, at that time there was another student who had come in by the name of Paul [J.] Grim, and he was interested in the heat flow work as well, and we were working together. He was going out on some of the cruises.
Doel:You co-authored a paper with —
Langseth:— with him. He actually mentioned, he says, “Well, this will have a tremendous impact on the heat flow if sea-floor spreading is taking place.” We didn’t really have a very good picture, physical or schematic picture, of exactly how sea-floor spreading would occur, except this stuff had to come up and had to go that way. It wasn’t, I guess, until ‘65 or so that when I was working with [Xavier] Le Pichon that we came up with a model, a thermal model, of the sea-floor spreading process. That was the first model, thermal model on the sea-floor spreading process. Our result was that the heat flow observations did not support sea-floor spreading. And that was correct — because the heat-flow measurements were contaminated by hydrothermal circulation.
Doel:Indeed. Indeed. It makes for a very interesting story about how these various pieces of the puzzle were worked together.
Langseth:Right. That, of course, was a critical piece to going on to realizing how important hydrothermal circulation was.
Doel:Right. I want to get back to that in just a moment.
Langseth:Okay. We got way ahead — [Laughter] — went off on the heat flow branch.
Doel:I want to stay with the heat flow branch, but I’m curious in one way, how big a priority did Ewing want the heat flow program to be at Lamont in the early 1960s?
Langseth:I have a feeling he felt that there were some cherries to be picked there, some important information. I detected some impatience on his part when after a few cruises we hadn’t come up with major earth-shaking discoveries. I guess it took us five or six years before we had something which got international attention, which was the sea-floor spreading model. I think it had a high priority in his own mind, although he participated strongly in the first paper that was published about it. And that was a rather curious experience, because he mainly seemed interested in the data analysis process and in the instrument performance. He almost had nothing relative to what the significance of the measurements that we got were — this was rather typical of his participation. He was not a synthesis or a synthesizer in the sense that Harry Hess was or even Bullard was, to a somewhat lesser degree. He liked to wallow in the data essentially.
Doel:I think that puts it rather well. Did he contribute at all to discussions about interpretation, or was that something that just didn’t come up at all?
Langseth:Well, we talked about some of the things. He often took sort of an adversarial position that he said, “Well, you know, Bullard says this. Couldn’t this be the way it is?” or, “Harry Hess says this. We can show ‘Horseshit Harry’ is wrong, if we look at it this way.” That seemed to be sort of his approach. He seemed to delight in exposing other people’s misconceptions about how the world worked.
Doel:It’s interesting that it was personified in that way, that ideas very much in Ewing’s mind were linked to particular people.
Langseth:To particular people and ideas. And I found that this was one of the more successful ways of communicating. If you said, “I’m very interested in this person’s ideas,” then you had something to talk about.
Doel:Particularly with Ewing, you mean?
Langseth:Yes. With Ewing. Where were we? I’ve lost my train of thought here. [Laughter]
Doel:We were talking about the genesis of the 1962 paper, and that is — as I remember as — one of your first published papers?
Langseth:It is. Aside from — no, it isn’t the first. There are two publications in Spanish.
Doel:That’s right. I think you mentioned that. At least if we limit it to the English language publication —
Langseth:The English language is of significant contribution, and that’s with Robert Gerard.
Doel:He was the first author on that; you were second author, and Maurice Ewing, third? And this is “The Thermal Gradient Measurements in the Water of Bottom Sediment of the Western Atlantic,” this paper?
Doel:How did Ewing make his contributions known? Did the three of you meet to discuss the way the paper would be presented, or was it written?
Langseth:Yes. You would have sessions with Doc, usually at night or in the evening. The first session was going over the data critically. He had this marvelous pair of glasses which had some fold-down magnifiers so that he could get down there and squint at the data in detail. And we went through some analysis exercises, making sure we knew how to do it. He basically was teaching us how to develop these sorts of things. And then when we had all of the data analyzed — we sat down, probably three or four sessions late in the evening — pulling the paper together. He would go through it sentence by sentence. He was very careful to make sure that each sentence said exactly what it was meant to say. He was particularly nasty about lazy sentences or “goes nowhere” sentences, which I seemed to be particularly adroit at. [Laughter]
Doel:And as I recall, that was not a short paper. That must have taken some time to pull all of that together.
Langseth:Right. Then there was another influence that appeared about that time, and that is there was a Professor Georg Wüst, who was visiting here briefly. He was a renowned German oceanographer, and he came here as a visiting scientist — I think he was here two years or so. I think he liked his stay here. And he was very interested in the work, because this instrument not only measured temperature gradients in the sediment; it also obtained a temperature profile in the water — a more or less continuous temperature profile. And he became very interested in these, because if you have a temperature profile in the water, you can say a lot about the water circulation, a surprising amount.
Doel:And that was one of the areas of his interest?
Langseth:That was an area of his interest. And he kind of showed us how you could use these temperatures to determine how the water got into certain basins, what the maximum depth of what we call oceanographic sills — that is the barriers to flow between basins — just by looking at the temperature profiles and things like that. That was an avenue that interested me too — so I kind of went off in that direction for a while and looked at the data from that perspective.
Doel:What sort of a person was Wüst?
Langseth:I’ll tell you a story, which I did not see, but it was widely circulated. When he arrived in New York, he found himself at the end of a long line at the immigration booths — I think he had his umbrella with him. He marched up to the head of the line, went right past the red line up to the person at the desk and says, “I’m Herr Doctor Professor Wüst. I came as a guest of Maurice Ewing.” [Laughter] This meant he was probably escorted to the end of the line. He had a lot of German starch in him — but he was an interesting character. He’s another person who encouraged — I think that’s a property which runs through most of the said “greats” in geophysics that I’ve had the privilege to meet.
Doel:How well did Wüst fit into the environment at Lamont in those days?
Langseth:I think quite well. He kind-of took Arnold Gordon, who you’ll probably speak with, under his wing. And I think Arnold went to Germany, spent some time in Germany — and profited greatly from the experience. Xavier Le Pichon, who was here for quite a while, he and I did some papers together. Georg Wüst got him interested in what’s known as potential temperatures — and there’s a paper by Le Pichon and Wüst on potential temperatures and the flow of deep water in the Indian Ocean. I forget the exact title. I was actually a kibitzer on that paper at the time. So he did quite a bit of work. He gave some lectures which were difficult to understand.
Doel:Both because of the German accent and because of the —
Langseth:German accent. Not the subject matter. No, the subject matter was fairly rudimentary.
Doel:I was curious, given that there hadn’t been that much emphasis on traditional oceanography here.
Doel:How well that sort of talk would be received, even if that was the area that Wüst was —
Langseth:I think that there was a certain problem of — what’s the right word — experience or familiarity. For example, he got into a lot of detail about what influences the density of ocean waters and salinity and temperature and equations of one kind or another, which none of us were in a position to appreciate or willing to appreciate. [Laughter] I think they were quite successful. I think he had an impact on the observatory, and, I think, really in a way sort of put the oceanographic program — under Arnold Gordon — at the appropriate level.
Doel:Did he help to give it visibility and stature within the lab itself?
Doel:That’s interesting. I’m curious, too, about your impressions of Le Pichon. When did you first come to meet him’?
Langseth:I went down and picked him up at the airport when he first arrived here. We became very fast friends and still are very fast friends. I like Xavier a lot. First, he’s brilliant, and secondly, he’s full of ideas. He impresses a lot of people as being arrogant and that may be there. Somehow or other, I never had any encounter with it, and we did a lot of work together.
Doel:He’d been a graduate student when he first came over here?
Langseth:He came here as a student — and then I think, began to work on ridges. The papers he and I did together were related to heat flow measurements in the ridge. And he was full of sparkling ideas.
Doel:Had he intended to get his degree from Columbia, or had he always thought that he would earn that by satisfying the requirements in France?
Langseth:I always had the impression that he had a very firm agenda in his mind of what he wanted to do. He came here and studied and essentially wrote his thesis here. I think he went back and published it in France, because he is very patriotic. He’s also very religious. He’s a very profound Catholic, in fact, has had an audience with the Pope, as well as the Emperor of Japan.
Doel:Did he talk to you about his religious beliefs and how they influenced his science?
Langseth:I never talked to him about it, except one time he was having dinner at our house, and I was intrigued at that time of just how religious people were. I didn’t know many people who were very religious, and I wondered if it had lost all of its influence as far as people were concerned. So I brought this up as table conversation, and that’s when I learned that he was — He shifted gears.
Doel:Did he talk much about his family?
Langseth:His family was — you mean his parents?
Langseth:Because he was born in Vietnam, you know.
Langseth:I never talked much with him other than, you know, knowing that he spent the early part of his childhood in Vietnam. And I guess they probably left when the French gave up at Dien Bien Phu.
Doel:Indeed. And that would have been about ten years or so before he came over?
Langseth:Yes. He still has, I think, a trace of a non-French accent. His accent always impressed me as being distinct from most French accents, and I think that was because of the early childhood.
Doel:I was curious if you observed that his training and his outlook differed because he had been in schools and in a European environment, different from what many of the other colleagues you had here at Lamont had.
Langseth:I think so. I think that probably made a difference on how he viewed problems. I mean, I was obviously a Maurice Ewing student, deeply engrossed in data and making more and more measurements. I take it he came from a school which had more of a world view on these things. I think he instinctively had that anyway. I think that he had a personal trait that I think he felt internally that was destined for great things — and, indeed, he was — He went on to become probably among the half dozen prominent scientists, geoscientists, of my generation.
Doel:Indeed. I’m just curious, when you think back to those early encounters with him, do you remember any attitudes toward, say, the idea of drift, or other major issues of the time that you sensed his attitude was particularly different or his training was different from yours?
Langseth:Well, I saw some steps in this, the evolution. He worked on a paper with Jim [James R.] Heirtzler — and I think Walter [C.] Pitman [III] — to try to explain magnetic anomalies, the magnetic anomaly pattern. This was probably post Vine-Matthews. But there was, for a while, a scramble, perhaps, in the Ewing mode, to find an alternative explanation for the things. And there was a model in which magma was coming up to the surface in sort of a menorah style, and that this would give you a reversal in the field if they came up at different times. In fact, that’s an idea which came out of Iceland, from the same sort of sources that I was talking about earlier. But I think the strongest influence on Xavier were some papers from Elsasser — Walter [C.] Elsasser. Because Xavier and I met in Cape Town in 1965 or ‘64, I’m not sure which, maybe ‘64. I had just been on a cruise which took me all over the Indian Ocean as part of this Indian Ocean expedition, and when I arrived in Ceylon, actually I met Arthur C. Clarke there, he was living there at the time, came down to the ship and went over and visited him at this house. But everybody in Ceylon who was a geoscientist was a continental drifter. When I was coming into Cape Town, I was listening to the radio that night while we were doing some work — we had a broadcast on — and there was some woman geologist who came on. She was talking about continental drift and how self-evident it was from all of the geology around the perimeter of the Indian Ocean. And, of course, I’m saying in the back of my mind, “These people have really swallowed a bunch of poppycock if I ever heard it.” When we got to Cape Town, I went to a picnic that was sponsored by the University of Cape Town, I think. We were invited to go along. They were having a picnic, invited us. I met there a South African scientist. His name — oh, Lord, I thought I’d never forget his name. He’s also in the heat flow business. We can put that on the tape later.
Doel:That can always be put on the tape.
Langseth:It will come to me. He is the guy who put the first seed in my mind about plate tectonics, because the main argument that most of us held was that if the continents were really moving — and we pictured them moving relative to the ocean — then the sediments ought to be all crumpled up, there was an argument of that sort which was against this. He says, “Yes, but the continents and oceans are tied together. They’re riding on the lithosphere.” He essentially described to me what we now consider as the concept of plate tectonics that was the lithosphere. So this guy is fairly important. Nicolassen, I think his name is.
Doel:We’ll make sure that it’s right on the transcript.
Langseth:And that was my “Aha!” feeling about that. And then I met Xavier [Le Pichon] the next day. We were having dinner at some restaurant, and he mentioned that he had been reading these papers by Elsasser and that, in fact, it was the mantle that moved, and I told him that I had had this conversation with Nicolassen. So we agreed then and there that we would, I think that was it, we were going to go back — he was an excellent mathematician and modeler — to develop a model of this thing. I’d pull together the heat flow measurements, and we would solve this thing once and for all.
Doel:This is very interesting. So there really was a watershed moment where you became convinced this was a –
Langseth:— there’s an actual moment. And it came from this fellow Nicolassen. Again, a casual comment at a picnic — rather like the thing with Pálmeson, but I was in a more receptive mood at that time — and it was just “the road to Damascus” sort of feeling for myself. Now, there are other people who had already carried the concept further, but the idea of plate tectonics — the fact that the lithosphere was moving — and that the top of the mantle was involved in the spreading process, Xavier, taking Elsasser’s idea, was among the first to come up with this concept.
Doel:That all raises a few very interesting issues. One, had you met Elsasser at that point?
Langseth:No. No. I did write him a letter and tell him how much we owed to his ideas about it, and sent him some early versions of the paper and preprints and so forth. He was very grateful and very excited, but then promptly wrote a paper on why the heat flow in the oceans was the same as it was in continents. [Laughter]
Doel:What had intrigued me about what you just said is that during the 1960s, Elsasser — certainly in his letters to Pascal [Pascual] Jordon in Germany — was still very enthusiastic about the expanding-earth concept and didn’t share the views, say, of the South Africans for continental drift.
Langseth:No. I think that he — I can’t say he missed the point, because I’m not inside his mind. But the idea he introduced was the tectosphere idea that stresses could be transmitted over long distances in the earth’s tectosphere, because it really couldn’t escape from being on the surface of the sphere — and it would take much more work to decouple it from the earth than it would be just to push a long slab, or pull a long slab across the softer parts of the mantle. So he saw this concept between the lithosphere and the asthenosphere and put it in a physical basis. Then he wrote some papers about the tectosphere, and those were the papers that were the basis for Xavier because Xavier discovered these papers. I had read them without really applying, but Xavier saw that they were very important. And then tied with the idea that the whole shooting works was moving, it all kind of fell into place. He also — I remember some lectures that he gave at AGU [American Geophysical Union], or talks he gave at AGU, about decoupling between the outer lithosphere of the earth and the softer asthenosphere.
Doel:Interesting. Did he ever come to Lamont to give a colloquium?
Langseth:Not that I recall. Not that I recall. I remember seeing him at AGU meetings and these papers, and then we had some correspondence after we got on to this idea.
Doel:One of the other interesting themes you raised a moment ago is the emphasis placed on the sediment layers. Clearly that was one of the major research programs that Maurice Ewing was deeply involved in throughout his career here.
Doel:Was it your impression that his familiarity with these data shaped his views principally towards the possibility or unlikeliness of drift? Did that evidence matter more to him than other kinds of evidence that were coming in at the time?
Langseth:Probably so. But, you know, curiously, he gave a talk at a faculty meeting or some kind of get-together at Columbia — which I have a manuscript of, I’m not sure I can put my hands on it now, but I had it for a long time — in which he talked about continental drift and the likelihood of continental drift, and this is before Hess’ paper, I believe. I think he always viewed models of the type, such as plate tectonics or sea-floor spreading, as just frameworks on which to test observations particularly and not so much a framework to test ideas. As a consequence, I think he always tried to stay above the fray. I don’t think he really seriously questioned this. Because, you see, his name appears on the paper with Le Pichon and my own on this sea-floor spreading thing. He did not do a lot of work on that. We had some talks together. I’m not sure the three of us ever got together. I know I talked with him, and I think Xavier talked with him about it, but it was not the kind of thing we did with Sam. We did not sit down and go through page by page, because Le Pichon was so prolific. He would sit down and write all this stuff out in an afternoon. So we would then be in the editing mode. Actually, I wrote about half of it, and he wrote half of it. It took me about a month to write my half. He did his half in a weekend or something. He was pretty phenomenal at being able both to write and read in English.
Doel:That’s true. He is writing in a foreign tongue as well.
Langseth:That’s right. He had a fine command of it. I never found anything in it that indicated a foreign author.
Doel:That’s very interesting. It speaks to the kind of schooling that he had had in growing up.
Langseth:Well, not only that, but he just had extraordinary intelligence. I know few people that were his match in terms of just raw intelligence.
Doel:It sounds like he had not only a strong influence on you, but potentially others at Lamont as well.
Langseth:He did. He did. There were some people who, I think, were quite jealous or envious of his work and perhaps jealous of their own. He did have some people here who kind of pooh-poohed the directions he was going in. I think Walter Pitman was strongly influenced by him. Manik was strongly influenced by Xavier. They worked closely together. And Jim Heirtzler, in magnetics, I think, appreciated his insights and innovative ideas that he came up with. So in a sense, I guess it would be fair to say to some extent, I moved my loyalties from Maurice Ewing to Xavier Le Pichon. [Laughter]
Doel:Was there an effort made to keep him at Lamont?
Langseth:There was. I had a long and serious talk with him. But he’d really wanted to go back to France, and he had received an invitation to go back and essentially set up a geophysical institute at Brest. It’s a high-ranking government appointment, and he loves France, and he has intense feelings about things. The only time I got half mad at him, one time he — well, it’s only fair — but at a Paris conference he got up and said, in French, which I cannot repeat, but I can understand French quite well, he says, “I could give this paper in English, but I choose to give it in French.” [Laughter] Now, that was beneath him, I told him later. He said, “You weren’t meant to understand that.” [Laughter]
Doel:[Laughter] You had broken the American stereotype as well, by so doing. I have seen, in fact, similar drafts by Maurice Ewing prior to the publication of Hess’ paper, and it did seem that he was interested in setting out — if not a way of testing among multiple working hypotheses — a way of examining that issue and concluding more and more in the 1960s that the sediments were not disturbed, and hence, this was an indication that plate tectonics or as continental drift would not serve as an explanation.
Langseth:Would not serve. Yes. I think that’s the model he wanted to verify, but he did seem open to these other ideas. I mean, after all, he was close friends with [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz, who was a dynamic — he had a dynamic earth model centered on the trenches. He was good friends with Teddy [Sir Edward C.] Bullard, who was, by that time talking about convection. In fact, in his early heat flow paper, he brings up the issue of convection as being an explanation for the equality between heat flow and the continents.
Doel:Do you remember going back through earlier papers on convection when you were coming up to speed on thermal work?
Langseth:I did, but I didn’t see the relevance of them, you know, in a way. Sometimes when you make a complete departure like this, you really are breaking away from the past. You go back and see people who did classical solutions of convection cells and spheres and convection cells and planar geometries and things, and you see that, yes, that’s nice, but that isn’t what I’m seeing.
Doel:Yes. I was just curious, for instance, whether, say, the papers by David [T.] Griggs in the very late 1930s, whether they seem to have any relevance, or whether they’d come up in the readings.
Langseth:I should have gone back and looked at those papers. In fact, we received a congratulatory letter from Griggs — as we did from Sam Carey — on the paper that Xavier and I wrote. And then there was another very important influence, and again it goes back to this lithosphere idea, is the paper by [Reginald A.] Daly. I think that’s who it is.
Langseth:Yes. That Jack [E.] Oliver pointed me at. And he’s kind of the father of all this new isostasy, including lithospheric fluctions and all of those kinds of things. So it was all there. [Ralph] Holmes’ paper, of course, we went back and had a look at that and verify that he, indeed, had the sea-floor spreading concept. He has a drawing in there that looks very much like Harry Hess’ drawing. But it was an idea — just an example — I was working on this first paper I headed up in Connecticut, and at that time, I have a nephew who is now about forty, but at that time, he was about maybe thirteen, something like that, and he was asking me what I was doing, and I explained to him about sea-floor spreading and how the oceans were formed and what the trenches were in the thing. And he says, “You know, I’ve been studying that in school, but this makes sense.” It’s such a simple idea and so readily grasped, that he grasped it probably faster than I did. I was too well schooled. [Laughter]
Doel:It is what is often seen, isn’t it, that the younger generation of scientists are lacking certain —
Langseth:Sure. Your head is clear. Right.
Doel:I wanted to just go back quickly to the ‘62 paper. There’s a lot of threads that I certainly want to cover. There was some question — that was apparently raised that was mentioned in your ‘62 paper — about the stability of the thermistor calibrations. Was that a major issue at the time? Were the data themselves considered suspect, or did you have strong confidence in the results?
Langseth:Well, the thing is, at that time, the thermistors were not all that stable. The reason that there’s sometimes a spin on it, or some paragraphs are spent on it in the paper, is because we have devised a clever way of getting around the calibration problem, by essentially calibrating them in the bottom water. The ocean bottom water is very uniform, and we know what the temperature is. We used to put a thermometer on, a reversing thermometer - - which is a very accurate, reliable thermometer — and that essentially calibrated the thermistors each time they were used. And that’s why much is made of that because of what a bunch of clever guys we are. [Laughter]
Doel:And that technique was worked out fairly quickly in the game?
Langseth:That actually was one of Maurice Ewing’s contributions — an obvious one. But he saw that you didn’t need to have everything calibrated to a gnat’s eyelash in the laboratory. You could take these very sensitive temperature sensors and essentially calibrate them [inaudible]. Thermistors have come a long ways since then; they’re really quite stable and reliable devices.
Doel:One of the other questions that was addressed in the ‘62 paper was how that work would relate to ocean convection and the rate of overturn. I’m just curious if you remember discussions with others who were particularly interested in that larger question of the broad-ocean —
Langseth:— Ocean water over turn, and particularly the Antarctic bottom water? And things like that — Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker.
Langseth:Because at that time they had, I forget exactly, they had a grant. Was it from the Atomic Energy Commission, or something like that, to study water circulation, I guess.
Doel:Exactly. I suppose I could have just phrased —
Langseth:Yes. There was a mutual interest, but not a strong interaction.
Doel:That’s what I was curious about, how well you were aware of what Wally Broecker and others in the geochem lab were doing, and how they influenced, or whether they did influence the work you were doing.
Langseth:Not strong, except that I saw there was a connection between the two. I worked actually more closely with Arnold Gordon — although we only wrote one paper together — but we used to talk about things oceanographic. I was a real kibitzer in the physical oceanography business, but realized that the data was very relevant to it, and to understand some of our data, we needed to understand the deep circulation in the ocean in some detail.
Doel:Ewing appreciated that as well? You felt that you had backing from him and the lab had backing, too?
Langseth:Yes. People were really pretty broad here — although I think this place has a reputation for people being rather narrow and, you know, dug into their data acquisition syndrome — but there were people like Bruce [C.] Heezen, for example, who was very interested in deep-water circulation potential temperature distribution in the ocean. He benefited a great deal from this visit here. And, in fact, he compiled a map of potential temperature of the ocean bottom water for this very reason. Maurice Ewing was, because he was evolving in this intense interest in nephelometry — the cloudiness of the water — which had to do with really the kind of interaction of the bottom water with the bottom sediment.
Doel:Indeed. I noticed in his papers that there were quite a few unpublished papers where Ewing and others were working on data from that instrument.
Langseth:Right. He eventually was buried by his own data, I think. He collected these things with Ed [Edward] Thorndyke. They essentially were showing places where the bottom currents were picking up enough sediment so that it became cloudy and carrying it large distances across the sea floor. A lot of this was precursor work to things like contour currents and sediment drifts that people like Charlie [Charles D.] Hollister and Bruce Heezen and others carried. But, again, you see this characteristic of deeply being immersed in the instrumentation and the data and perhaps not seeing the forest for the trees.
Doel:Do you feel that particularly for the nephelometer work?
Langseth:Well, I wasn’t that close to it, but, yes, I felt that he had the same sort of problem. He had this tremendous collection of bottom photographs. We took bottom photographs all over the place. One of these days, he’s going to sit down and see what they all meant. And I think Heezen and Hollister probably came this close to trying to put them together into a volume that was accessible to the public. But in truth, those photographs never did hold sort of a something that allowed your mind to get hold of. There were a lot of interesting features: ripple marks, worms, all kinds of bottom-life sediment types, textures, bed forms — as they’re currently known — that were there but they didn’t lend themselves to easy integration. There were people like Doe Ewing, to a lesser extent people like myself, who became so familiar with these things that again it was a question of we kind of knew what the bottom looked like off of Mozambique, or we knew what the sediment looked like if you go off the west coast of Chile - - the image that built in your head - - and I have a feeling that Doc had that kind of model building in his head. I know that Heezen had it probably better, clearer than any of us. To some extent that makes it harder to write down, if you know what I mean. One, it becomes almost second nature to you. Two, it’s too big for you to encompass it, you know, wrap your head around it, or assign yourself some task to set it down.
Doel:It’s interesting — I’m just thinking as you say that — the photographs essentially serve as analogs to field data. It’s not necessarily quantifiable; it’s a qualitative feeling for what conditions are in particular locations.
Langseth:Right. And if you want to publish it, you have to show it to somebody, “Here’s a picture of such and such a critter.” Or, “Here’s a picture of some ripple marks, and they’re pointing toward the north,” or something of that sort — and there it is. So it was always sort of an ancillary sort of data set.
Doel:That could be integrated in.
Langseth:That could be integrated into a paper on bottom benthic creatures on current patterns, or canyon processes, that’s the way they were used.
Doel:Did you get to a point where you found that there was a real decrease in the amount of new knowledge gained through underwater photographs? Did you gain enough of them so that there really were declining returns?
Langseth:No, not at all. The thing is that it was somewhat before its time — was basically what the problem was. See we were looking at the ocean at a rather grand scale with the geophysical techniques. We were measuring things in tens and hundreds of meters, in photographs, took a picture of a couple meters on the side, and the jump from one to the other was too great. Nowadays, when you go out, you have the instrumentation actually to work at the scale at which you can get images, but we’re not taking photographs. We’re doing video scans or pictures of the bottom or sonar imaging of one kind or another, and actually doing geology on the sea floor. The photographs were relevant to the geology of the sea floor. We basically were looking at the structure at the 10- to 100-meter scale using geophysics. And you could put these together to some extent, but it was very difficult to actually integrate it into a strong geological paper. Now you can, and you see them all the time. So perhaps we shouldn’t have taken all those photographs, because so many of them probably have never been looked at, but on the other hand, it was a progression into the current stage of exploration.
Doel:I think that is a very important point, and you’re quite right in pointing to the real order of magnitude differences in scale between the bottom photographs and the kinds of forces and features that you’re looking at. I’m just curious, in the 1960s, whether these kinds of data — well, let me rephrase that. Did any of the new data in the 1960s cause anyone at Lamont to grow more critical of the kind of physiographic map that Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp had put together, or did that data set seem to hold pretty well through the work in the sixties?
Langseth:It seemed to hold pretty well. I don’t recall anybody — I mean we used to make jokes about the fact that Bruce sees refractors in his sleep or something like that. Some of his early versions had refractors on every turn. But he was his own best critic — that was another person that I knew very well. We shared an apartment for quite a long time.
Doel:I didn’t realize that. In the sixties, or earlier?
Langseth:Well, it was actually his home down on the river in Piermont [New York], he rented out rooms and space to other Lamonters there. So I think I spent two or more years there, but I was always pretty close to Bruce, I thought. Another smart fellow. Quite a different sort of character than Le Pichon.
Doel:What particularly impressed you about Bruce Heezen?
Langseth:He had an unbelievable memory. I mean, he had a truly encyclopedic memory. I have said on occasion that he knew more, could remember more about my life, than I could. [Laughter] If I had just told him something, you know, many years ago, he could remind me what it was. He could be very helpful here, for example, in remembering these things. Things just went in his mind and stuck. And I think also he was one the few people here who had sort of a global perspective.
Doel:That’s an interesting point.
Langseth:And there were some things, you know, Manik also shared. Well, actually, we shared another apartment before Bruce got the house on the river. But Manik and Bruce and I and some other people shared an apartment in Piermont. I can remember one discussion we had about earthquakes and fracture zones, actually sitting down and looking at the map and seeing that all the earthquakes were located between the ridge axes, in what we call the offset zone, a critical key to plate tectonics. And Bruce saying, “You know, that’s got to mean something. Isn’t there some explanation to the fact that these earthquakes are all in between the axes?” And we couldn’t come up with anything that particular evening that we were having a discussion. But later there was — I guess it was the IGC, the International Geological Congress — the IGC had a meeting at the UN, and I went over to hear Bruce’s lecture on mid-ocean ridges. I was sitting in the back of a very poor auditorium, so I could barely hear him, but I could see his slides. He put up a slide which showed the ridge axes separated and then kind of a cross-section, which I interpreted together with what he was saying — he was not the most linear speaker — that he was talking about the ridge spreading, and the fact that you would have what we call transform faults now. I can remember thinking, “Bruce has solved it. That’s it. That’s why those earthquakes are on the ridge axes.” And I’d assumed that he had done that, but, in fact, he had not. I had imagined it. I had willed it into his talk. This was very shortly before [J.] Tuzo Wilson came forward with the concept of transform fault idea. But Bruce had it in his head. He just had not integrated all the things together, as had Manik.
Doel:As had Manik, you say?
Langseth:As had Manik. Yes.
Doel:But you felt he was very close to coming to it?
Langseth:Very close to it — if not actually had done it. Sometimes you get ideas and you see how things fit together, but you don’t quite appreciate their importance. I think almost all of us are guilty of that. I think that’s one of the main characteristics of people who do well in this business, is realizing when something is important or when an idea or data set is important.
Doel:In that moment it seemed that you recognized the importance of what you felt Heezen was talking about. Do you remember discussing it with him or with Manik, or any others right after that?
Langseth:You know, I don’t remember discussing it with him. In fact, I’m not quite sure where this stands in our growing relationship — whether I really knew him all that well at that time. I had kind of assumed that he knew it at that time and didn’t kind of feel compelled to go in and say, “Bruce, that’s a good idea,” or something. I later learned you should do that.
Doel:This is part of graduate training, one thinks. That 1962 paper — just to conclude on that — you had acknowledged a number of people, all three of you at the end of the paper, including contributions from then relatively new captain of the Vema, Henry [C.] Kohler as well as Art Maxwell, Chuck Drake, Jack Nafe, Kerry Oxner, Abel Corney.
Langseth:Wow, we dug rather deep.
Doel:I wonder if that list of names brings anything else back to mind, particularly.
Langseth:Well, you know most of them. You probably don’t know Kerry Oxner. He was the coring boatswain, as was Able Corney. Able Corney was a Newfoundlander, and if you ever wanted to cast somebody in a movie as a boatswain or seagoing type, leathery, wrinkled, Able Corney was your guy. And Kerry Oxner also helped a lot in just the muscle and stuff. He’s one of these big — I think he was a Nova Scotian — big, powerfully built guy.
Doel:I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to step on your words. Many were coming, of course, from Nova Scotia at the time that Kohler became captain.
Langseth:Henry Kohler recruited mainly from Nova Scotia. Our crew and coring crew and so forth mainly came from that source. They were delightful characters. Many of them were really capable seamen or they were born to the sea, I always felt. They had wonderful dispositions for going to sea under less than ideal conditions.
Doel:Yes. What sort of captain was Henry Kohler?
Langseth:I think there’s another guy who had a very firm view of his position in life, or what he wanted. He was very careful to cultivate, for example, a strong friendship with Maurice Ewing and with the powers at the observatory; because he realized that his ambitions of essentially being the admiral of Lamont fleet depended on that. He was very capable as a seaman. I think he tried to maintain a certain posture on the ship, to establish his position relative to the scientists. He liked to try to dominate the young chief scientists or scientists that came on board, to maintain authority of them. As I understand it, and I’ve seen some examples of it, he was fairly tyrannical with his recruits, these young people that he would apparently convince parents and family back in Nova Scotia to give him their youth, and he’d take them out to sea and make men of them. He was pretty hard on them, not very forgiving at all. He was pretty nautical. I guess Vema 15 was one of his first cruises, and he was less secure at that time. I can remember having one or two conversations in which he revealed some insecurity about the undertaking he had taken. But then he eventually built this relationship which I think would have been very difficult to break. We essentially had to sell the Vema out from under him to get him off the boat. [Laughter]
Langseth:Not that we wanted to. I mean, many of us admired Kohler. I certainly did and I know that Bruce Heezen and Manik did. I think we had good relations in part because Henry Kohler realized that it probably was important that at least he not be on our bad side. He certainly was a good person to have out to sea. If you wanted to get something done, he was the memory on board of how things worked and where things were and how the ship was working.
Doel:Was he particularly helpful, say, with instrumental issues?
Langseth:Well, not so much that, but what I’d call operational issues. When or when not you could do certain types of work, whether it was wise to put two wires over the ship at one time in a particular weather situation.
Doel:Whether they might tangle, for instance?
Langseth:Right. We used to routinely do that. It still amazes people that we used to always operate two wires from the ship at one time.
Doel:This wasn’t done by other places?
Langseth:Most other places wouldn’t do it. And we had very few losses. There was a trick to it. We did it very successfully for many years just to save time. We’d be taking bottom photographs and cores and heat flow measurements all at the same time, and usually have plankton nets over the backside of the ship.
Doel:To collect for the —
Langseth:To collect for the biologists.
Doel:Who do you remember particularly from the biology programs?
Langseth:Allan [W.H.] Be was the guy who was our biologist.
Doel:Would he come on board the ship? Would he sail?
Langseth:Yes. I think he came out a few times, and then he decided he would pass it on to someone else.
Doel:Paul Burkholder was also involved in some of those programs, wasn’t he?
Langseth:He was involved with — he was trying to get, I guess some antibiotics out of sea floor sediments. He never went to sea. I think he just asked for samples to be brought back to him.
Doel:I’m curious, you mentioned that Henry Kohler had discussed a few insecurities in that early cruise with you. Was it in operating a scientific ship that he was particularly insecure about?
Langseth:I don’t really recall. I just remember the attitude. People often get some attitude of whether they’re comfortable in what they’re doing, and I just got the feeling in that discussion. I think he had a dream of going back and having a fishing fleet in Nova Scotia. Now, I hear it’s a true rumor that he was probably the worst fisherman that ever came out of Williamsburg. He had this vision, I think that’s the thing I remember discussing with him, of what were his career options in the future. Within that I saw some hint that maybe he didn’t see this as something that was going to work out as well as it eventually did.
Doel:I see. I’m particularly curious about your comment that he [Kohler] worked to dominate the younger chief scientists, given that you were a younger chief scientist at the time he was. What sort of things do you have in mind? What kinds of interactions were there that you recall?
Langseth:Well, he liked to kind of, one, set the constraints of what you could or could not do in terms of, amount of station work that you did. I think he kind of saw himself as Maurice Ewing’s lieutenant, as, in fact, we viewed ourselves with Maurice. So there were two lieutenants on board. [Laughter]
Doel:That doesn’t always work.
Langseth:And so he worked that pretty hard — making sure that you understood that he was the captain on board the ship. And if he said that you weren’t going to take a core on that day, or you were not going to make a change in course or something like that, that he kind of had the final word, and he never exercised that very much, but he could make that clear.
Doel:Just as I was changing the tape, you said he could make this clear, but he didn’t exercise that kind of power very often.
Langseth:In my case. There were occasions when he’d come out and he’d say, “Don’t you think maybe this is not a good time to do this?” And maybe in developing plans and things, he would exercise his idea of what the plan should be. But he also served a very important function, and that is the kind of continuity of style. I was never very good with the record keeping and keeping the deck log up to date and stuff like that. He would enforce those sorts of things to make sure that they were properly done.
Doel:Was there a sharp difference between the way the [Robert D.] Conrad was operated compared to the Vema? Did you really notice substantial differences?
Langseth:It started out with quite a difference. There was a substantial period in the early Conrad days in which there was a rapid turnover in captains and crews. And as a consequence it didn’t have the Kohler feel to it. The skippers could often almost care less about the scientific program, while Henry Kohler increasingly developed a sense of the scientific program and its importance — and a pride in it. He had a very strong pride in the scientific program. If he had any chance to talk about it when he was in port — he would do that. Not in public speaking — but with the agents and stuff — he would let them know that he was skipper of a scientific ship of no small repute. He was a great guy to go to shore with, because he always cultivated the friendship of the agents in various ports. And if he was a return visitor, they remembered they had been invited on board, and he had given them some martinis and dug into the ship’s stores to give them some hors d’oeuvres and stuff like that — and this worked well.
Doel:I was going to ask if this really helped to smooth operations when the ship did reach the foreign ports.
Langseth:Oh, yes. Right. Plus, you know, pleasant evenings. And often these people had nice homes and things they’d invite you to or new places you could go to. But anyway, the Conrad was quite different, because the captains were just sort of there and hadn’t built up a Conrad culture. And so the scientists, when they went out on — my first few experiences going out on the Conrad, I felt pretty naked. In fact, one of the first major cruises I went on, the captain was a drunk. I mainly had to keep an eye on him to make sure that he fulfilled his duties or didn’t do something terribly rash.
Doel:Why do you suppose it was so difficult to find a suitable captain for the Conrad?
Langseth:Well, you know, I don’t know and I’m not sure we ever really found a suitable captain. We had some good captains, including the last one, Captain [Peter] Olander, who I had the dubious duty of firing. He told me — when we were having our dismissal discussion — which he had always hoped he could build, up on the Conrad the same sort of empire that Kohler had on the Vema. That was his model that he was working toward — and he was — but he was much more roughhewn on politic character than Kohler. He was a better seaman than Kohler was, though. He was incredible. So toward the end, we began to develop a ship with a captain that kind of knew its mission, and people could come on and ride on it. But he also had this policy of picking on young scientists that came on board, trying to make them feel small. For that reason, the Conrad just always had somewhat of a looser feel to me. I never liked the ship very much. It had no portholes, you know, once you were inside the houses. For some reason, no one had ever put portholes in the houses so you could see out, so it was sort of like going to sea in a submarine. And just other features of the ship, it just didn’t seem as comfortable to me as other ships.
Doel:Particularly the Vema, do you mean, or other oceanographic ships as well?
Langseth:The Vema had a character of its own, but it had a homey feel to it. There was something about that ship that was lovable. The Conrad was largely unlovable.
Doel:Did anyone at Lamont have a hand in designing the Conrad?
Langseth:Directly, I don’t know. I know Chuck Drake was involved with the committee when the Navy was planning to build these. He would be the person to ask. Perhaps Joe Worzel
Doel:Those are interesting points. And how often did you sail on the Conrad?
Langseth:Not very often. Let’s see, my first cruise was actually out of Puerto Rico, into the Puerto Rico Trench, where we were looking for a place to drill the MOHOLE. That was with Chuck Drake and Jack Nafe. And the Conrad was a rust bucket. No that’s not true, I’m sorry. That was at a diving cruise with the Arshemed argument. Chuck Drake was on the French ship, the Arshemed. The submersible was the Arshemed. What was the name of the ship? I forget. When I got on the Conrad, I think it was about two or three years old, and it was rusting. The hold was full of rusted chain and stuff. I mean, it was a mess. I couldn’t believe it. I think it was because the instability in the command of the ship.
Doel:This wasn’t inherently a design? It was simply the maintenance of the ship had been neglected?
Langseth:It’s just the maintenance of the ship had been neglected, and it really looked pretty bad. That’s probably where I got my bad impression of the boat. I took the Conrad through the Indian Ocean. That may have been the same Indian Ocean cruise I was describing earlier. Although I made one on the Vema as well. I think I took the Conrad through the Indian Ocean once. I’ve had her out actually toward the end of her life in the Gulf of Panama. I took probably less than six cruises on the Conrad.
Doel:You certainly had more time on board the Vema.
Langseth:I had more time on Vema, yes, and long duration time. [Laughter]
Doel:When you had the duty to fire Olander, was that prior to the time that the ship was decommissioned?
Langseth:It was prior to the time it was decommissioned. It was when I was the associate director for facilities here for a while. My main job was sort of looking after the ship operations from an overview point of view. Olander always had the tendency to push the envelope all the time, either in terms of how much money he was spending, how he was reporting back what was going on on the ship. In his mind, it was a struggle of his power over the observatory’s power. It was a personal struggle between him and me. We finally decided — this was when Barry [C. Baring] Raleigh was here — we finally decided that we’d be better off without Olander, because he was spending money we didn’t have. He had this very bad habit of, if you sent someone down as a replacement on the ship, if he didn’t like the looks of the guy, he’d send him right back home. Well, you know, the price of the ticket to Valparaiso is pretty expensive. And actions like that that he would take sort of unilaterally, which were getting out of hand. Plus, he seemed to kind of be getting further and further into this mode of bullying the young scientists that were coming out on the ship.
Doel:Was that a different evolution with Henry Kohler? Did he find it easier over time to get along with the younger scientists?
Langseth:I think so. He helped them as well — he just kind of let it be known that he was captain of the ship — and they were guests on his ship. But he would be very helpful, as I say, he was sort of the resident memory and someone who has been on the ship that long is bound to be helpful if they’re both intelligent and energetic, which Henry was.
Doel:How did it change the general operations of Lamont when you moved from having the single main ship, Vema, to operating, jointly, two vessels?
Doel:It had a big impact, I think. It’s a little hard to pinpoint. That was about the time that I became involved in the lunar program, at least soon thereafter. I think I’d taken only one short trip on the Conrad. The kind of impacts that it would have is, for example, you had to develop a marine office — and that was a little larger — and a new diagram of how the authority flowed. The Vema was Maurice Ewing’s baby, and he followed it. I think this tended to disperse his command over these things to some extent. He delegated a lot of that to Joe. For some reason I always thought of the Conrad as Joe Worzel’s ship, but maybe that’s unfair.
Doel:But that’s an important point that you sense that as those operations grew, Ewing wasn’t devoting the same kind of attention to it as he had when it was the Vema.
Langseth:He tried to, but I think it was just more disbursement, more of it, more activity. Well, I guess it was after Ewing was gone, but when the [inaudible] was established, there was, of course, another great change when essentially the ships became part of the NSF [National Science Foundation] fleet, and you were forced to take other people on board, you see. We had always operated our ships as, “Lamont scientists go out on the ship. This is our ship. We tell it where to go. We do our thing, and other people can come as guests.” That’s of course no longer true and hasn’t been true for fifteen or more years, but that’s the way they were operated in those days. And I think just that of just getting scientific programs that fill two ships as opposed to one ship creates a problem.
Doel:That’s interesting. And it seems that that was another major change in the way that the ships operated, that you really felt a significant difference once —
Langseth:The bigger impact, really, Ron, the bigger impact was a change in mode of funding at NSF and the other agencies, which followed NSF’s lead, and that is a decision to go away from what were known as omnibus proposals to institutions, to individual proposals to scientists based on scientific proposals. That is the thing that really changed the way we operated our ships. How busy we could keep them, how well we could finance them — and they became much harder to govern because now the sources of money were disbursed dependent upon people within the institution to get grants to take the ship out to sea.
Doel:When do you date that change principally to be?
Doel:Do you feel it was a consequence of the things like the opposition to military science, classified research in the Vietnam era in the Mansfield Amendment, or was it something that was simply evolving within the agencies?
Langseth:I think evolving within the agencies. I really don’t know. You should probably talk to some of the people who were in the agencies, NSF in particular. I’m trying to think who would be in charge then. Not any of the current people that are there, but there was a definite change. The Navy had a slogan that, “We don’t fund programs anymore, we fund science,” so that you had to send them a scientific proposal if you wanted to have it funded. This meant that you had to design a project or a scientific project that you submitted, and then you got it funded, and then you were given the ship time to carry that program out.
Doel:It’s a very different organization.
Langseth:Very different organization, and for the institution it became a jigsaw puzzle that they had to put together in order to operate their ships. In addition, it had a big effect on the authority of the director of institutes, for example. And since that change, for example, many of the senior scientists within an institution, they were tied to their program manager in NSF and almost in an ancillary way to the director of the observatory or even his colleagues within the observatory. I felt this has had a very strong and detrimental effect on institutions — this mode of funding. They seem to survive. People learn how to live with this kind of thing — and how to shape programs even despite having to do it this way — and institutions have managed. But I think it took a lot. People wonder why there aren’t Maurice Ewing’s and Roger Reveilles around anymore. That’s one of the primary reasons.
Doel:That’s really an interesting point. In some sense was Manik Talwani the first to engage the changing —
Langseth:He came, and I think he understood the system a lot better than Maurice. Maurice Ewing didn’t want to understand that system.
Doel:The emerging new system?
Langseth:Right. Because he liked his kingdom and being the ruler of his kingdom, and this, of course, sapped his authority very, very much. I think he had difficulty with that, but that was not — one of the main reasons that he left here. It would be fair to say that Manik was probably the first director that kind of understood what was going on and knew how to bend with the wind.
Doel:I understand that also particularly affected the way in which instruments were developed, and that kind of block funding for the instrument shop was [inaudible].
Langseth:That’s why the shop went under. I can remember sessions with ONR [Office of Naval Research] when we were presenting what our plan was. ONR hung on to the omnibus concept longer than NSF did. But I remember them coming and saying that they do not want institutions developing instruments. ‘Your job is doing science and doing it as we can see it,” unfortunately. [Laughter] But they essentially took us out of the instrument business. They wouldn’t fund instrumentation proposals, said that, “If you want to get an instrument, you can get a catalog and look it up.”
Doel:It sounds as if a number of different kinds of changes were in play in that moment. One is that there are more and more commercially available instruments by this period of time than earlier. Was it also a worry that a shop that devoted too much time in instrument development might be aiding industry, particularly those industries that might be able to take advantage of that? Was that an area that became sensitive?
Langseth:I think there was some pressure from the public sector for them not to fund instrumentation that was either in competition, or, I think they just saw — you know, this was the business of small companies in particular — and I think they saw opportunities here. And I think they began to increasingly realize that to some extent we were competition for that instrument development. “If we can make it here, why buy it there?” And we had control over how we made it, so then we were probably a lot more flexible than if you buy it off the shelf. It didn’t work as reliably, but it was more flexible. I think there was some pressure there to do that. But it certainly had, as you can see, a profound effect on our shop. It had some impact on the ship, too, because you see, we instrumented the ship up through the seventies —
Langseth:— And it was a focus of our instrument development. And afterward, you know, we began to buy the parts and pieces that went on. From Edo you could get your depth sounder. From Varian you could get your magnetometer. Of course, we always had to buy the gravimeters. But they also, Eskania built a stable table and a better gravimeter. The seismic — the air guns, which we developed and built here for a long time, eventually a guy who worked here went out and started the Bolt Corporation and is now selling most of the air guns worldwide.
Doel:Of course, that pattern, he wasn’t the first to have done that sort of development from Lamont. But this is indeed a very important watershed in the history of the institution that you are describing. Was Angelo Ludas still active at the time of this transformation?
Doel:How did that affect him?
Langseth:I think very badly. But, you know, Angelo was slammed by two things. One is the one we’re talking about, the fact that the funding for the shop — the fixed funding, basically a subsidy of the shop — was dwindling very rapidly, and so the shop was shrinking. And then he lost a daughter to cancer, Vicky, who was a very lovely young woman, and he was a different person after that, from a very energetic, extraordinary character to suddenly seeming to be completely defeated.
Doel:His retirement didn’t come too long after that point, either, did it?
Langseth:No. It’s kind of one of the sadder notes in Lamont’s long history, because he was a linchpin in this whole business we were talking about, instrumentation, ship operations. See, they were very closely tied together in those days. All the coring equipment was built here. All the winches were fabricated here and all of the ships and things, the fittings on the ship. A lot of that was fabricated here, developed here. And that all disappeared — or by and large, disappeared.
Doel:That’s a very interesting set of transformations. How often did Angelo come back to the ship itself? I understand that at times when —
Langseth:At times. He and I once went to Tokyo to fix the winch, [Laughter] which had broken. The main drive shaft on the winch had broken.
Doel:Were you both here at Lamont when the word came? Or were you already —
Langseth:Well, I was going out as chief scientist, and Angelo was going out to repair the winch. And we had a wonderful time at Japanese shipyards trying to describe to them what we wanted. They did a pretty good job. I remember we wanted to get some dredges made at the same time — I made a drawing of the dredges and had this long conversation with an engineer at the shipyard, and he, of course, saying, “yes” “Hye, Hye,” to everything I was saying. What came back, looked nothing like the drawing I had given to him, and it looked less like a dredge. But he was a very enjoyable character.
Doel:Did you finally get a working dredge?
Langseth:Yes. Well, they had something to build on once we had the thing there. Cut this off, put that on, and put some holes here. [Laughter]
Doel:One of the things I brought that I wanted just to share with you, here, it’s a copy of some of the abstract logs, Vema 15 through Vema 36, and there is one reference here to a trip that you had made as chief scientist. I’m wondering if it’s one of the first times that you served in that role from San Juan to Recife.
Langseth:It was. Vema 18. Yes. John Ewing was chief scientist, and I made my first run as a chief scientist on that line.
Doel:Do you remember? That was December of ‘61 through early January of ‘62.
Langseth:Yes. Of course, still a graduate student at that time, which was the way Doc, ran things.
Doel:That’s what I wanted to ask you about in just a moment, too.
Langseth:I learned that you don’t cross Doc. Ewing up too much. He can send some very caustic telegrams. [Laughter]
Doel:Indeed. The only remarks that appear here in the moment is, “Fresh trade winds weather. Most of passage, fine weather. No outstanding events.”
Langseth:Well, we lost the bowsprit — the eagle that you see in the hull — we lost the bowsprit on that particular leg. It didn’t come off. But in that fresh trade wind sea, we spent a better part of a week just pounding into choppy seas with the Vema, and she had a pretty good pitch on it.
Doel:You were describing with your hand how the ship was rolling into the water and then breaking and coming back.
Langseth:Right. And that shook the bowsprit loose from its moorings, and in fact, began to spring a leak so that we were filling the anchor chain locker with water. It was after that cruise, it was decided to take the bowsprit off and put the trawler-type bow on her.
Doel:Interesting. Do you remember anything else particularly from that experience?
Langseth:I remember once changing course to go back and look at some feature that I felt was interesting, and receiving a telegram the next day, wondering where I was going, or where I thought I was going. [Laughter]
Langseth:From Ewing. Because he controlled us by his telegrams that he sent. You were there as his lieutenant to see that the science got done. I remember that cruise quite vividly. There were some interesting things. We took some interesting cores on the Ceara Rise, which later became an excellent target for drilling. I remember coring a sand bar off of Brazil, which had a [unclear] in it that was primarily amethyst sand, unfortunately, very small grains of amethyst sand. Those types of things. Then I think I gave the ship over to Maurice Ewing when I got to Buenos Aires.
Doel:Indeed. That’s exactly right. And he stayed in charge; it looks like, for quite some time.
Langseth:Probably three legs. He went down south to the Scotia Sea area, did a lot of work there, and I think he turned it over to Manik Talwani.
Doel:He did indeed.
Langseth:And then I came back on in Mauritius.
Doel:That’s exactly right.
Langseth:And took it to Wellington.
Doel:Indeed so. And those were two separate legs, officially.
Langseth:Two separate legs. Right.
Doel:Actually I should just be holding on to it. Here, you might want to see what these previews look like.
Langseth:Okay. And Bruce Heezen took over from there. I can tell you lots of stories about some of these things.
Doel:What comes to mind when you take a look at that?
Langseth:Well, I don’t remember. The gale-force winds approaching West Australian coast. But actually it was on this leg that we discovered the 9 East Ridge, for example, on the Indian Ocean. We discovered the Broken Ridge — both of those came from that.
Doel:You mentioned recollections of Bruce Heezen.
Langseth:I remember we were kind of hosted by people who were at the University of Victoria in Wellington and we were going on a field trip. They were to take us out to show us some recent terraces, marine terraces, which were signs of uplift of New Zealand in recent times. We had a light lunch at this professor’s house, and then we got in his Land Rover or the department’s Land Rover, and we started down a hill. And about — oh — 300 feet from a major highway intersection, the professor starts to curse and swear, and I notice that the Land Rover is not slowing as we approach this thing. And we go at full speed right across the highway, fortunately no traffic, pretty lean in New Zealand in those days, anyway. But we went across the highway, through a guy’s picket fence, and rammed a pillar to the porch on a house, and the porch collapsed on the front of the Land Rover. No one was hurt, hardly even jostled. But we were all out, scratching our heads, when this man comes running around the corner with his face half lathered. He’d been in the barbershop. He was the owner of the house, and he’d been in the barbershop getting a shave. [Laughter] And he’s coming out spitting froth in the air. An altercation immediately broke out, so Bruce and I decided that we’d better discreetly head back to port. [Laughter] And we had a long walk across the meadow to a local train stop.
Doel:Literally you walked your way back?
Langseth:We walked back. [Laughter] But the first cruise, as I say, you know, you really were kind of out there as a lieutenant of Maurice Ewing. He rode pretty close herd on you.
Doel:You say the telegram would come in —
Doel:So you would communicate to him what you had wanted, what you intended to do?
Langseth:Right. Well, this communication system was very interesting, because, to save money, and Ewing, if anything, was a Scotsman, you would send back your report in five- digit code. That is that there was a number which represented a core, the next two numbers indicated how long it was, and then some other parameters were all in five digits. And the reason for the five digits is that counts as one word when you’re sending it in a telegram. So there’s this elaborate code about where you were, and what time it was, and what stations you took, and these were sent back nightly. Doc. would get these, and he would go over them and figure out whether you were doing good work or bad work. [Laughter] Then sometimes you wouldn’t hear from him for weeks and other times you might get two or three telegrams, telling you to get on course.
Doel:You made sure to get the telegram in daily?
Langseth:Well, the captain — there’s another thing where Kohler would come in and say, “You got your telegram written yet? Argh.”
Doel:And given that you were communicating in code, were there times where, in the transmission, things got garbled and miscommunications —?
Langseth:I wouldn’t be surprised. But, actually, the code was well worked out so that, for example, when you reported things, they had to be in a certain order. It was not just the five numbers that meant something, but the first number was the position or the latitude. The second number was the longitude. The third number was the station number, and the fourth number was the core. So that you could tell if something was missing, or you could fill in — often — if it had gotten garbled some way. But I never saw them garbled. I wish I had a collection of them now. They used to be posted around, these cryptogams. [Laughter]
Doel:Some of those may well have survived in Ewing’s papers, which would be good to look for.
Langseth:They’re probably around. They were on this yellow telex paper, which doesn’t last very long.
Doel:That’s true. Things you mentioned a while back, and I suspect this was during your bachelor days when you were living with Bruce Heezen, when were you married?
Langseth:I was married in 1963.
Doel:How did you meet your wife?
Langseth:She was working here. She was working for Burkholder. She had her degree in biology — she had a B.S. in biology and came to work here, actually as Jack Oliver’s secretary. But then she graduated to an assistant job with Burkholder. So I saw her, thought she was pretty terrific, and pursued her with some — well, she said not enough vigor.
Doel:These are often disputes. Did she continue to work up here after you were married, or remain affiliated?
Langseth:No. She was going back to school. She went back to NYU [New York University] to get a degree. And she worked at NYU at their laboratory in Sterling Forest after we were married. She was not very keen on Burkholder, in fact, left for cause at some point.
Doel:What sort of things were happening? Was it Burkholder’s personality?
Langseth:It was his personality. But she thought that he was terribly sloppy. She had never seen anyone that would take these things, cultures and things, and just pour them down the sink without autoclaving them first and things of this sort that she thought even with her B.S. degree were not the kind of biology one should be doing if you’re toying with bacterial antibody type of things.
Doel:Yes. Did Ewing know that this sort of thing was happening, do you think?
Langseth:I don’t know. I don’t know much about the whole situation, but these are just some comments my wife made later in talking about Burkholder. He used to treat his wife, who worked with him, abominably, according to my wife. So he had about five strikes against him. Besides, she thought he was a poor scientist. He had discovered some important antibiotic, Chloromycetin or something, in that class. You’d have to check on that, but this was a rumor. But he never had much success at Lamont. I think his career was not marked with any distinction.
Doel:I, in fact, heard things of that sort before. That’s rather interesting. One of the things I promised we would get to in this section of the interview, is your dissertation. And given what time it is, we may want to conclude this section with that. But as you say, Ewing wanted to make certain that the graduate students were sailing. There were a lot of projects that needed to get done. What it made it possible for you to actually get the work done that led to the dissertation? And that was ‘64?
Langseth:‘65, I think. Maybe ‘64. I think it’s confused in various places, but I believe it’s actually ‘65 when my dissertation was deposited, and it was on heat flow in the Indian Ocean.
Doel:How did it work out that you were able to pull a piece of work out and say, “This will serve as the dissertation I need to have the degree”?
Langseth:Well, one thing is, when you come home with the data, usually you spend some time with Doc going over the data, and planning a paper, which was never written, about the Indian Ocean, the cruise that I was on. There probably are various aborted starts of it floating around somewhere. But usually you were expected to generate some papers out of these cruises. I think actually my dissertation comes out of a number of cruises that I made in the Indian Ocean, one of which was on the Conrad and the other on the Vema.
Doel:There is, indeed, one single-author paper, yours, and it’s dated 1965, “Techniques of Measuring Heat Flow through the Ocean Floor.” Did you publish the thesis, then, as a number of papers, or just one?
Langseth:No, it was a single paper which contained some of these things. That was part of a monograph, “The Techniques of Heat Flow Measurement in the Sea Floor.” So part of that was just taken over, you know, the manuscript revised and fitted into the thesis. The main thing in the thesis were the actual measurements themselves, the analysis of the measurements, quite a bit about water temperature, potential temperature, water flow, because that’s what actually demonstrated that the 9 East Ridge was a continuous feature.
Doel:What kind of reaction did you get to that work when it was published?
Langseth:Not much. It wasn’t too positive. And when was that, ‘65?
Langseth:I probably had finished it in ‘64. But it wasn’t a very good thesis, I would say, in looking back at it. I was getting involved more with my paper with Xavier, and that kind-of swamped it to some extent.
Doel:And were you also involved in the lunar program by that point?
Langseth:No. I think that probably started in 1965, just around that same time. There were a lot of changes in my life. I was married. Get my thesis finished up and get my degree and get started. The thesis was probably typical of those from Lamont at that time, which would be heavy on data, and, in this case, instrumentation, not so much on interpretation.
Doel:Did the Indian Ocean program give you a chance to interact with other scientists that without it you wouldn’t have had a chance to meet?
Langseth:You know, that’s a good question, because almost every program after that that’s true, but I don’t recall it being true in the Indian Ocean. I think part of it was because of the essentially insular nature, the way Lamont was working at the time. I had a guest scientist on the cruise from Mauritius to probably Perth, possibly to Wellington, a Professor Rao from India. In fact, my first name for Broken Ridge was Rao Rise, I named in honor of him, but somehow the name never stuck.
Doel:Broken Ridge did.
Langseth:Broken Ridge did. I didn’t name it.
Doel:We clearly have a lot of discussion still ahead of us. The work in the mid- and late 1960s that you were doing on heat flow, a little bit more on that joint paper with Le Pichon and the lunar work. But given that it is just about noon right now, I think we ought to break.
Langseth:We’re getting past the early days.
Let me thank you very much.