Oral History Transcript — Dr. Neil Opdyke
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Interview with Dr. Neil Opdyke
Neil Opdyke; July 11, 1997
ABSTRACT: Arrives at Lamont in January of 1964. His first impressions of Lamont explored. Lamont scientists and Columbia University geologists are anti-drift. Characterizes Ewingís strong personality and leadership. His work with magnetic stratigraphy. Explains his conflict with Bruce Heezen. Heezen and W. Maurice Ewingís turbulent relationship. Disputes between the geochemists, particularly J. Laurence Kulp and Ewing. Broeckerís refuses to collaborate. Ewingís marriage to Harriet causes problems. On his first cruise with the Vema, he sees missiles fired by a US Navy Polaris submarine and has an altercation with Captain Kohler. On the second cruise has more problems with Kohler and takes a record length core. Manik Talwaniís and Xavier Le Pichonís conversion to continental drift detailed. Describes problems for those at Lamont that embrace drift. Plans emerge to take Lamont to Texas or to separate Lamont from Columbia. Participates in an informal group of seven Lamont scientists who oppose the move and the separation. Group of seven choose Manik Talwani to succeed Ewing as director when Ewing leaves for Texas. Discusses changes in directions at Lamont in the early 1970s. Explains the change of funding patterns in the 1970s. Lamontís standing in the 1970s and its institutional competitors. His involvement in CLIMAP. The firing of Talwani. Accepts the chair at the University of Florida in 1980. Spends his last six months at Lamont as the interim director. As interim director he deals with the crisis over ships and the budget, tries to boost morale, and fights to keep parts of Lamont from breaking off and moving elsewhere. Debriefs the next Lamont director, C. Baring Raleigh. Moves to the University of Florida in 1981. Discusses the importance of perceiving the broader problems in science and the difficulties of becoming established in science at the present time.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is a continuing interview with Neil Opdyke. We are recording this in Gainesville, Florida on the University of Florida campus, and today is the 11th of July, 1997. In the last interview that we did — we got close to the time that you had — the very early period that you were at Lamont. But one question I didnít get to ask you was what your general impression was of Lamont as a research entity when you arrived in 1964 when you —
Opdyke:I arrived in January of Ď64 I think it was.
Opdyke:And well, it was a very, very dynamic place, and filled with very dynamic people. I hadnít — Iíd been abroad so long that I hadnít really fit in to the American academic scheme, although I had been originally at Lamont, or Columbia, but I didnít know personally any of the people at Lamont. My only problem was that I had differing scientific views to almost everybody at Lamont, so I got into a lot of arguments with people.
Doel:You mentioned particularly over what becomes plate tectonics, continental drift in particular.
Opdyke:Continental drift, plate mobility, crustal mobility.
Doel:Yes. Were there any people there who you felt were at least sympathetic in general terms to —?
Opdyke:Well, Bill [William] Donn was a little sympathetic, because he was traveling the same route that I had traveled earlier by trying to figure out the permo carboniferous glaciations, and you canít do that with the present distribution of permo carboniferous glaciation. Itís just impossible. And he had come up with Doc [Maurice] Ewing on a hypothesis on how the Pleistocene glaciation worked, and so he tried to transfer this hypothesis to the permo carboniferous and it was impossible to do it. And as a result of that, very early on there was a meeting held at Lamont Hall to go over the idea of continental drift, to which I was invited, but not invited to speak. Did we do that last night?
Doel:I remember that as a particularly memorable meeting for you, hearing the views expressed.
Opdyke:Yes, right, because I got in a tremendous argument with Joe Worzel. [Laughs] And then I thought I wasnít going to be very long at the observatory after that, but it turned out that it really didnít make any difference to Joe. He was, and Doc, Doc you know wanted me to do something, and really what I was thinking, what my scientific persuasion was, interested him not at all.
Doel:But that there was a kind of instrumentalist concern then on their part of the work you needed to do.
Opdyke:Ewing held the observatory. You know, it was getting bigger and bigger, but still he tried to control everything that went on in the observatory, I think itís fair to say, and some of his ex-students of course eventually came into conflict with him because of that, one being Bruce [C.] Heezen.
Doel:Bruce Heezen in particular.
Opdyke:But there were others. Others just left.
Doel:Who are you thinking of when you say that?
Opdyke:Oh, I have never discussed it with people like Frank Press, but Iím sure that one of the reasons he left Lamont, because he wanted to be independent, and other people did it later on Iím sure. Jack Oliver and others, you know, Iím sure thatís the case.
Doel:Iím curious. Was John Ewing at that meeting, the one in which continental drift was discussed?
Opdyke:I donít recall, but I donít think so.
Doel:I wonder if you had any discussions with him about his views towards drift and broad scale geophysical theory.
Opdyke:Yes I did, but later when we were discussing distribution of sediments on ocean ridges. And he in fact, or Ewing of course, had been doing the distribution of sediments for a long time in the oceans, and you know I said well you know here is a good case in which itís clear that the sediments thin onto the ridges. And I said, ďItís clear that this could be explained by sea floor spreading.Ē And so, but he had all sorts of arguments about why this wasnít true, particularly in the North Atlantic where there were some which didnít seem to exactly fit this preconceived notion. But in fact thatís the case of Ewing, and he was deep into seismic reflection profiling. I donít know exactly when we had that discussion, but it was Ď65 or Ď66, Ď67, something like that.
Opdyke:But there was a party line at Lamont which was anti-drift and anti-sea floor spreading. And there was a personal — you know, I think that Doc was just chagrined that he didnít come up with the idea himself. You know, he worked so long and so hard and got all this data together, and he had bright guys from other places coming and reinterpreting it, which you know he really disliked that. His personality was such that he didnít like to be bested by anybody. And there was a very personal, not animosity, but rivalry between him and Harry Hess which was very clear, and he didnít want Harry Hess to be right I donít think.
Doel:Itís interesting that part of his views may have been shaped by the personal antagonism you felt.
Opdyke:Well, these things happen, I mean in science and everything else. I mean, they were both very prominent scientists and Hess had come out with this idea which implied of course that the continents are moving, and there was a whole hierarchy at Columbia, very prominent geologists and earth scientists who had made very strong positions against continental drift in the twenties and thirties, which meant that they had dug themselves in. Marshall Kay was one of them, Walter Bucher — these people had taken very strong positions against continental drift. And then they were very prominent, and there was a whole — they never taught it in their classes, the geologists at Columbia never learned anything except negative things about crustal mobility, and it was naturally enough Dr. Ewing I think who was a physicist, and he listened to these guys, and there's no reason he shouldn't have, because they were some of the best in the country at the time. But he should have been a little bit more skeptical of that conclusion.
Doel:One of the interesting things that seem to be changing in the mid-1960s was that previously many people working at Lamont were either direct co-authors with Ewing or with clear ideas in discussions with him before publication. Did you find that you often did that, or did you at all in terms of your own publications —?
Opdyke:I didnít scientifically interface with Dr. Ewing much at all, and in fact I only have one paper that has been published that actually has his name on it, and that was I guess Ď68, something like that, in which I had begun to do — I had a student, Dennis Kent, who is now very prominent, who started to work — I asked him to start to work on a sort of introductory problem in science to look at the whole down core distribution of ice-rafted detritus in the North Pacific. And we did it quantitatively, which was the first quantitative attempt to look at ice reacting in marine sediments, and it worked out very well. Dr. Ewing was always very interested in ice-rafting.
Doel:He had been doing that work in the North Atlantic, hadnít he, with Bill —
Opdyke:North Atlantic and then yes North Pacific, and John Connelly had been doing it. What he had been doing, John Connelly was an Australian, one of the wild Australians, and he was just looking at smear slides. Heíd just take the mud from the floe and just smear it on a glass slide and look at it under the binocular microscope and see if it had pieces of rock in there, and if it did he called it ice-raft detritus. And that was okay, but I thought it was very crude. And so we went to try to do it properly, and it was very successful. And so knowing Dr. Ewingís interest in the subject, we wrote the paper, and Dennis [Kent] was the first author, although usually I didnít — I had a policy at the time that the students would have their — I would be the first author on the first paper and then after that they would be the first author on papers. In this case Dennis did such a great job, I decided to let him go ahead and be the first author. So I said, ďWell, Iíll take the paper over to Dr. Ewing and show it to him,Ē because it had to be reviewed internally at Lamont. Because of one of Heezen episodes that — And I asked Dr. Ewing if heíd like to be an author on the paper. At the time I thought heíd surely say no because he hadnít done anything with it. We hadnít talked about it, and he hadnít contributed anything to it essentially. And, not to anybody elseís surprise, he said yes, and his name is third author on the paper. And now Iím very happy about it, because itís the only paper that Iíve published with this distinguished gentleman.
Doel:But I gather that was a bit of a surprise to you, that that happened.
Opdyke:It was a bit of a surprise, yes.
Doel:Did he offer any contributions to the paper?
Opdyke:I donít remember him making any changes at all. I think we just put his name on it. It was a pretty good paper, if I recall correctly. We didnít do any more experiments or anything like that.
Doel:Right. Later on some of that work you did with Jim [James D.] Hays as well, if I recall.
Opdyke:Yes. It was at about the time when we were, you know, this was after Jim Hays and I had started to work, and after doing magnetic stratigraphy of cores. And the first — of course that was, you know, doing the magnetic stratigraphy in cores led to a great internal friction because of a conflict I had with Bruce Heezen.
Doel:This may be an appropriate time to talk about that. What were your first interactions — what were your first impressions of Heezen?
Opdyke:Well, when I got there you know I talked to Bruce, he was always very busy, and you know I was a very new person and he had a big reputation. The person who I was working with, Jim [James R.] Heirtzler, didnít think very much of Heezen. He told me to just stay away from him.
Doel:Did he say why?
Opdyke:Oh, I donít know. There was a conflict over data coming back from the Pacific or something. I donít know exactly what it was all about. But Jim and Bruce didnít get along very well at all. And so of course I was in the magnetics department working for Jim, and my first graduate student, John Foster came. I had been funded by a National Science Foundation grant that was funded to look at this [?], because Ted Irving came back to Canada, and the two of us wanted to look at the orocline hypothesis in Pennsylvania, so I collected all the rocks, the samples sent up before my lab was finished, sent them up to Canada and Ted had a going lab and they measured them in Canada, and that paper was published, but I was actually funded to do that by the National Science Foundation. And so of course one of the things I was hired to do was to look at magnetic stratigraphy in cores. And I had known, the first time I had come across magnetic stratigraphy in cores with Chris Harrison, who is now at the University of Miami, he had been — had started to do this for his Ph.D. thesis. In fact I knew about it from Ian Gough who had gone to Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] and came back and told me that Scripps was having a very hard time. And well Chris was having a hard time because he was working with very short cores, gravity cores and —
Doel:These were Scripps-obtained cores?
Opdyke:Yes. And they were in the middle Pacific instead of where he should have been looking. So when he got to Lamont I was a little bit wary of the business of magnetic stratigraphy in cores — I didnít know it would work, and I didnít know where the magnetite would come from, and all sorts of things.
Doel:There were certainly real uncertainties at that time.
Opdyke:There was a real uncertainty about it.
Doel:And you have been looking at a little bit of that after Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker had expressed an interest in it as well?
Opdyke:Yes. Wally Broecker brought back some cores from the Pacific on the Vema 21 cruise, and they were unfortunately in the red clay area, and but we started — we eventually did some of those cores that he took, and he had internally oriented them so that they were, you know, had a mark down the center of the core so that they were not disoriented from section to section, because it was an equatorial core. So I put John Foster to work, who was my first student to work actually looking at the magnetic stratigraphy of cores, and John started out with these cores in the Pacific, and he got reversals of magnetization in these low sedimentation rate cores, but were not 180 degrees; they were about 150 or 140 degrees. So we had reversals, but they werenít exactly nice and crisp and clean. And John is — and heís still alive — a very verbal individual and very gregarious, and he was running around talking to everybody in the observatory about this, and he was talking to Bruce Heezenís students, who were next door to where our module was where our magnetometer had been set up.
Doel:And just to be sure. Is this Billy [William] Glass that youíre referring to?
Opdyke:Well, he was one of the students, yes. And so Foster was talking to Billy Glass, and Glass said, ďWell, why donít you look at the Antarctic cores where you donít have a problem,Ē that Jim Hays had just finished doing his thesis on. Because we know that Hays has shown that there was a long time involved, and they were Pleistocene. And so also they have very steep inclinations, so you don't have to worry about orientation. And so they actually got together and they did this, they ran the first core, and they presented to me, and I said, ďWow, thatís good. Cool.Ē So we started to work then, and I talked to Jim Hays and I talked to Bruce Heezen, and Bruce said, ďWell, weíll put Billy Glass on this to do it for his thesis, these cores from the Antarctic.Ē And also there was a post doc working for him, Dragon von Ninkovich, who was also interested in correlating volcanic ash beds. So he was doing this in the North Pacific, so we started to run those as well, and Dragon was running them and so was Billy Glass and they were the, those two things were the first papers on the magnetic stratigraphy of cores. Of course I didnít, was not keen about letting this getting away from after all, we were the technical skilled people and you know this kind of collaboration is something I understood. You know the paleontologists and — Heezen said, ďWell you know, I have all these students, you donít have any students. Why donít we put all my students doing this?Ē I said, ďMaybe some of them,Ē and then —
Doel:You felt uncomfortable putting too many students on —?
Opdyke:Well, you know, we had a whole core lab full of cores, and we had lots of material, and this is a brand new technique, it would give you time. And so very rapidly we got — particularly with Billy Glass and Foster, and then Ninkovich, within a couple months we had a lot of really good data.
Doel:This is both from the Antarctic and from the Pacific.
Opdyke:And from the North Pacific. So we had made one of those very rapid — this is 1966 I guess — a very rapid progress. And I remember Walter [C.] Pitman told me to take it over and show Doc [Ewing], so I did, and I took these things over to show Doc. I kind of rolled them out on the table. I had big sheets which the magnetic stratigraphy was on, and I rolled them out. And I had six or seven cores at the time, and showed him how they correlated, and he was very impressed.
Doel:Iím curious whether you felt how convinced he was of what these data meant at that time.
Opdyke:I donít think he ever understood what they meant. Somehow or other I think he divorced the fact that you could correlate the cores to the fact that back what we were looking at was a phenomenon that was tied to the dipole field, and therefore sea floor spreading had to be right. He never made that logical connection. I don't know what the hell was wrong, but I never — I donít believe he ever really thought about it; that they are just two different recording systems recording the same signal. I don't think he ever thought of that.
Doel:Thatís an interesting way to put it. Do you feel that he had accepted the idea of magnetic reversals by that point? Or is that also something that was not clear?
Opdyke:I think he wanted to accept the magnetic reversals, because I think he thought they could be, you know, you could use them as a correlative tool. But I never discussed it with him. But anyway, you know, we had this big breakthrough, and Bruce Heezen was doing a spring — I gave the paper, I gave the first paper in the spring of 1965 or Ď66.
Opdyke:The spring AGU [American Geophysical Union] meeting.
Doel:The AGU meeting. Yes.
Opdyke:Which was not scheduled to begin, and Hans Wensink had been working with me from Holland, and he, we had scheduled to give a paper on the White Mountain series, and when I got — you know, I used a slot and then just gave the paper on the cores. And this was sort of sensational. It came right with Walter Pitmanís first presentation of Eltanin 19 profile. It was given at the same meeting, so we were sort of off and running then.
Doel:It was a remarkable meeting, without a doubt.
Opdyke:We blew the socks off people, you know. [Allan V.] Cox and [Richard] Doel were there, and Brent Darymple I think, yes I think Brent Darymple was there too. And yes, we had all this great data and it was just bright future, you could see all sorts of things to do, and Heezen was going to go to the International Oceanographic Congress in Moscow.
Doel:In Moscow which was early that next year, if I remember.
Opdyke:No, it was that year, in the spring, May I think of that year.
Doel:I see. Thatís right, thatís right it was around, just around that same time.
Opdyke:May of Ď66. Yes.
Doel:Thatís quite right.
Opdyke:And I heard rumors that he going to talk about magnetic stratigraphy of cores at this international meeting.
Doel:Now, had you planned on going to the Moscow meeting?
Doel:How many people from Lamont were thinking to go?
Opdyke:Chuck [Charles L.] Drake and Bruce Heezen.
Doel:Chuck Drake, if I recall, had been on sabbatical in Cambridge during that year?
Opdyke:May be, may be. So I went to see Bruce, and I told him point blank that he was not to give this paper. He was not to give the paper on the reversal in the cores in Moscow.
Doel:It sounds as if you had already clearly begun to feel that there wasnít an appropriate division of responsibilities, or —?
Opdyke:The problem was that, you know, I knew that Bruce didnít have anything directly to do with this. I mean, he was on the first paper, and he should be, but technically he knew a good thing when he saw it. I didnít want him to go out to Moscow and give this paper. You know, either Billy Glass should give it or I should give it, but he shouldnít give it.
Doel:Right. One thing Iím just curious about in this one instance is whether you feel that Heezen was singular in the way that this developed, or did it seem to be a more common concern, given the importance of the data and the interpretation that you had —?
Opdyke:Iím not sure I understand what you mean.
Doel:Was it a particular problem that you felt existed with Bruce Heezen, or was it a broader concern with who would present these interpretations?
Opdyke:It was a concern of mine because I had a career to make. You know, I was 28 or something like that, and Bruce was already a famous oceanographer. And you know, this is my shot at it. You know, I wasnít stupid. I know what was going, you know, I knew that I had to do, and I didnít want him going off and taking credit for this discovery, quite frankly. So I told him point blank not to give this talk, and he said he wouldnít. Okay, so what happens, next thing I know is Iím reading the New York Times, and this is reported by [Walter] Sullivan in the New York Times. And then it was reported in Newsweek, Time magazine.
Opdyke:And of course I went ballistic. And I was just really angry. And I discussed it with Jim Hays, who was the only other Ph.D., and Hays was a student of Heezenís actually.
Doel:How did he feel about —?
Opdyke:Oh, he was furious too. So we, Hays and I, wrote a letter to Dr. Ewing accusing Bruce of unethical conduct.
Doel:And by this point tensions were already there between him and —
Opdyke:It was like pouring gasoline on a fire. I didnít realize it at the time, but there was already a lot of hard feelings between Dr. Ewing and Heezen, and so this — I didnít realize what I had done when I did this essentially, because when I did this, Doc regarded this I think as the perfect opportunity to get rid of Heezen.
Doel:And you hadn't known about those tensions between Heezen and —
Opdyke:No, I didnít know about the other thing. But I thought I had to do something. And Bruce was traveling in Europe. The first thing I did was to go in and talk to Chuck Drake to find out what in the hell — Drake was at the news conference that Heezen had called after the meeting. So I wanted to find out from Drake exactly what Heezen had said at the news conference.
Opdyke:So he told me what he said. It didn't help anything at all, because it was still bad.
Doel:Was it Chuck Drakeís impression that Heezen was claiming credit for the broad range of ideas and developments?
Opdyke:Sure, he was. You betcha. And so thatís when I — you know, at first I did the obvious. I went to try to find out what I could about it without Bruce being there, and then I just fired off this letter with Jim Hays and I fired it off to Dr. Ewing.
Doel:This was the first time that you had faced a problem of this magnitude with another worker in the field, wasnít it?
Opdyke:Oh, absolutely. I realize that I was not, you know — I was a combative enough individual. I didnít play football for nothing, and I realized I was in a struggle for my scientific survival. I could have rolled over and gone to sleep somewhere, but I didnít feel that that was appropriate. So I did this. And then when Bruce came back, we had a sort of shootout when he came back. I think it was in June or July or something like that, I forget exactly when.
Doel:It was a meeting then that you had with Heezen? Who else was there?
Opdyke:I had a meeting with Bruce Heezen, myself and Jim Hays. And he first of all sent his secretary down to my office and said could I come and talk to Bruce Heezen. I said, ďNo. Bruce Heezen can come to talk to me in my office. I ainít going down the hall to Bruce Heezen.Ē Sure enough, Bruce turned up, and Jim Hays and I talked to him, and we got in a sort of shouting match and things like that. Hays was more indignant than I was I think. But anyway, Dr. Ewing then used this as a way of getting at Bruce. So he removed the support of all of Bruceís students who were there at the time. I threw Bruceís students out of my lab. Thatís the other thing I did.
Doel:And which students were considered to be Bruceís students at that —?
Opdyke:Well, Billy Glass, and of course Ninkovich was a postdoc. So I tossed everybody that belonged to Bruce out of the lab, you know. Then, Billy Glass is a nice guy, and a good scientist. He did some very interesting things. So I decided on reflection that I was being a little bit — going a little bit overboard, and told him he could continue doing his thesis. This he did, under difficult conditions, but you know, it turned out okay. He found the microtektites and everything went well for Bill. I also allowed Ninkovich to come back, but there were two or three other students whose names I have forgotten now, did not. And the students were taken off, students like Jeff [Jeffrey] Fox and Mike [Michael] Perfit, down the hall here, and a guy who is now at Brown [University], at USGS [United States Geological Survey]. Jim —
Doel:Itís not coming to my mind. We can always add these names to the transcript.
Opdyke:Yes. Anyway, a guy who is now a professor at Brown was one of them, and that guy is now at the USGS. So they all lost their support. Dr. Ewing told them that they would no longer be supported by Navy contract. At that time we had a big Navy contract that covered a lot of students and staff.
Doel:Were they given the option to work with someone else if not with Heezen?
Opdyke:Yes, they did this, but of course these students were very upset, and Doc had the key changed on the lock on Heezenís door and locked him out of his office.
Doel:Was his property also removed from the office that you recall?
Opdyke:I donít remember whether that was done, but I know his door was locked.
Opdyke:Well, you must have heard this from other people.
Doel:Well, I sense that this was the time at which the controversy involving Heezen really began to unfold, and leading eventually to Marie Tharpís removal from the department.
Opdyke:Yes, Marie Tharp eventually started to work out of Piermont. And it would have been better if Iíd just punched Bruce in the nose. That would have solved the whole problem, and Iíd have felt better and — [laughs]
Doel:I imagine that went through your mind at the time.
Opdyke:Oh yes, it did go through my mind. But anyway, what happened, happened. And this caused an era in Lamontís history which is very strange, because first of all Doc couldnít get rid of him, was not able to do that, and Bruce had a big reputation anyway. Bruce had a good reputation with the Navy and other people. So he was eventually let back in his office.
Doel:How long did it take before that happened?
Opdyke:But his running the bottom photography business and things like that were taken out of his hands, and was given to Denny [Dennis E.] Hayes. Warren Prowse was a student that became a professor at Brown.
Opdyke:So anyway, this took several years to sort out. Bruce [Heezen] was never promoted to full professor. He was never full professor.
Doel:There are a number of questions that this raises, but how important was the Heezen controversy for Lamont? How big an issue did it become generally?
Opdyke:Well, it was a very big issue at the time, and it dragged on for a long time. You know, I got to be on the oversight committee which ran the university which ended up judging the case.
Doel:This is the executive committee with the senior staff?
Opdyke:The executive committee. Well, thereís executive committee of the senior staff, when that was formed I was elected to the executive committee as senior staff. But there was another committee which the vice president of the university chaired on which I sat as well. This was an appointment I got with — Doc Ewing appointed me to this position. What did they call that committee?
Doel:If itís on your CV, we should be able to find it.
Opdyke:I donít know whether itís on my CV or not. Maybe it is. Well, anyway, this committee actually ran — was the oversight committee of Lamont. There were Joe Worzel, Doc Ewing and at the time I think a guy, a biological oceanographer from —
Opdyke:No, biological oceanographer. A guy who went down to Texas with Doc.
Doel:Not Oswald Roels.
Opdyke:Oswald Roels, yes.
Doel:He was also on this. Thatís interesting.
Opdyke:Anyway, eventually Polykarp Kusch was the vice president of the university. He was running this committee, and once a year it met, and Bruce Heezen came in front of this committee and discussed his position there at the observatory and protested about the behavior of the observatory with respect to him, a tenured professor, and Polykarp — you know I was sitting there, you know, I was one of the principals involved in this thing.
Doel:Right. And youíre a junior person at the time.
Opdyke:Yes, thirty-three or something like that. Anyway, it was a very uncomfortable time, and Polykarp Kusch was very angry about this, and he said, ďLetís be that a lesson to you. Never hire a geologist again at Lamont.Ē He said, ďJust hire a physicist.Ē [Laughs]
Doel:Is that right? [Laughs] Thatís interesting.
Opdyke:Kusch was a Nobel Laureate, and he and Doc [Ewing] were throwing thunderbolts from each end of the table, you know. The rest of us stand there, you know, trying to hide so we didnít get caught in the backlash and the fire fight.
Doel:Did those meetings mostly involve the Heezen controversy or they were just other issues then?
Opdyke:No. Usually they were proforma. Usually nothing happened and you know nothing. There was just a general review of the status of the observatory, and usually it was very good — money was being brought in, the university was happy about it, and the director would say what he thought. Later on when I became director of the observatory — that was my last meeting there. That was also my last board meeting.
Doel:I want to make sure we cover that later on in our conversation. But I imagine that left an impression on you to hear the discussion about Heezen at the time.
Opdyke:Oh yes. Polykarp Kusch I had met before, let me see, in Ď73 was it? This went on for so long, I forget now exactly when this meeting took place, but it was several years after the incident itself, you know, probably four or five as a matter of fact. It was four years anyway. Anyway, I met Polykarp Kusch again later on when I gave the citation for [S. Keith] Runcorn when he won the Vetlesen Medal, the Vetlesen prize, and Kusch said, ďWho is this young guy thatís giving this presentation?Ē Because [Allan] Cox and Doel got the other one, and Doc Ewing gave the appreciation, and I was giving this appreciation of Runcorn. And I had to go down and give this to Harriet [Ewing] and Doc in private before they — they had to pass on my citation. [Laughs] I was scared, man. I was really scared. But it went off all right.
Doel:Did they make any substantial comments on what you had written?
Opdyke:Well, they just said it was okay.
Doel:Interesting you say both Harriet and Ewing.
Doel:Yes. When I went to their house, after I came back from an AGU meeting that year, I donít know exactly which year it was, and Harriet and Doc were both there so I had to —
Doel:Interesting. One of the things Iím curious about. When you had those meetings with Heezen, both the one you and Jim Hays and these subsequent meetings, did you sense that Heezen understood the issues as you perceived them?
Opdyke:Well, yes, he understood what went wrong, but my friend Walter Pitman says, ďWell, Bruce Heezen is not immoral; heís amoral. He doesnít know the difference between right and wrong.Ē
Opdyke:Now Iíll leave it to you to, you know, I donít know. But I have one of Bruce Heezenís maps down there back in the other office he gave to me signed.
Doel:And youíre pointing to, we should say, to an interior office here. Yes.
Opdyke:So, you know, in later years we got over this a little bit. And of course when Doc left the observatory, he was reinstated more or less and back in the observatory.
Doel:Thatís an interesting way to put that. Do you recall other tensions of that sort at other major earth science institutions, or did it seem singular to you, the kind of situation that involved —?
Opdyke:I think there have been more problems like this at Scripps than there ever was at Lamont, but Lamont seemed to be ripe for this. Of course there was a split between, in this case, Heezen and Ewing, which I sort of walked into stupidly. And then there was one between the geochemists and Dr. Ewing.
Doel:Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp.
Opdyke:Larry Kulp in particular and his boys. They also had a sort of very strained relationship for a long time.
Doel:What was your impression of the factors behind that?
Opdyke:I never really understood it, and Broecker can tell you much better than I. I never really understood it. I know there was a lot of — I know he essentially threw the geochemists off the ship. I donít know whether it was after that Vema 21 profile, leg, I donít know. It may have been. Broecker didnít get along with [Henry C.] Kohler. Of course I didnít either. And I think it was just that one of the things they were — pretty independent. Of course Doc was not a chemist, so he really didnít know geochemistry. Physics he understood. He got to know geology pretty well, but geochemistry I donít think he ever really got a hold of.
Doel:Was the Vema 21 cruise particularly contentious for relations among the scientists involved?
Opdyke:I donít know. I donít recall now, but I do think that that may have been the last cruise that the geochemists actually went out on the ship, on one of our ships. I donít know if Karl Turekian was on it. I donít know whether Karl was on it or not. Karl was at Yale by that time. But —
Doel:But thereafter it was fairly clear that the geochemists were not going to be able to utilize either the Vema or the [Robert D.] Conrad.
Opdyke:Kulp left a couple years after I got there, and I donít — I never really met Kulp. When I got there in Ď64 he had almost gone. I had correspondence with him to try to persuade him to take some rocks for me which failed, but —
Doel:Thatís interesting. That was something he felt he didnít want to do in your perception, or just didnít come together.
Opdyke:Just didnít work. But they had one of the first potassium argon lines at Lamont, and then later on Broecker sold it, which made me upset and furious.
Opdyke:Well, the stuff that we did of course, magnetics would have been very much better to have in many cases the ability to get the potassium argon dates on lavas or something, and Wally was not interested in collaborating that way. He regarding that as second class science, dating for somebody else —
Doel:Second class in the sense that it wasnít —
Opdyke:It was a service.
Doel:It was a service, not —
Doel:Interesting. What that generally, was that an attitude that you felt was characteristic in the geochemical —
Opdyke:Yes. I think so. It certainly was with me. We never collaborated. We wrote one paper together, and which he managed, they managed to do ionium thorium on one of the cores, but we did magnetic stratigraphy, and to satisfy himself that we were actually getting the right numbers. [Laughs]
Doel:So it sounds like his initiation that —
Opdyke:Well, it was one of those things that Wally is not a great collaborator. And I mean you might ask why it is that Nick [Nicholas] Shackleton and I were such great collaborators with Wally Broecker. He would wait for me to publish the results from the core and then take it and go off and do the geochemistry on it so that he didnít have to publish with anybody else. Well thatís good except the best ones I didnít publish for a while. [Laughs]
Doel:[Laughs] I was thinking about that. Deliberate strategy that time.
Opdyke:Well, it was something I was very well aware of by that time. Of course that was in the seventies by that time.
Doel:Right. But I do sense that by the mid-1960s and thereafter it was becoming a little more difficult to try to do the kinds of interdisciplinary work that had been perhaps characteristic of Lamont earlier.
Opdyke:Thatís true. I think that Doc was trying to hold onto everything and he couldnít do it obviously. It was just too big. And it started out after all in one building, and seismology and some strong people in seismology and geochemistry and marine biology, and same things, so it was hard, physically impossible for any one person to do that. You can know whatís going on, but to be intimately involved with every researcher at Lamont, it was impossible to do that.
Doel:You mentioned that you didnít get in to see Ewing all that often during say the 1960s and 1970s before he departed. Did you sense a change at Lamont once he married Harriet?
Opdyke:Well, I donít know. I remember him, after he got married, skipping across the parking lot toward the oceanography building. He was a very, very happy man, Iíll tell you that.
Opdyke:Well — Very bouncy — I remember discussing it, and Hans [Wensink] was a very conservative Dutchman, and he didnít think very much of this divorce and remarriage business, and I said well, it didnít happen very much at Lamont, but it was much more prevalent at Scripps. [Laughs]
Doel:[Laughs]. That is true, isnít it?
Opdyke:Oh yes. At the time there was a lot of hanky panky among the Scrippsies, students and things. But anyway, it happens at Lamont too, but at the time it was a pretty stable place. This was, you know — Doc Ewing used to work such long hours that he used to marry his secretary all the time. [Laughs] Harriet fixed that, because she never left his office after that; still the secretary. She knew how many meetings made five, Iíll tell you. [Laughs] So Harriet remained as a secretary. Walter Pitman used to call her the Dragon Lady.
Doel:Was his a pretty common perception, do you think? Because she was in some sense in a gatekeeper role for access to Ewing, wasnít she?
Opdyke:She was a gatekeeper, yes, and you had to get by Harriet to get to Doc, thatís absolutely certain. But my relationship with her was always pretty straightforward and usually pleasant. I had no real problems. I didnít go out on his ship until the early seventies, so —
Doel:Was that the Conrad or the Vema?
Doel:What was that experience like for you?
Opdyke:Oh, the first experience was fascinating. I went out with Walter Pitman. He was the chief scientist and I was a sort of a trainee, and it was fascinating, because we saw wonderful things, we rescued a boat off of Africa, we saw a dead whale floating by in the North Atlantic, we saw a rocket firing from a missile submarine in the West Atlantic.
Doel:Is that right? Let me pause to — [flip tape] — You were mentioning about things that you had seen on the cruise, and the rocket firing.
Opdyke:We saw a whole bank of missiles fired by a Polaris submarine, and they separated and exploded. I presume they were not nuclear, but you know had warheads with, but thatís what it was. It exploded right over the ship, all seven of them I think it was.
Doel:That must have been an extraordinary sight.
Opdyke:It was an extraordinary thing. I have pictures.
Doel:Had the Navy been aware that Vema was in the Pacific?
Opdyke:They couldnít miss it. There was a flotilla there of four or five ships, surface ships as well as a submarine. And they were obviously firing these missiles away from the missile range so that the Russians wouldnít know where they were. But they knew we were there, because they could hear us thumping away all across the ocean. I mean, an air gun goes off every minute and a half. They could hear us coming for days. They did it anyway. Of course they probably knew who we were. At least I guess that they knew who we were.
Doel:But you had no direct contact. The ships never came that close to —
Opdyke:Well, we did actually contact the ships, and they told us they were U.S. Navy and for us to get out of there. So we turned around. And the ship was coming into the New York Harbor, and Kohler was interested in using up all the stuff in the cooler, so we had some culinary delights like, you know, fried Portuguese bologna. [laughs] Big globs of fat in the middle of the bologna, and it comes in a big round thing. Apparently, you know, this is a common meal in Nova Scotia and Eastern Canada, but it didnít certainly go down well with the American scientists on board.
Doel:I can imagine. Then it got to the point where, you know, the people didnít want to go down to eat, and they'd go down to eat peanut butter and jelly. And so Kohler threw the peanut butter overboard. [Laughs]
Doel:Because you thought he wanted people to eat the other stores.
Opdyke:He wanted them to eat the fried bologna. [laughs] First thing we did when we got in the New York Harbor was to go up and get a hamburger. God, that was awful. And — that was you know what the hell. But it was a very interesting trip.
Doel:How long was that cruise, at least the part that —?
Opdyke:Went from Dakar — no, Cape Baird to New York.
Doel:What sort of things were you doing on a day-to-day basis when you were out?
Opdyke:Well, when I was out, since I was just learning the thing, I was taking a watch and just keep the gear running, the scientific gear, make sure itís going, so I was into watching at night. And so youíd go four hours on and four hours off.
Doel:In a sense you were learning about various forms of instrumentation. Was that new for you at the time, or had you already had —?
Opdyke:No, I had no experience on a ship at the time.
Doel:Right. I meant also with the instruments, those that were on —
Opdyke:With those kinds of instruments, yes, I had no experience with the profiling systems and you know keeping the air gun going, and the seagoing magnetometer, coring, and you know, taking photographs, and heat flow measurements. They all had to be done. So it was very interesting.
Doel:You mentioned heat flows. Was Marc [Marcus] Langseth by chance on that cruise?
Opdyke:No. Very rarely was there more than one scientist actually. On this particular cruise there were two. Most of the other things are handled by students.
Doel:Indeed. Iím curious whether in looking back, whether being on that cruise gave you an understanding of the other instruments, these other forms of data that helped in your later career. Did it make a difference?
Opdyke:Well, you know, itís very interesting. I enjoyed it at the time, and I think it was valuable to me to understand how this stuff is done. I was very interested in the coring system.
Doel:Did it give you a better appreciation of the difficulties or the nature of the cores, or did you already have that from discussions with others?
Opdyke:Well, I knew it, but it gave me a better idea about you know how the handling on board the ship so that interpretation of the paleomagnetic data, and at the time you know we were orienting the cores. We had a marker at the end, we laid a string down so that the extrusion of the cores so that we could do magnetic stratigraphy better. The technique we had put together. So it was very worthwhile to me, and I found it very interesting. I went out two other times. I was only out three times. The second time was the infamous time when Kohler and I got into a big hassle.
Doel:I donít believe weíve mentioned this on tape. I believe we mentioned it briefly off the tape.
Opdyke:Kohler. Well, I went down to pick the boat up in Acapulco and go into the Eastern Pacific with Roger Larson. Roger was, like I had been, he was a trainee then. I had been a trainee with Walter [Pitman], and now he was going out for the first time from Scripps.
Doel:Interesting. You were sailing as chief scientist.
Opdyke:I was sailing as chief scientist, yes. So, we had been having a lot of problems with the electronic technicians on the boat. One guy had come down with second degree gonorrhea in Panama or something like that. I was taking an ET [electronic technician] to go out with us, and you know there is often a turnover in the electronic technicians. They wanted to go to sea, and they got to sea for a couple months and then they decided it wasnít so hot after all. So we — I went down to Acapulco, and everything was fine, you know, I took over — the departing chief scientist got off the ship and we had some beers, and I went to lunch with — Then I heard from the scientific crew that one of the electronic technicians was in jail. And I said, ďWhat for?Ē and he said, ďThey donít know. He was just arrested at night in some back street.Ē And so I investigated and I found out that he was out with a second mate and somebody else, a second mate and a first mate, and they were in the red light district, and the car that they rented had stalled, and he was pushing the car, and the police were coming, and the second mate just drove away and left him standing there in the road. The police got a hold of this guy, put him in jail for no reason except he didnít have any money in the middle of the street or something, who knows. Mexican police can do that. And so the captain didnít like this guy, and decided just to leave him in jail for the next few days until we sailed. And of course the scientific crew was pretty upset about this, because you know he didnít do anything wrong, he just had upset the captain earlier on in the cruise.
Doel:Do you remember what that conflict was about?
Opdyke:I donít know exactly what it was about, but like I said, the man had contracted gonorrhea in Panama, and so Kohler had treated him for it, and didnít like the guy, just didnít like him. Thatís about what it boiled down to. So I went and had lunch with Kohler and his — was Kohlerís wife on that trip? I donít recall if Kohlerís wife was on that trip or not. Anyway, I had lunch with Kohler, and we discussed this guy being in jail, and I said, ďWell, I think —Ē you know, he told me he was going to leave him there, I said, ďI think thatís a bit harsh.Ē I said, ďWhy donít we get him out?Ē So Kohler said, ďOkay. If you feel that way, go get him out.Ē So I said okay. So I got up from the table and went and picked up Roger Larson and another ET who spoke Spanish and we went to the jail and we got him out of jail, we paid his fine. I paid his fine. So that evening weíre sitting there having a drink in the chief scientist cabin, and Kohler came storming in the door. Apparently this had been eating his gizzard all day, and he said that I had, by my actions, by getting this man out of jail, I had jeopardized the discipline on the ship, and that he thought what I had done was really wrong, and was berating me for it. And so this went on for a while, and I finally said, ďWell, Captain Kohler,Ē I said, ďWhere I come from, we donít let people stay in jail for no reason, our friends, people we work with.Ē I said, ďI donít know where you come from.Ē Stormed out of the door. So that set the stage. The next day we were supposed to sail, nothing on the ship worked, the computer was down, we couldn't get satellite fixes, and we had a hell of a time. So I called home, I called Manik Talwani and asked him, ďShould I continue with the cruise?Ē He said, ďYes, forget about it. Even though the satellite navigation system doesnít work, go ahead.Ē So we went to sea and about four days — We were surveying on one of the factor zones of the Eastern Pacific, which is what Roger was interested in, and this guy, the ET that I rescued from jail came down very sick, and he — Kohler claimed he didn't know what he had. What he had was second degree gonorrhea, so we took him back to shore at Manzanita, I think it is, and put him in a hospital and then went back to sea again. Well, there was really a terrible attitude on the ship, really bad.
Opdyke:Yes, there were just bad, bad feelings between the scientists and captain, and finally I said to the crew, I said, ďI donít want anybody talking to the captain without me being present.Ē The captain comes back here, I have to go up to the deck to give the report every day, and Iíll go do that. He comes back here, I want you to tell me, and I donít want the captain back here without me being present. So we had this relationship where he inspected the scientistsí cabin, and when he did this I went with him. Needless to say, we didnít speak much to one another. His daughter was one of the crew members, incidentally, one of the scientific crew members. And this went on the whole damn cruise, and one of the reasons I was out there of course was to get long cores in this mud pile in the middle of the Pacific, and we did this. In fact, I still have the record for the longest core ever taken on the Vema.
Opdyke:And we did that on that cruise. And what we did was, the coring bosun(?) who was under my control, we put lumber over the side and we were able to extend the core marrow back to the aft part of the ship. And we were taking almost two cores a day. We really got a lot of coring done. We were running the poor coring guy crazy. And —
Doel:How long, effectively, was the core that you were able to take?
Opdyke:I think it was twenty-four meters, something like that, with a good floor.
Doel:Thatís quite an achievement for that.
Opdyke:Kohler wouldnít let any of the sailors help. Heíd clear the deck and would let them — nobody but the coring crew and the scientists could be on deck. He didnít want any of his boys injured he said. So we went ahead and we cored and kept ourselves busy the rest of the trip. And then we got to port, and we came into Hawaii, and Kohler told me that the scientists had to unload the cores. He said the cores had to be unloaded, and we had to do it.
Doel:And that struck you as a very unusual request?
Opdyke:Yes. When these guys are at sea for thirty days, they come to shore, and then they are told they had to spend half a day unloading the cores, or more than half a day. So the first day weíre in dock in Hawaii we unloaded cores, took the cores off the deck, put them on the wharf so that they could be sent back home. And I was absolutely fit to be tied. I mean I was really angry. And you know he would let any — The sailors had, were given their time off, but the scientists didnít have time off. And so, I never even said goodbye when I left. I just took the data and left.
Doel:That was the end of your leg as chief scientist in Hawaii.
Opdyke:That was the end of my leg. And there was — even worse debacle the next cruise, the next leg, and there was a revolt essentially by the scientific crew. It was just a disaster.
Doel:On the subsequent leg.
Doel:So you werenít on it, but you were hearing about it from others.
Opdyke:Well, Roger Larson was on it. He was — Again, because of Kohlerís — I donít think very much of Kohler, actually. Heís a tough guy, and Walter Pitman thinks he is very good, but my own feeling is that anybody can do things like that. I donít have much respect for that. I still donít. Later on we were invited to Dr. Ewingís house, and Kohler was there at a party, and there was dinner, and I had to shake hands with Kohler and that sort of thing. My feelings for the man havenít changed. [Laughs]
Doel:Iím curious what happened on that subsequent cruise. When you mentioned that there was a near revolt or —
Opdyke:They pulled up to some small island, and some natives came out to the ship, and some of the guys went to shore, and Kohler thought that the natives were going to steal everything off the ship, and so he kicked them off the ship, and it was just a bad scene.
Doel:The scientific crew at that time?
Opdyke:They took [?] about this. I donít know. Youíd have to ask Roger Larson. He knew all about it.
Opdyke:And three or four people quit. That was the upshot. They just took off. They just quit right now.
Doel:On the scientific staff, or in the —
Opdyke:Yes, the scientific staff. They just quit. Which meant that the next leg, which you know they didnít have hardly anybody aboard. The scientific program was jeopardized. Anyway —
Doel:Thatís very interesting. You mentioned you were dealing with Manik Talwani in that period. Was that because of his administrative capabilities?
Opdyke:Yes, he was running — he was administrating the ship at the time. He wasnít the director of the observatory then. He was just, you know, running the ship.
Doel:How well did you know Manik by that point?
Opdyke:Oh, very well. Manik and I are the same age. We lived in the same small town, our children went to the same school together, and we socialized together.
Doel:So you knew both him and Annie [Talwani].
Opdyke:I know them very well.
Doel:Yes. Do you remember discussions with him over continental drift? Was he among those that you remember having discussions with as these developments were unfolding?
Opdyke:Well, once the Eltanin profile came along in 1966, he changed his mind pretty fast. He was, you know, really rapidly. That was, as far as he was concerned, that was definitive, a definitive answer. On the other hand, Xavier Le Pichon took a lot longer. He didnít change his mind until the summertime.
Doel:What were the objections that he was raising?
Opdyke:I think that Xavierís objection was simply an emotional one having to do with the fact he did his Ph.D. on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, and he said that there was nothing in the magnetics that was decipherable, so he had blundered essentially, and then he had to eat it.
Doel:Because of his investment, it was more difficult for him.
Opdyke:If you ever met Xavier, I donít know whether you have or not, but the guy —
Doel:I havenít yet.
Opdyke:A very strong-minded Frenchman, you know, and heíll stonewall you. And I also used to socialize with him and his wife, but at the time, now heís a big gun in France. Everybody crawls to him. In fact he was — he makes believe he invented the whole business, but in fact he didnít. But he was very reticent to do it. I think it was just emotional and for personal reasons. When he published his thesis, when he finished it, I was one of the readers on the papers, and he had done the magnetic anomalies as I said on the mid-Atlantic Ridge. So I went and I wrote, I had to be the internal reviewer for the paper, so I read the paper, and he had made some statements there that I didnít believe, and so I went in to talk to him and Jim Heirtzler about it. In particular he said the magnetic intensity of the rocks on the bottom of the ocean floor was not high enough to give rise to the magnetic anomalies for sea floor spreading. I said, ďThatís not true.Ē Because A. D. Hall had published a few results in Nature, and there was plenty of intensity in magnetization he said. And so we got in this big argument. So at that time I left and went out, I began to study the Lamont dredge collection. The proper way to solve a scientific argument is to get some more data.
Opdyke:Which I did. So, you know, I think he was just —
Doel:Did you feel that his conversion to acceptance of drift came suddenly, or did you notice it over time?
Opdyke:It was pretty quick. It was at the summer that that meeting was held at Lamont, which I have described in that paper. And he went to that meeting and then just after that he changed his mind. He knew when to quit. If you are going to have a career, you canít just — Youíve got to get out of the way of the bulldozer when it comes down the road.
Doel:One thing Iím curious about, there were a number of you who had come into Lamont in the 1960s and were clearly more emotionally, intellectually distant from Ewing than those like Manik and John Ewing and others who had been in very early on. Did any of them talk to you about how difficult it was, or whether it was difficult for them once they had come to accept drift to remain in close contact with Ewing?
Opdyke:There werenít that many, actually. Myself I think was, I donít know whether Iím a lone exception, but there wasnít very many. John Connelly, there were visiting scientists from other places. Usually itís the Southern Hemisphere people. But most of the principle actors were home bred, you know, they were students there. And so there werenít very many people from outside.
Doel:What I meant was also, say Manik Talwani, as he came to accept drift —
Opdyke:He had some problems that we all did. And of course this is what happened when Dr. Ewing had to retire. I was on the executive committee of the senior staff, and this is a great story, Iíll tell you what. Iím a deer hunter and I was out deer hunting in the fall up in upstate New York and Talwani and Marc Langseth called me up, and they said that Doc Ewing was thinking about taking the observatory to Texas. I said, ďYouíve got to be kidding me.Ē They said, ďNo.Ē And, ďHeís going to try to drive it through the executive committee of the senior staff.Ē I was on the executive committee, and they said, ďYou canít let him do this.Ē So I got back the next week from hunting, and then this meeting was held. If I recall correctly, at the time John Ewing was one of the members of this committee, and I think that Jack Oliver was and myself. I was an elected member. And Doc brought up this business about going to Texas.
Doel:The Sterling Forest initiative had already been discussed by then? The plan of separating Lamont entirely from Columbia?
Opdyke:Yes. That was part of the — There were two problems. There were two possibilities. One to separate completely from Columbia, and the other was to go to Texas. And I said I thought it was a very bad idea to separate from the university, because we had all these students. Where are you going to get students from?
Doel:Given how critical they were for the style of science that Lamont was doing?
Opdyke:You know, had a big library system and all sorts of things like that. Doc said it was just a waste of money to belong to the university. So there was no consensus essentially, because I wouldnít agree. And I learned that Doc said that the reason I didnít agree was because I was an ex-Columbia College person. [Laughs] But, you know, this threw the whole thing into a deadlock.
Doel:You mentioned John Ewing and Jack Oliver were also on the executive committee at that time.
Opdyke:I think so at the time, yes.
Doel:What were their feelings about this?
Opdyke:Well, they were pretty noncommittal as a matter of fact. I donít recall — John, you know, would do more or less what his brother said almost all the time. Jack I think — Doc was such a strong personality. I mean to oppose him like that I felt physically sick, you know. Iíd rather bring down a 200-lb. fullback than a 250-lb. — You know, but what are you going to do? So I said I wouldnít do it. And we decided that — Doc Ewing decided then that we were not having any more executive committee meetings, that the senior staff would meet as a whole. There was a big meeting at Lamont Hall of the whole senior staff, and we discussed this problem.
Doel:This was the first time that Ewing made the general announcement of the possibility of Texas.
Opdyke:And the whole senior staff.
Doel:What was that meeting like?
Opdyke:Oh, Doc gave out beer, and we all sat there and — By this time we had organized it. I got to tell you that money can — There was a group of the young tigers, Manik Talwani, Lynn Sykes, Wally Broecker, Jim Hays, myself, Walter Pitman, and [Marcus Langseth] — Seven of us. We met together, and we discussed this, what was going to happen. Because Doc was, you know, nearing retirement. Well first of all his first move of course was this trying to move the observatory from the university. In that case he would not have to retire. Well, what happened was that we talked, you know, among ourselves on how to prevent this from happening. It was quite frankly — you must have heard this from somebody else. We were a cabal, you know, the gang of seven. We were all 37 or 38, I donít know, about that. Marc Langseth I think was a member too. Did I mention Marc?
Doel:Not as a member of this group.
Opdyke:Yes, he was a member of that group too. So anyway, we went politicking in the university within the observatory to prevent this from happening. So when Doc called this meeting we went to the meeting —
Doel:And you already then had prepared. Thatís very interesting.
Opdyke:Yes, we were prepared when we walked in without —
Doel:When you say you were politicking, who were you dealing with? Who else did you need to make sure knew?
Opdyke:The people you worked with. I mean, you went back and Broecker could carry — you know, all you had to do was count. We did. We counted the number of senior staff people, how many votes we could get, and to make sure that when it came to a vote we would have the vote. Thatís exactly what we did. Thatís the way politicking is always done.
Opdyke:So when we walked into that meeting, we had the votes. Doc didnít have the votes. And it stunned him. It really stunned him. And it — Joe Worzel was infuriated.
Doel:I can imagine he would be.
Opdyke:He was infuriated, and you know we were a bunch of no good son of bitches, and so forth and so on. But we werenít going to Texas, and we werenít going to Sterling Forest or anyplace else. But this caused a real problem, because Doc [Ewing] was still there. And I forget now exactly how the sequence went, but there was going to be, since I still sat on the administrative board, and thatís what it was, the administrative board. So I had to go to this meeting in the spring that was always held in the spring and this meeting was I think the meeting at the big house was in February.
Doel:Is this the meeting of the senior staff?
Doel:It was at Lamont Hall?
Opdyke:Yes, it was at Lamont Hall. So after that, the administrative board meeting came up and usually, like I said, except for that one meeting in which we had the trial of Bruce Heezen, they were pretty bland. But at the end of this meeting I asked the vice president of the university what they were doing to do —
Doel:Is this still [Polykarp] Kusch? Or is it [William T.] de Bary at this point?
Opdyke:I think it was somebody else. I donít remember who it was. At that time it was somebody else. Kusch had gone by then. I asked him what the university planned to do to replace Dr. Ewing, if he truly had to retire at the age of sixty-five.
Doel:What did you hear?
Opdyke:Dead silence, like somebody threw a grenade into the middle of the table. [Laughs] Of course Doc never forgave me for that, but you know youíve got to face the facts. I mean, if they are going to make him retire, goddamn we had to do something.
Doel:Yes. And Ewing was there.
Opdyke:Ewing was there. Joe [Worzel] was there. And so —
Doel:I imagine that could not have been easy for you, though, to be in that role.
Opdyke:No. No, it wasnít.
Doel:You created —
Opdyke:No, it wasnít. But I figured, you know, it had to be done. I didnít see any possibility of — Somebody had to do it. Sooner or later it had to come to a head. You know, we had to do this. We had to solve the problem of what was going to happen in the near future of the observatory. And that became apparent of course that what Doc wanted to happen was that he wanted Joe to become director. Well, the gang of eight was not having Joe, on any circumstances, because he still, at that time — it was Ď73?
Opdyke:Ď72? It was still, you know, was a fix it, and here we had an observatory which is making an enormous reputation on, you know, by just ignoring it. He just couldnít be a scientific leader in the observatory.
Doel:Was it for other reasons as well? Iím just curious if Worzel had accepted drift by that time, would your feelings have been different about his leadership?
Opdyke:I donít know. I donít know because Joe was a pretty tough guy. I didnít mind that, although Chuck Drake had a whole file of funny memos that — Did you see this?
Doel:No, I didnít.
Opdyke:He had a whole file of memos that Joe had sent around the observatory, like ďlook out for copperheads,Ē and you know, things like that. And Joe had a lot of strengths, but I donít think running a big place like that was one of them.
Doel:So it was clear to you that that wasnít an acceptable option.
Opdyke:It wasnít an acceptable option to any of the people that Iíve mentioned.
Doel:What did you see the next steps to be at that point?
Opdyke:Well, you know, we didnít — Again the cabal met, and we decided well, you know, the president of the university has to make a decision. I mean you canít — at Lamont the director is appointed by the president of the university. So what happened in the long run was that the president said, ďWell, you guys meet and decide who is going to be the interim director after Ewing leaves,Ē and a meeting was held at Lamont Hall, and senior staff, and the entire senior staff was there. Of course we had already met and did our politicking. We decided that Talwani should be the person and —
Doel:What made Manik the choice for you? What factors convinced you that Talwani was likely to be the best candidate for director?
Opdyke:Well, you know, it depends on the personal — Manik wanted to do it, thatís one thing. You know, a lot the other people wouldnít be acceptable to most of other people. Jim Hays could possibly have been acceptable. But people like Wally Broecker werenít acceptable. Wallyís too — does too many dumb things. You know, heís just not the kind of person you want fronting for the observatory.
Doel:Iím curious what youíre thinking about when you say that.
Opdyke:Well, you know, he tends to fly off the handle, he says things on the spur of the moment which are dumb, and they can be offensive. He does it. He later reconsiders it, but you know, itís just not the kind of person you want fronting. Youíve got to have somebody who is going to not get flustered and not get rattled and not get mad, and Talwani, you know, he could do all these things, he was very bright, and we trusted him.
Doel:Did you feel that the best candidate had to come from existing Lamont people?
Opdyke:No. No, I think there were other possibilities, but there was a lot internally. We were happier I think at the time to get somebody internally than externally. But you know if the president — I forget now exactly how it went, but anyway, we went to the big house, and you know we had to vote. By this time of course we knew that Joe and Doc and Jim [Henry James] Dorman were going to Texas. And they were going to set up a new institute down there, and they also had taken Oswald Roels and a couple of other people, and a known seismic person, I forget his name now.
Opdyke:Gary Latham. Yes. And so there were five or six people we knew were going to go to Texas. And of course everybody who was going to Texas was out, you know. So Joe [Worzel] and Doc [Ewing] backed Jack Nafe. They wanted Jack Nafe to do the job, and they thought Nafe would be a good guy. I had nothing seriously against Nafe at the time except he was always sort of a father figure to many people at the observatory. He would have been not unacceptable, but not the strongest candidate by any means. So after seven or eight, the votes went on and on. I donít know how many votes. Like choosing a Pope. Finally there was —
Doel:The smoke was coming out the chimney and —
Opdyke:The smoke came out of the chimney, and we chose Manik. The fact was that the people who we already went in there with where it was solid wouldnít change their mind under any circumstance. And what we had to do was we worked on changing other peopleís minds. And a lot of people there, you know, thereís a number of people who were just very, very loyal to Doc and they would do anything he said. And I wouldnít even bother going in and discussing it with them. Like, you know, you canít approach John [Ewing], I couldnít approach John and talk to John about it. So thatís what happened. And so we got Manik, and then eventually the president made him director.
Doel:Did you consider him as the permanent director, or was the vote did you feel, primarily for interim director?
Opdyke:Well, you know if the guy becomes director, he becomes director, and you know everybody believed that he could do the job and that it wasnít a problem. Later on of course, Ď81, I think when Manik was removed as director a totally different story. The same people though involved. Same cast of characters. And in that case it was Manik had lost the support of the barons. You want to be king; you got to keep the barons happy. Okay, there were a couple of barons that were very unhappy.
Doel:Including Wally Broecker for instance and —
Opdyke:Broecker and [Lynn] Sykes. And so Manik had talked to me about getting rid of Walter Pitman for instance, who happened to be a friend of mine, and I thought he was a hell of a good scientist, you know.
Doel:And what was the cause that inspired —?
Opdyke:I donít know what the hell it was all about. Marc Langseth and Manik had a falling out, and it had to do, I think something about Doc. Iíve forgotten now, I forget now exactly what it was all about. Marc did tell me one time. So the fact was that the people who had avidly supported Manik at the time, you know, when he was elected, he had lost the support of. Me, I had decided I was going to leave the observatory. I was forty-nine or something like that.
Doel:When did you decide that?
Opdyke:Well, I decided that the first time I had to go ask Manik for salary. [Laughs] I wasnít going to spend the rest of my career going to ask somebody to support me, you know. I had to go ask Mike to pick up my salary because I couldnít — I hadnít raised enough in funds. One of the problems that Manik was having — of course by the end of the eighties there was a bunch of — The funding situation was beginning to slide in a way that even established researchers were having a hard time, and Manik I think, unfortunately for him, was reaping the backlash against this. It was not his fault, but —
Doel:This was affecting the earth sciences broadly in the 1970s.
Opdyke:Right. And he happened to take the exactly — He was, in many respects, a pillory for things that were not his fault. You know, the people were uncertain about the future and wanted some direction on how the future was going to go, and Manik was not making them inspired with what he thought about the future. It was a sort of gradual thing.
Doel:Was it a gradual or growing discontentment with Manik?
Opdyke:I was really surprised, when Manik talked to me about, you know, thinking that Walter [Pitman] should go and leave and I go, Jesus, you know, thatís pretty dumb, because like I say, if you are going to be king youíve got to keep the barons happy. And Manik was just not doing it.
Doel:Who do you feel were Manikís advisors? I presume this is by the late 1970s that this matter came up?
Opdyke:Yes. Well, that was the problem. He wasnít taking advice from anybody. This kind of advice, political advice. You know, he didnít come to me, I know he didnít come to Marc Langseth, because Marc was meeting the same group that I, essentially the same group that met to overthrow, to put him in office, met to take him out of office. And so he wasnít taking advice from anybody. He was just doing it all by himself, just like the Doc had done, and well thatís good for Doc, but it ainít so good if you are amongst a bunch of people that —
Doel:When the initial recommendation to appoint Talwani was made, was it to be a term limited appointment in your mind, or an indefinite appointment like Ewing?
Opdyke:In my mind, I really didnít care. As far as Iím concerned interim director can stay as far as Iím concerned. I was not at the time unhappy. At the time, you see, he was taking advice from all these people. I mean, the day he was elected I mean we went out to dinner, Marc Langseth, myself, our wives, with Manik. And unfortunately he let Marc go as a — Marc was associate director of the observatory. And like I say, they got in some sort of brouhaha about somebody. I think it was over Doc, but for what reasons I forget now. And if he had talked to Walter or if heíd talked to me or heíd talked to, you know, about policy but he never, never did, although I was on the executive committee of the senior staff up until the time I left the observatory. And he would go to people like Denny [Dennis E.] Hayes. But then he, you know, took over, was a protégé, he took over Heezenís group when Heezen was ousted, and then stayed on and became the associate director of the observatory, and Denny was widely thought of to be a sort of hatchet man for both Doc and Manik, and was not talked to by the rest of us then.
Doel:So he was increasingly isolated then —
Opdyke:He was isolated, yes which was a very big mistake on his part.
Doel:On his part, you mean for allowing that situation.
Opdyke:Allowing it to happen and you know. Besides that, if you are in a position like that seven or eight years, itís difficult because youíve made people mad. A ten year stint as director of the observatory is about what youíd expect to do and be effective, and after that youíd better quit, do something else, move on, retire, whatever.
Doel:Did you try to talk directly with Talwani near the end of his term about the difficulties that you perceived in his —
Opdyke:No, I didnít because I had already made a commitment to come down here.
Doel:When did you make that commitment? Of course you moved down here in —
Doel:Yes. So you made the commitment in Ď80.
Opdyke:1980. Six months before Manik was tossed out. So that was in August I came down here, and thatís when I decided to come, and for the reasons I gave you, and so when this jockeying was going on, although I was invited to these meetings when people were thinking about trying to get Manik replaced, I was really disinterested. You know, I had already done — you know had already made my decision. I had no hand in whatever happened to the observatory, because I was going to be gone.
Doel:I think you had mentioned off tape that the opportunity here was to come in as chair of the department and revitalize the department.
Doel:Did you have other opportunities that you were considering at that time as well?
Opdyke:At the time I didnít. I just decided to do this. I thought I might — well, what I miscalculated was it takes a lot longer to do it, and space problems, but it takes a lot. What I tried to do in 1981 has by now just about been achieved.
Doel:You were saying at the end of the last tape that what you were hoping to do is just now being achieved.
Opdyke:Yes. Because we are going to be moving from this building into the physics building, the ex-physics building. Weíll have space to expand and room for the laboratories and things. Right now weíre, in teaching weíre just not, you know — I knew at the time that space was going to be a problem. But I thought it might be possible to solve it. But, you know, in a big university like this itís a really difficult, intractable problem sometimes.
Doel:Iím curious particularly about, I want to get back to a few other Lamont issues, but when you began negotiating here at the University of Florida, what sort of conditions or expectations did you have? What sort of things did you ask for?
Opdyke:Well in retrospect I didnít ask for enough. The lab was already here, and what I should have asked for was a lot more, but I didnít. I didnít have any experience with this kind of stuff — negotiating for salary, I did negotiate a reasonable salary, but, so that was okay. At least I tried to get a reasonable salary, because I had to put my sons through college, two of them were at Columbia, and I had a third to go, so I tried to factor in how much I would have to make down here in order to — But it turned out it wasnít enough. [Laughs] But, you know, I got faculty positions and I appointed some good people when I came down, so that was good. And so I made some very good appointments. We couldnít hold them all, but now I think things are in pretty good shape in this department, itís a respectable department with very strong research capabilities now.
Doel:How much did the Lamont experience influence what you wanted to do here at Florida?
Opdyke:Well, it influences me because I had a very strong idea about what good research was all about.
Doel:Iím just curious what in particular you are thinking about when you say that.
Opdyke:Well, at a university, you know, my expectations and what I expect to do with research is a lot different from — Some people who grow up in a university system like this one, they find ways of doing enough to get tenure and enough to do this, but you know they are not really interested in what they are doing. People at Lamont were very interested in science all the time, they worked hard at it, and you know they were consumed by it. And the people who do science do it all the time, and you know they may be distracted by teaching and things like that that you have to do to keep yourself fed, but they are interested in it. Have a seminar at Lamont, and everybody shows up, or most people show up. You have a seminar here sometimes, and God knows whoís going to show up sometimes. It happens to be not in their field of interest or a little bit too obtuse, they wonít show. So yes, I have very strong ideas about what people should be doing.
Doel:Given that Lamont was composed of many different kinds of groups, different from what clearly was in the traditional geology departments at the time, did that influence the way in which you dealt with other departments here?
Opdyke:Well, I decided that Iíd hire people because they were good scientists, and that what they taught, you know, they didnít have to be doing exactly what they were — teaching was not necessarily what they should be doing for their research. And that worked out pretty well.
Opdyke:Get the good scientists and worry about the teaching later.
Doel:Of course that had been a tension between Columbia and Lamont in the 1960s as well, over who might be hired, those who would actually be doing teaching at Columbia as well.
Opdyke:Well, there is always a tension between the university, but I donít think that the dean — I donít think theyíre worried about it a whole hell of a lot, quite frankly. The undergraduate program —
Doel:Here you mean or at Columbia.
Opdyke:Columbia. I mean here itís different, because they have to count the legislature, and they make sure — I mean, Iím teaching an introductory course. Iíll bet thereís no other academician in the country who is teaching introductory oceanography.
Opdyke:I donít mind. Lots of good looking young students come in, what the hell. [Laughs] Thatís what Iím doing, putting together my lecture series.
Doel:Youíre pointing to your desk here.
Opdyke:Itís all messed up because of trying to reorganize my OCE 2005 lectures. [Laughs]
Doel:One issue that we didnít get a chance to talk about so far: how did your situation at Lamont change when Jim Heirtzler took the position as director of Hudson Labs?
Opdyke:Well, you know, essentially Doc Ewing made Walter head of the marine magnetics and I became, you know — I was sort of independent then. We worked together, but the paleomagnetic group was not, you know, subordinate to other groups. In fact Walter [Pitman] was never my boss in a sense. I was always my own boss after that.
Doel:Did you have much contact with Heirtzler after he went over to Hudson?
Opdyke:Sure. I see him all the time at scientific meetings.
Doel:It wasnít too long afterwards that Hudson Lab was closed by Columbia, wasnít it?
Opdyke:Thatís right. Poor Jim really took a gas, because he went over there as director of Hudson Labs, and then he had the job of closing it essentially.
Doel:Did he know that the closure was likely at the time that he went?
Opdyke:No. No. No, he didnít. So it was rather a dirty trick I think. [Laughs]
Doel:I was curious if you felt that those who had helped to appoint him to that position knew that the lab was likely to be closed.
Opdyke:Yes, thatís a possibility. I donít know that, but you know. I would not be surprised if Dr. Ewing had known about it.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. One of the things we havenít covered in detail in this interview is the scientific work, the actual work that you were doing during this time — in part because it has been well covered in a number of other interviews and also in the published work. I did want to ask you, though, to see whether in having read over other accounts if there are things that you felt have been missing from historical accounts of the critical work in which you were involved in paleomagnetics, and particularly its interrelations with the establishment of plate tectonics, that haven't been widely discussed.
Opdyke:Well, [Richard] Doelís — not Doelís The Road to Herameah(?) —
Opdyke:Bill Glennís story. He, you know, he somehow missed the mark, because he sort of divided paleomagnetists into two groups — one who was directionalist and one who was, essentially those who dealt with magnetic stratigraphy and those who dealt with pole positions. And this is an error, because there were not two camps. I mean, you have to make the same measurement and you get the same data, so there really wasnít. And he makes quite a big deal of it in this book, and I never thought, and in fact I challenged him one time when he gave a lecture on it. I donít — it doesnít make any sense to me.
Doel:It wasnít in your experience at Lamont or —
Opdyke:No. Well, I did both. Iíve been doing both all my life.
Opdyke:I do, you know, magnetics — Although Iím known as a magneto stratigraphist, you know, thatís probably what got me into the academy, you know, Iíve done all the other kinds of paleomagnetism, started out that way.
Doel:Indeed. You mentioned off tape during our last interview session that your appointment to the academy was fairly recently, wasnít it? And —
Opdyke:Yes, I was just inducted in April.
Doel:Yes. Thatís an interesting observation about your lack of perception of those sorts of divisions within the paleomagnetic field.
Opdyke:Well, thereís a group of people who began doing paleomagnetism in England, you know, thereís a group that Ted Irving and Ken Greer and myself. There was only two or three, you know, there were so few people in the world doing paleomagnetism. And the people in the United States, and I think in this 75th anniversary paper I described what it was like in the United States in the fifties and sixties.
Opdyke:The early sixties. And that you know the discipline was looked on with a great deal of skepticism. Almost, you know, in some cases active hostility. So I think I, did I say — You know, I think that Allan Cox and Dick [Richard] Doel probably did magnetic stratigraphy because they thought it was safe.
Doel:You had made that point. Yes.
Opdyke:Yes, right. Well, I think that was the case. And so the magnetic stratigraphy part of it of course grew naturally out of my involvement with the cores, but we were aware of, you know, people who had been in the business were well aware of the whole thing much earlier. I mean, Ted Irving, when he was at Cambridge, I mean the guy who preceded him and got his Ph.D. in 1953 had been doing magnetic stratigraphy in Iceland, on Iceland lavas. I mean itís not something that was a secret that suddenly burst on the stage in 1962 or something like that.
Opdyke:And Ted, who was probably the greatest living paleomagnetist, and certainly an enormous scientist — Iíve just written his citation, because Iím going to give him his citation for the Day Medal. Heís won a Day Medal from GSA [Geologic Society of America] this year. But he was the guy who got, you know, [?] Tarling was one of his students. He got Tarling involved with McDougall out in Australia, who was doing the same thing Cox and Doel were doing. They did it at the same time.
Opdyke:But Tedís name is not on any of these papers, but he was responsible for doing that.
Doel:One of the other things I was very interested in was whether you recall any discussions at the end of Ewingís period as director of Lamont as to whether Lamont needed to change its research focus or the kinds of problems and questions it took on was there a sense in which broad issues needed to be addressed at that —
Opdyke:I donít think so. Most of the people who, most of the people who were there were so involved in active research that, you know, there was no question about where to go. I mean, you know, I knew what I wanted to do and did it. Most other people were doing the same sorts of things. In some cases maybe you know some people, I mean Walter Pitman you know got tired of doing magnetic anomaly. He did the ocean, they got the map, you know, and what else was there to do, and so they were trying to do something else. Once youíve mapped the whole world, what do you do now?
Doel:Was that when Walter started getting interested in environmental —?
Opdyke:Uplift and things like that. Yes.
Doel:Yes. But I was curious if you remember discussions particularly given that this is the early 1970s, whether Lamont ought to enter more into environmental science causes.
Opdyke:I never recall that, but of course we were involved, deeply involved in the CLIMAP program, which I was on the executive committee of the CLIMAP program, which of course itís — depending on what time scale you want, out of that grew the Shackleton and Opdyke papers, which are still cited thousands of times a year; Hundreds maybe not thousands.
Doel:I wanted to make sure that we did talk about your involvement in CLIMAP and the subsequent climatic work as well. Were you involved in the early negotiations that led to establishing the CLIMAP program?
Opdyke:Yes. In fact Doc Ewing gave me the task of being number one on the first proposal when the ocean, the decade of ocean research. I was the lead person on the proposal. When the proposal went in, it was a sort of a grab bag of different parts of the observatory and it didnít work. And then we decided well why donít we do, you know, we had just written that paper, Jim Hays and I had just written that paper with Suni Siato[?] and Lloyd Burckle, the Ď69 paper on the Pacific, and we were all of us were very heavily engaged in climate. I had started out; I was always very interested in paleoclimatology. I did it for my thesis. And I was very interested in it.
Opdyke:And in fact the paleoclimatic interpretations in that Ď69 paper of which Hays is the first author are all mine. I did them all. And then we were — it was exciting, we thought that we had instead of four glacial stages, which was in the textbooks —
Doel:The old [?]-Brookner series.
Doel:Right which was just a lot of bologna? You know, we knew that there was a lot more and very interesting stuff to do, so the question is what to do. We put in another proposal, turned a proposal around and put it back in again. I forget now where I was in that proposal, but we focused it on the climatic part of it. It was sent out of Washington, and then the guy who was on the committee to set up the decade said, ďWell, why donít you guys collaborate with the people from Oregon?Ē Because it turns out that this is where this guy was going as dean, right? [Laughs] So we collaborated with the people from Oregon and got the proposal funded.
Doel:That clearly wasnít quite what you had hoped to do.
Opdyke:Not exactly. But it worked out. The people from Oregon then went to — How the hell did that work? Went to Rhode Island later, and then we brought in people like Shackleton, and we brought in John Imbrie. John Imbrie, I have heard people say that John Imbrie was the person who did this. He wasnít the person who did it. The first director of CLIMAP was Jim Hays. He was director for five years and he actually set the thing going —
Doel:So you feel that Jim Hays has never gotten the full credit that he ought to get for —
Opdyke:Never gotten the proper credit for this. Heís an excellent administrator, and at the time he was a really superb scientist, and we had differences of opinion and personal problems, but he was a good scientist. His career was destroyed by his wife wanting a divorce. [Laughs] Not quite that way, but running off with somebody elseís, running off with some other man. That consumed him and destroyed him essentially in 1980. Never the same. And it was essentially Lamont run, and the people from Oregon were [?], and we collaborated very nicely together, and John Imbrie from Brown [University] and —
Doel:Yes. Imbrie had already left by the late sixties to go to —
Opdyke:Oh yes. He had been at Brown for some time. So thatís how it worked, and thatís how it went.
Doel:How did it actually work in practice? How often did all of the principals involved meet?
Opdyke:We had meetings about twice a year, which weíd give rather scientific papers at, and then there was an executive committee that met once, and we had to write new proposals and things like that, and it was, when the CLIMAP program began to concentrate on the last 20,000 years of mapping, actually it was my suggestion that we map, do the mapping, because we had all these cores all over the place.
Doel:Thatís what I wanted to ask, particularly when you look back what you feel that your most significant contributions to CLIMAP were.
Opdyke:Well, thatís one of them. I suggested the mapping part. Some others may dispute that it was actually my idea, but I thought of it on my own. But I became disinvolved because the time period was too short.
Doel:How do you mean?
Opdyke:Well, the last 20,000 years I was doing magnetic stratigraphy. That was my expertise, and I was going back.
Doel:Sure. How did that decision get made though, to concentrate CLIMAP on simply that most recent?
Opdyke:How was it made? I guess — Iím not sure now. But we decided you could actually do it. Oh, I think it came about when we began to get involved with the modelers.
Opdyke:Because the modelers, you know, you could sell this program pretty easily on the base of the fact you are going to, you could produce numbers which you could put in the models and then test the models. If the atmospheric models couldnít come up with an Ice Age that would reproduce what you saw, then obviously there was something wrong with the model.
Doel:When did the modelers first start becoming important?
Doel:That early on.
Opdyke:Yes. We went down to Princeton and talked to Manabi.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. What were your impressions of him?
Opdyke:I always thought he was a great scientist. He would jump and scream. Very enthusiastic, you know, very open, you know he wasnít clandestine or he didnít hide in his office. He was always up front. I thought he was good. Well, he was good. Now in the academy.
Doel:Yes. Iím wondering in a slightly different sense dealing with people who were working in terms of theoretical and computer-based models in contrast to the kinds of more experimental work that have been certainly the basis of work at Lamont. Iím just curious what the interface was like between those who were experimentalists and those who were —
Opdyke:Well we — you know, what we did is ask them what they needed essentially. We asked them, ďWhat do you guys want?Ē and then when we found out what they wanted then we added a whole host of other people, added people working on continents for instance doing paleoclimatology in lakes, a Dutch group, Vanderhomen[?] and those guys. So itís a good way to do science, because if you focus on a problem and not on a discipline or an area —
Doel:Encourage broader collaborations, clearly.
Opdyke:And all the people who run these climate programs now, almost all of them were graduates of our CLIMAP program if you look at them. Thereís a few from outside but not many, not a whole lot of positions in different areas of the country.
Doel:What was the collaboration with Shackleton like for you?
Opdyke:Well, the collaboration was very good. Nick is a lot smarter than I am. It was a good symbiotic relationship in the sense that I knew, I had these cores with good magnetic stratigraphy, we knew what we wanted to do, and you could just turn the samples over to Nick and he could do it. No problem.
Doel:Iím looking right now at your CV, and thereís one paper, ďThe Oxygen Isotope Paleomagnetic Stratigraphy of the Equatorial Pacific Core.Ē The Vema 28 cruise. And in 1973. Was that effectively the start of the —
Opdyke:Thatís the first one.
Doel:The first. How well received was that work by the broader community at the time that it first appeared?
Opdyke:I think it was a bombshell. Wally Broecker tried to do the same thing, using a much lower rate core, and he — And you couldnít get the definition that we were able to get in those cores. John Mindok, thatís right. And yes, it was very interesting. I talked to Nick Shackleton not too long ago, I guess it was the fall meeting, I donít know. We had a beer, and he told me that when he came to Lamont for six months about the time we started to collaborate on this core, on this program, and he said that I was the only person to invite him to their home.
Doel:Is that right?
Opdyke:I invited him to the house for dinner, and heís never forgotten that. [Laughs] I was stunned. I said, ďReally?!Ē He said, ďYes.Ē Said holy moly. I was the only person. And Iím very high in his books because of that. Well, I didnít realize at the time. You know, he came and we had dinner, had a good time, he met the kids.
Doel:How important was the climate work that you were getting involved in for Manik in his perception of where Lamont needed to go?
Opdyke:Well, I think as director he was — I think he was very pleased with the CLIMAP program. And you had to be crazy if you werenít, being director.
Doel:It was around that same time that Broecker was effectively running the GEOSECS Project.
Opdyke:Yes, he was running GEOSECS. Yes. He was really not doing paleoclimate at all at that time; you know, when, the heyday of the program, the Decade of Oceanographic Research, he was doing GEOSECS. And he used to come to our meetings, but he took no active part in it. Well, he just talked, but —
Doel:But it wasnít in your view a substantial contribution that he was —
Opdyke:He made no contribution. [Laughs]
Opdyke:Howís that for a big, broad statement?
Opdyke:I could not remember one contribution he made, none. He has become very much more involved in recent years.
Doel:Indeed. Indeed. But this helps to eliminate it clearly during the time that you were very deeply involved in this work. I would like to get in detail to the climate work certainly at some point. Today I want to make sure that we also get a chance to cover what the experience was like for you to be the interim director after Manik.
Opdyke:Okay. Letís go have lunch, and we'll come back and do that.
Doel:Letís do that. Weíre resuming after a lunch break. And one question — I want to postpone the question I was about to ask you, and make sure that we cover a few things that we discussed informally over lunch. One was the idea that emerged I believe in the late 1960s of having a post doc program at Lamont.
Doel:How did that come about?
Opdyke:Well, I think it was my idea, quite frankly, and the question arose as, you know, how can you use the Vetlesen money to benefit the observatory? And I thought well, one thing you could do would be to bring in postdoctoral fellows. And so I proposed this, and I went first to John Ewing, and I think you know we politicked it together, he thought it was a good idea, and then supported it strongly on the executive committee. And so it happened. The other thing that I tried to get instituted and in the senior staff was sabbaticals for the research faculty, and —
Doel:For those who were there on contract funding primarily.
Opdyke:Yes. And youíd have to do this with using Vetlesen funds. And actually I went on sabbatical one time, with the support of Manik Talwani, but I don't think anybody else ever did. It was an idea that didnít quite make it.
Doel:Was there resistance to it, or did it just not seems as high a priority as say the postdoctoral program?
Opdyke:Well, there was resistance to it I think. Yes, there must have been resistance to it. I guess everybody could see the benefit of post docs, if you could get one. They have always been very, you know, there hadnít been that many, and thereís always many more applications than recipients. But the sabbatical business, you know, I just wanted to make life easier on the senior research staff, and thatís one way I thought you could do it. I personally you know, self-serving. I admit that.
Doel:Iím wondering though how difficult it was becoming for the senior staff, you know thinking of course particularly late in the time that you were at Lamont, in the 1970s. As you say, contract funds were beginning to become much harder to get.
Opdyke:It began to get much more difficult in the late seventies than it had been before, and to Lamont, you know, there were two big block grants: one from the Navy and one from the National Science Foundation, which essentially supported the observatory, which allowed Dr. Ewing to do all sorts of wonderful things, like appoint me part-time on Navy contracts when I first arrived. All this stuff was possible. You could do it and not worry about it. But in the seventies the rest of the scientific community I think was jealous and decided that Lamont had to justify all this money they were getting. So then we had to write proposals for all the funds we got, and by the end of the seventies it began to get much more difficult to raise funds. And so when I did not get funded the first time, I had to go beg for money, then I decided it was time to leave. I didnít like that idea.
Doel:Did others share that —? Iím just curious how many others began to feel similarly concerned among the senior research staff at Lamont.
Opdyke:Well, I donít know how many people were — You know, itís one of those things that became, you know, I was 48 or 49, you know.
Doel:And as you say you had people to support and the financial concerns were personal.
Opdyke:Right. And you know I had built the laboratory and got the money to go run the laboratory and support the students, and so it was — and my salary was getting bigger. You know, in the early days if you asked for — You know I came to Lamont with a salary of $10,000 a year, and in a couple years I began to starve to death, and I went to Doc and I said, ďLook Doc, Iím not making it.Ē So he said, ďOkay. Weíll give you a raise.Ē But so when I left Lamont I think I was making $40,000 or something like that. And so the amount of money I had to raise to cover my own salary was much greater and much more difficult to raise. So, as you get on, if youíre successful thereís a penalty for being successful.
Doel:Particularly in this system.
Opdyke:Yes, in this system because you have to raise your own money. You have to cover your own salary. And thatís not easy to do. After I left — And itís about that time that you have to make a decision on this, you know when youíre 48. And some people stayed on. Walt Pitman is a case in point and you know he had hard trouble, had hard times raising sufficient funds to cover his salary, and he got indigestion I think he said, lying awake in the middle of the night worrying about it, and finally retired early. He retired I guess five or six years ago now, maybe more, about 1990 I guess, and he is feeling much better about it, about life. There are other people who just flat out got fired in the eighties. People, the Arctic program, Ken [Kenneth] Hunkins who is an old Lamonter, he was there much longer than I was. You know, finally they, these people were forced to retire.
Doel:How well did you know Hunkins during that time?
Opdyke:He was always very shy and retiring.
Doel:Because he was involved in a lot of the Navy efforts, what had been very highly classified areas of research.
Opdyke:Yes. Iím sure thatís the case, yes. Now why he couldnít support himself on that kind of — you know, later on, I have no idea. But he retired I think, I don't know, mid-eighties, late eighties. Married Allan Béís ex-wife. Allan had died earlier. I think the whole Antarctic program collapsed, the whole Arctic program rather. Iím not sure about that, it may well have, you know, for lack of funds. There were others. Lloyd Burckle, my old friend and colleague, who was apparently pushed out sometime in the late eighties and then he managed, went down to Rutgers [University] and talked for a while and actually managed to raise funds again. Heís still there. Heís very tenacious and in retrospect very successful.
Doel:Thatís rather unusual to regain funding after one loses it for a period of time.
Opdyke:It usually ends, yes. And so, you know, these people hung on. I tried to acquire Lloyd Burckle down here, and he refused to come because his kid was in high school at the time, so — big mistake on his part. So you know I can point to people who didnít do what I did, and that is leave, who had a very difficult time of it. Iím sure there are other cases that I canít offhand think of.
Doel:In general what other broad programs experienced difficulties by the financial crisis deepened in the 1970s? You mentioned that the Antarctic program was —
Opdyke:The Arctic program.
Doel:The Arctic program.
Opdyke:Well I think everybody was having difficulties, and I think the marine geology and geophysics became much more difficult to fund as the years went on. As a straight up what we used to call MG&G [Marine Geology and Geophysics]. There were a few bachelors around like Steve Cande who continued to run the program, and John La Brecque, and we had some people come in, new people come in and stay awhile and leave, but it was much harder to fund the marine G&G program. Which is the main — when I first went to Lamont, that was the main, main line.
Opdyke:Thatís what Lamont was all about.
Doel:Yes. How readily did funds come for climate research once you and Jim Hays and others began to use paleomagnetic work?
Opdyke:Oh, initially it was pretty, it was good, because it coincided with the Decade of Oceanographic Exploration, which made new funds available. So nobody got hurt and the funds expanded and so we used them. So that was good. And —
Doel:And those funds were, that was primarily in the 1960s —
Doel:Seventies was the — yes.
Opdyke:Yes. In the sixties we were still operating in what I call the old mode.
Doel:It was still the block grant largely that sustained things.
Opdyke:Yes. Thatís right.
Doel:One matter that I wanted to raise, and will unfortunately need to save some of the discussion of your climate research until later. How well received were the early attempts that you were making to study climate using the paleomagnetic data? Iím thinking both within Lamont, and more broadly in the community.
Opdyke:Well, there wasnít a big community doing paleoclimatology in the late fifties.
Opdyke:There was just this very small community, and it was essentially ignored. [Laughs] I always thought it was very interesting. There had been a book written in the twenties on paleoclimatology by a person Iíve forgotten now, and of course it was always much more interesting, I think to people in the Southern Hemisphere who had to deal with the permo carboniferous glaciation. And so the reason that I did it was to try to support the theory, the dipole hypothesis for the paleomagnetics dipole hypothesis, and that was the only way we could think of to do it. I did it, Ted Irving did it, and one of Ted Irvingís students did it. And in a way we were breaking new ground. I had to, you know, I tried to reconstruct the earth and try to figure out what the climatic belts should be in the absence of an ice cap for instance. Nobody I think had ever done that before. And you had to do it in the absence of modeling. So you could just take, you know — you had to use your head about how you went about it.
Doel:You mentioned your collaboration with Shackleton. Where there others that you found particularly invigorating as colleagues in this effort? Of course you mentioned Jim Hays.
Opdyke:Oh, Jim Hays, and Andy [Andrew] Macintyre. By that time Andy Macintyre, the people who were you know principals in the CLIMAP Project were all, you know, Ted Keen on climate, and people who came afterward, outside the CLIMAP program I think the group up at Rhode Island were very interested in paleoclimate. Iím not sure about the people at Scripps. I canít remember anybody at Scripps who was very active in those days. [Cesare] Emiliani of course down in Miami was always very interested, but after the sixties or seventies, early seventies, I don't think he ever did anything. I think he sort of dropped out.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. You donít really remember him active in the debates or discussions.
Doel:Oh yes, I do. I remember the debates in the sixties when he took a very active part.
Doel:Indeed. But I meant after that point.
Opdyke:After that he stopped writing papers. Why, I have no idea. He was a very bright guy, and I donít think he got the recognition he should have for the very important stuff that he did in the fifties and early sixties. And in fact one time a couple of years ago I thought seriously of trying to get him a medal, and I never got very far with it, and by the time it got too late anyway because he died.
Doel:He died about two years ago now, didnít he?
Opdyke:But I think he [Emiliani] was overlooked. You know, his contribution in the fifties, all the papers were with a single author, which tells you something about his collaborative abilities.
Doel:Youíre holding your hand and making a zero.
Opdyke:But in fact he told me one day that I should get rid of the paleontologists, do my own paleontology, and then I wouldnít have to publish with anybody.
Doel:Is that right?
Opdyke:Yes, one time outside Lamont Hall. Or I guess it was outside the lunchroom there at Lamont. And I, you know I just couldnít feature [inaudible]. Life is too short to be doing two different kinds of things at one time, which is what he did. But yes, you can do it and get single author publications, but my God, what a waste of time.
Doel:I imagine it seemed at what cost, too, that kind of an approach.
Opdyke:Yes, at what cost.
Doel:How often did he visit Lamont?
Opdyke:Occasionally. We had the big debate in the sixties was you know the length of the Pleistocene.
Opdyke:And we were on one side of the debate, he was on the short Pleistocene side and we were on the long Pleistocene side, and course the long Pleistocene side, relatively long, 500 to a million and a half. Long side won, because he was correct in a way, but he was looking for the cycles in the Pleistocene to be 20,000 years and they were 100,000 years, so he was off by a factor of five or something like that.
Doel:Yes. These were the debates that also involved Dave [David] Ericson as I recall.
Opdyke:Yes. They involve Dave Ericson.
Doel:Yes. How closely were you able to follow those debates at the time?
Opdyke:How close was I able?
Opdyke:I followed them very closely. I was part of the debates because we dated the damn things.
Doel:Right. And did you carry that discussion on often outside of Lamont, outside in more social settings?
Doel:With Emiliani over the length of the Pleistocene.
Opdyke:Well, there was one GSA [Geological Society of America] meeting I think that there was a lot of argumentation, I forget now exactly where it was — Atlantic City I think, but I donít know when it was. It was in the sixties Iím sure, or the very early seventies. But socially I had a few beers with him several times, but I didnít know him all that well.
Doel:Letís see. I do want to return to some of these issues in a subsequent session when we focus a little bit more on climate. The one question I did want to make sure we covered today was how your appointment came about to be the acting director at Lamont after [Manik] Talwani was first —
Opdyke:Well, you know, we had the group of people, the gang of eight or whatever it was minus Manik, which made it one less. So there was a meeting. We had a meeting in which I was sort of reticent to take very much part in, because I knew I was leaving. I had already committed myself to leaving. And so there was discussion about who should take over the directorship at Lamont if Manik had to step down. And so we discussed several people there, and Jim Hays was a candidate, and somebody said well — I forget now how it went, how the discussion went exactly, but somebody had made a suggestion of some person, I forget now who it was, and somebody said, ďWell, Iíd rather have Opdyke,Ē and so I didnít say anything. And so there was more discussion about this, and finally the group sort of made a decision that I would be the director. For a variety of reasons, one of which I was planning to be leaving, so I didnít have any stake in this, so they could trust me to get the hell out of there so they wouldnít have to worry about me taking over directorship in six months. Thatís my guess. Thatís one guess. And at the time I thought, you know, I thought that I could do some good for the observatory, and so I decided to do it. But it may have been an unwise decision on my part intellectually. I donít know. Itís one of those things, itís hard to know. Like I said, it wasnít going to be doing me very much good, you know, except I was going to leave, and I was going to have a hell of a lot of problems in between time, but at the moment, at the time I thought by taking this job I didn't realize that that was going to happen.
Doel:Let me pause just to — You were saying about not having it. How did you feel about the possibility of taking that on? I sense that there were clearly some mixed feelings.
Opdyke:Well, there were some mixed feelings. Like I say, Manik was a friend of mine, you got to understand, and he was a friend of other people in that room too, and I hadnít actually warned him that there was a real serious problem. What I did do, I went to Ellen Herron, who was assistant director, and I told Ellen, I said ďHey, youíve got a real problem here in the observatory.Ē And she says, ďYou mean Uncle Walter.Ē I said, ďWell, youíve got a real problem coming.Ē And she was assistant director.
Doel:Meaning Pitman of course.
Opdyke:Yes, well, Pitman was one. She thought that Pitman was the problem she was alluding to, but she didn't, you know, I tried to make it clear that she had a real big problem, and she did not take the clue. I donít know why. And so when Manik resigned — well, Manik was fired. It was a very emotional scene in Lamont Hall, and the whole observatory was there, and I really felt sorry for Manik. At the time —
Doel:When was he actually told that he was fired?
Opdyke:He was told by the president of the university and I —
Doel:This is Mike [Michael I.] Sovern at that point?
Opdyke:Yes. And by the time he was fired, you know, Lynn Sykes — And he was fired as director. He wasnít fired. And I guess the people who were negotiating with the president was Lynn Sykes and Wally Broecker I think at that time, maybe somebody else as well, and you know they went down there with Sovern and told him who they wanted to be the interim director, and that was me. And so I thought — I didn't know how Manik was going to take this. I thought that he would be — At the time I was much more sanguine about it, you know, how the hell he was going to react. But he was really hurt, and he was very bitter, and so it became a real problem. It was a problem for me personally, because when it became clear that it was going to be a struggle, it was not — You know, I told Manik when — Well, let me go, let me step back. And then what happened then was that after Manik read his resignation he told everybody at the big house that he had been forced to resign by the president, and his wife read this statement, because he couldnít.
Doel:Were you at that private meeting between him and Mike Sovern?
Opdyke:No. I was not there. So, there was a meeting of senior staff, and then — which I didn't go to — and the senior staff then elected me as interim director. Iíll never forget walking down the walk to the big house and up the front steps. And I just said Iíd do what I could to help the observatory. And I said, you know, Iíll be leaving in six or seven months, or seven months I guess at the time. I think there were some people who didnít believe me, you know, they didnít believe I was actually going to leave. But it was very difficult. The first reason was because of my relationship to Manik. I mean, this was not somebody I didnít know; he was a friend of mine. And so I called Manik up, and I said, ďLook, Manik, Iíll try to help you out, make a smooth transition. I have no interest in hurting you or your family or anybody else, I want to help you if I can,Ē and he was just not listening. And his wife called me up and boy, she just gave it to me. Whew! [Laughs]
Doel:Did she consider you to be in the —?
Opdyke:Something about worms. [Laughs] Annie was really upset. She was really upset, and I just stood there and didnít say anything. I just took it. And very painful, very painful.
Doel:Iím sure it was.
Opdyke:And so, well I decided I had to do something. Manik was still in his office, and I went down in the geology building, so I decided that the office would move into the geology building, I took over the student lounge and just moved, made it into the directorís office, where it stayed for a long time.
Doel:Manik stayed in the —?
Opdyke:Manik stayed in his office, and I just moved. I talked to his secretary, and that was the other thing that by then I had, you know, I persuaded the executive secretary to come down who had been working for Manik. A wonderful move, because she had all the information, she knew where everything was.
Doel:It was essential for what you needed.
Opdyke:Yes, exactly. So she came. She didnít — she thought she belonged to the observatory, not to Manik, so that worked just fine as far as organization was concerned. And of course what happened then was the big struggle broke out between Manik, who wanted to take — who began to negotiate right away with the oil industry. At the time of course the oil industry was riding high, and he, Manik was trying to take the, wanted to take the reflection profiling group out of the observatory and attach it to Gulf Oil and Blue Hill. I of course learned about this, and of course I tried, as best I could, to see that the observatory wasnít torn apart. That issue continued up to the day I walked out of the directorís office. I called up Barry [C. Baring] Raleigh and told him he better get his ass down there, because Manik was trying to hire the entire marine seismic program away, and he had better, you know — Iím going, you better get here. [Laughs] So he came. [Laughs]
Doel:How long did you know Barry Raleigh at that point?
Opdyke:I didnít know him at all. But Barry [Raleigh] says all I did was pat him on the back and give him some Rolaids. [Laughs] But there were a lot of problems. You know, I became a crisis manager, because you know people believed that the observatory was weakened, and everybody who had an axe out for us really went after us then. First of all the Vema went on line to retire. So I had the job of firing my friend Henry [Kohler]. So, you know, that was quite a scene in itself, because everybody of course knew that I didnít like Henry, and I had people, Bill [William F.] Ryan and Walter Pitman arriving on my doorstep, saying what a nice guy Henry was and I should, you know — long service to the observatory. Said, ďOkay, Iíll take care of Henry.Ē So we gave him I think six months of salary or something like that, and gave him a golden handshake, and then we had to sell the Vema. And we were sitting on the dock there at Piermont with the Vema and sort of keeping the engines turning over so it didnít freeze up. So we put it up for sale, and of course we had a couple of drug runners try to buy it, and finally we sold it to Barefoot Cruises, where itís still in operation —
Doel:Down in the Miami area, if I recall.
Opdyke:Yes. And so that worked out okay. But then the Conrad was going in for overhaul at the same time, the spring, that spring, and the Navy had put up X amount of dollars, Ellen Herron was supposed to be running the contract for the Navy, and she was still there in place, so I asked her to continue. And then suddenly we got some funny signals.
Doel:From the Navy?
Opdyke:From the Navy, saying that they were having second thoughts, and I essentially found out that — First of all it was hard to find out what the problem was. What I found out was that the National Science Foundation decided, because of the increase in oil, that the oil prices that they should take a ship out of service at the UNOLS fleet, and they decided that Conrad was the one that should go before it got refitted which would have left no ship for Lamont.
Doel:No ship at all for Lamont. Yes.
Opdyke:And I said, ďWell, thatís unacceptable.Ē [Laughs] A guy by the name of Grant Gross was running the marine program down there, heís a jerk. And so I pulled out all the stops. I talked to Gross and I talked to people at the NSF, and then I talked to my Senator.
Doel:Interesting. Which Senator was that?
Opdyke:Well, I talked to both of them, [?] Moynihan and whatís-his-name — Senator — oh, the guy who had the hearings last year.
Doel:Was [Alphonse] DíAmato already —?
Opdyke:DíAmato. He was Senator. And I talked to — Lamont at the time had a group of people who were — it was called the Advisory Committee, of prominent lawyers, and it had been set up years before which didnít really do anything, except that I called them all up, the ones that I thought could help us out, and I called the Senators and Representatives. Suddenly the National Science Foundation found that they had grenades being lobbed at them, you know, the Senator called up, you know. First of all they were — I told them, I said you know, ďThis ship, this is the New York Navy, and itís going to be gone, man, if you donít do something about it.Ē They did. DíAmato in particular was very aggressive. And —
Doel:Did you meet him personally, or was this by phone?
Opdyke:By phone. I never met him. But the thing is that they would talk to me. When I called up as director of Lamont, they listened to what I had to say. I talked to the president of the university. I called up the president and I said, ďHey, weíre going to go down the tubes, man, youíve got to do something.Ē I said, ďIf you are going to have any irons in the fire you can pull, youíve got to do it now. You canít wait. Itís not tomorrow. Now, now, now.Ē And so the president called DíAmato and backed up what I said, and then things really began to happen, and the National Science Foundation again backed down.
Doel:But does that —? Was it a surprise to you that the Navy and the NSF were ready to allow Lamont not to have a ship in operation?
Opdyke:It was surprising. The Navy was not the culprit in this case. It was the National Science Foundation.
Doel:Who was the program manager?
Doel:This was Gross.
Opdyke:And itís just at the time they thought we were very, very weak, and they were going to do it. And I think they got a big surprise.
Doel:Clearly they did. How interested in the matter was Mike Sovern as Columbia president?
Opdyke:Oh, I think he was, yes, he was very interested. Itís stupid to not be very interested. I mean you are going to lose $12 million or $13 million a year in contracts? Youíve got to be kidding me. Thatís what the presidents of universities are for; if they arenít worried about that, then they shouldnít be there. Yes, Sovern was worried. And he had a right to be.
Doel:He did what you wanted him to do.
Doel:Yes. [Interruption to answer door]
Opdyke:So, where were we?
Doel:We were talking about Mike Sovernís response, and others.
Opdyke:Yes, well, Sovern, you know everybody was dead scared that we were going to lose that ship. And but we didnít. We saved it. So that turned out okay. And Ellen Herron was put in the job of refitting the ship, along with Marc Langseth. They had the two of them that were supposed to do that, and then they —
Doel:How did they get appointed as the ones with that responsibility?
Doel:How were they chosen to be the ones?
Opdyke:Well, she had been associated with the original contract, so she knew the information. She had all the information. But they didnít get along, and what happened was in the end that my old friend Ellen, I had to fire her. [Laughs] She gave me a hard time. [Laughs] A feisty woman. Anyway, so I had to fire her. So I fired Ellen which is too bad, because you know she is a person I respect. I like her. I still do. And we gave her a golden handshake, and then she went off to the oil industry and made a lot of money which is too bad, because she was a good scientist. So that was the end of that. The ship actually was refitted and back in the fleet. So thatís how the Vema got saved — or the Conrad.
Doel:The Conrad was saved. Yes.
Opdyke:The Conrad was saved, and the Vema got sold. And I guess they were the two major crises, and I — at the time we had a retreat and I did things I thought were necessary for the morale of the observatory, which seemed to work out pretty well. And we negotiated a —
Doel:I would like to hear more about that. It was a retreat that you organized for senior staff members or broadly?
Doel:What sort of issues came up?
Opdyke:The future of the observatory and all that kind of stuff.
Doel:I was curious, given the situation —
Opdyke:What, where science was going, you know, influence.
Doel:Yes. I wonder what ideas were raised at that point about future directions for Lamont or the scientific programs —
Opdyke:Well, we were all worried about the marine program. I think thatís really one of the things that we were all — At the moment I canít recall particularly what it was, but the thing did the job it was supposed to do, and thatís make people feel better. [Laughs]
Opdyke:And afterward people felt better.
Doel:Where did you hold the retreat?
Opdyke:In Rhode Island somewhere I think it was. I donít know exactly where in the hell it was in Rhode Island. I saw Peggy Larson, is the reason I know it was at Rhode Island. Someplace up there.
Doel:You had mentioned a number of the crises and that you were indeed going here to Florida at the time that you found the directorship. Were you able — did you have a vision of what you wanted Lamont to become, certain developments that you wanted to see happen during your interim directorship, or did you feel your task was to try to mend the divisions that had occurred with Talwaniís firing?
Opdyke:I was a crisis manager. I mean, I didnít have time to think about the future, you know, except for the retreat, but that was, in a way was not really what it was all about. What the retreat was about was just to get people thinking positively about the future of the observatory, and no, I had no vision. My vision was to get through the next day without having large chunks of the observatory being torn out from under me. [Laughs]
Doel:Was that one of the major, or the major crisis that you faced? I mean you mentioned the ship issues as well, which were clearly critical.
Opdyke:The ship, which was a critical issue and the other, was trying to persuade the marine seismic group to stay. And I was partially successful. I talked to John Mutter, and I pointed out to Mutter that you know, if he stayed he would be the man. The people who went were probably going to go anyway, so — Manik took a group with him to Blue Hill, right in the county, and eventually half of them came back to the observatory as a matter of fact.
Doel:Because the Blue Hill facility didnít last for a long time after that.
Opdyke:No. I forget now whether John Ewing went to Blue Hill or not. I don't remember. I can't recall now when John Ewing went to Woods Hole.
Doel:That was in the 1970s, mid-seventies.
Opdyke:Yes, he wasnít at Lamont during this crisis. He had left before the crisis had arrived. Yes, so I knew that Manik was doing this, and the question was, you know, how to stop him from taking this important group out from under the —
Doel:Were you in personal contact with him at all during those months?
Opdyke:No. Initially, like I say, I tried to contact him, because I thought I could help. He was in the directorís house. There was no way Iím going to walk over there and throw him out of the directorís house, you know, I couldnít do that. Personally I wouldnít do it, but you know I just didnít have any heart for it. I couldnít do it.
Doel:That must have been difficult too for the directorís office being set up in temporary headquarters as well.
Opdyke:Well, the key thing was Margaret. When she came down, she brought the files down and everything in the place. You know, thereís a difference between the observatory files and the files of an individual, you know. Manik sort of said that she had done a nasty thing by removing files of his own personal files. That wasnít the case at all. She just brought things down that she knew was, you know, university and Lamont director related. We had some negotiations about this with Manik. I forget now. But he was upset about that. I told him well you know, this is the observatory, weíve got to run the observatory, weíve got no choice. I mean in business they just take a policeman and they walk you right outside and clean out your desk [Laughs] and hopefully in academia most of the time we donít do that. But there were some other people who were very upset about it, about what happened with Manik, and I tried to assure everybody that things were going to be okay. But I was a crisis manager. I mean thatís all there was to it.
Doel:Did you feel you were getting the aid from Columbia itself that you wanted?
Opdyke:Well, in the day-to-day operation of the place I did it. You know, I didnít get any aid from anybody. I remember negotiating the budget and going down to the Bursarís office down there, and having the Bursar tell me that the person who was doing my budget for me I should get rid of him because this guy is costing me money, and I said, ďWell, you know, you guys are costing me more money than the guy who is working for me.Ē It was always an adversarial relationship between Lamont and the people downtown. And Iím sure — well, I donít know if itís changed now, but throughout the years this has been a constant — I mean those guys, I mean if you really believe what they tell you when you go down there as director of the observatory, youíve got to be crazy. You know, I knew this, I knew the whole history of this. At least I wasnít any sort of babe in the woods, you know. I told the president I had to have his support, and the vice president was the guy I had to deal with, and some very sharp woman who was the Bursar, and I forget exactly what the argument was about, but it was, you know, negotiations about how much overhead went to the university and so forth and things like that.
Doel:Was Arnold Finck still the financial officer at the time?
Opdyke:No. Finck had retired before that time. He retired, I forget now exactly when he retired, but it was before I became director. We had a new financial officer, and I forget now the name of the person, but they lasted for several years after I left, so I guess I wasnít misplacing my confidence too much in this guy. But the people downtown, you know, you just couldnít ever — they were always out to get the observatory, get more money out of the observatory.
Doel:Did you feel it was anything particularly relating to Lamont, or was this part of the general accounting practice at Columbia?
Opdyke:No, it was just that they Ė itís their job to get as much money as they possibly can. Itís generic. It has nothing to do with personality.
Doel:Were there any other issues as you think back that were particularly important for you as director?
Opdyke:Well the budget and the ship, and the department.
Doel:And preventing the departments from leaving.
Opdyke:In six months thatís about as much as you want on your plate.
Opdyke:I had all I could do. But I went around, you know, I tried to, you know, pump up morale. Iíd go — I went to all the departments and used to go to all the beer fests on Fridays. I went to all the administrative departments and talked to them and patted them on the back, and they loved it. Manik never did that.
Opdyke:So when I left, they all thought I was a great guy. [Laughs] Gave me the biggest party Iíve ever seen at Lamont, and gave me a beautiful gift, a picture. There must have been 200 people there, maybe more than that, I donít know.
Doel:Interesting. Where was that held?
Opdyke:In the geology building. Oh, I went to the last meeting of the administrative board as director that spring, and the president and the board thanked me for my service and gave me a round of applause.
Doel:Did you have meetings with Barry Raleigh to tell him your impressions?
Opdyke:Never met him until I gave him the key. Told him he better get his buns down here fast. [Laughs]
Doel:As you mentioned a moment ago. But I was just curious if there had been in a sense a debriefing to tell him —
Opdyke:Well, the debriefing was very short, and I was on my way to China at the time. One of the things I did negotiate was a trip to China on Lamont before I came down here. But I told Barry what the problems were, and I told him why he should be there. It wasnít quite as short as — I told him what Manik was trying to do, that he was setting up his place in Blue Hill and Manik was trying to take — And of course Manik did in fact succeed in taking, splitting the group that was there, and but he didnít destroy the operations at Lamont. The seismic group, which he was trying to do. I think he wanted to take everybody out, lock, stock and barrel.
Doel:When you mentioned a moment ago that there were people who had been particularly upset at Manikís firing, was it those who were in the groups in which he was most directly involved?
Opdyke:Well, they were sort of spread throughout the observatory. The guy who went to, became head of the Ocean Joint Program, Phil [Philip] Rabinowitz, he went down to Texas A&M [Agricultural and Mechanical], and he was very upset and left. And Charlie [Charles] Windisch was the other guy who was pretty upset, I forget now.
Doel:Did you feel that [Manik] Talwaniís firing did affect the standing of Lamont, its capacity for research, or its reputation in the broader community?
Opdyke:I donít think it did. I donít think his firing did anything to affect the observatory. In the long run I donít think it hurt at all. It may not have done any good, but I donít think it hurt it.
Doel:I was just wondering if you sensed any decline in Lamontís standing in say the 1970s after Ewingís departure and during —
Opdyke:I donít think so. Lamont was still going full bore during the seventies. I mean, you know, with or without, never mind who was the director of it. I donít recall thinking that — Of course youíd have to ask somebody like Bill [William] Menard who was not at Lamont. [Laughs] Thatís one thing, and Bill's dead.
Doel:And Bill is dead indeed.
Opdyke:I forget now what he says about it in his book.
Doel:Youíre thinking of The Ocean of Truth.
Opdyke:The Ocean of Truth, yes, which I have, and have read.
Doel:When you think back to the time that you were interim director of Lamont, who would seem — which groups in the United States say seem to be the main institutional competitors? Was it the oceanographic places like Scripps and WHOI [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute], or were there others that at that point it seemed to be the —
Opdyke:Scripps and WHOI were the big planners for sure. We never regarded Miami or Rhode Island as being serious competitors.
Doel:Were there any university programs that were beginning to emphasize the interdisciplinary earth sciences that also seemed to you as a competitor? Or did Lamont seem unique enough with its oceangoing capacity to not be comparable to them?
Opdyke:Yes, I donít think there was any — You mean at the university?
Doel:At the university, yes.
Opdyke:No. There was no real competition. The only — the School of Mines had a group under John Quo.
Doel:Right. I had meant other schools. Iím sorry I didnít make that clear. If any other university programs where their people seemed to be more or less in competition with Lamont's areas of strength; Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology] for instance. Youíre nodding your head ďno.Ē
Opdyke:No, they never — Cal Tech, the kind of stuff that Cal Tech did, if you look back at the history of the development of earth science in the last thirty years, and Cal Tech was really out of the — I mean, they didnít do anything. [Laughs] I mean, itís the fact. Itís not fiction. And the same is true of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Those two institutions who were supposed to be the leaders, and Harvard [University], you know, in the sixties and seventies were out to lunch.
Doel:Why do you think that was so?
Opdyke:Well, initially Cal Tech still believed in the onion-skin earth, and I remember having a big argument with Don Anderson at London Airport. He was against plate tectonics and me being for it. Coming back from one of [S. Keith] Runcornís meetings. I forget now exactly what year it was, but it was late in the sixties. I donít know exactly what year, but you know those guys just were not keyed in, and I remember giving some lectures in the Midwest with Jack Oliver and seismologists Leon Knopoff from Cal Tech who used to be the con man, contre plate tectonics. I donít know how he ever got in the National Academy. I have no idea. [Laughs]
Doel:Interesting. You remember discussions with him when he was opposed to drift.
Opdyke:Yes, well, back in 1968, something like that. So thatís where Cal Tech was at the time. MIT, Frank Press I think had already — Frank Press left MIT?
Doel:He had been at MIT, and of course then in late 1970s was serving as Jimmy Carterís Science Advisor in the White House.
Opdyke:Right, the late seventies. I think he was still at MIT, he must have been still at MIT. You know, they were loaded with seismologists, and they got rid of the geochemist that had actually made a contribution to understanding continental drift, Pat Hurley. They didnít think very much of Pat. Was happy when he retired. Couldnít figure that out worth a damn. There was nobody else there. Who else was at MIT? I donít know. I canít think of anybody at MIT who had made any contribution to the subject at all. Frank didnít.
Doel:And Harvard didnít have people in that —?
Opdyke:Oh, Harvard was worse. Harvard was a joke. I remember I told you — did I tell you about the going to the retirement party that was held for Marshall Kay out in Wisconsin?
Opdyke:And it had Billings and Siever there as well.
Doel:Ray Siever you mean, yes.
Opdyke:Yes. And I was sitting across the table from these luminaries from Harvard, and this is 1973, and they are laughing and joking about how anybody could understand and support plate tectonics.
Doel:Is that right?
Opdyke:Would I lie? [Laughs] I thought that it was the most extraordinary thing I ever heard in my life, right? This was supposed to be the premiere earth science institution in the country, and these clowns are talking like that in 1973. Theyíve got to be crazy.
Doel:That must have been an astounding moment for you.
Opdyke:Oh, it was astounding, astonishing. I thought the whole thing was just astonishing.
Doel:Did you talk to them directly about their views?
Opdyke:I just listened. [Laughs] I just listened in astonishment. You know, who am I to tell them that they are full of it? And you know thatís the kind of attitude. I remember I was out in Pakistan with an undergraduate major at Princeton, or Dartmouth; I did a lot of work with the people at Dartmouth, and he had 1500 board scores on his geology, and you know, huge GREs, and the guy was really bright. So we were talking about — I said, ďWhere do you want to go?Ē He said well — because he had a scholarship already from the National Science Foundation, some damn thing. Incidentally Iíve never heard from him since. I donít know where he went. So I said, ďWell, where are you going to go?Ē He said, ďWell, I think Iíll go to Harvard.Ē I said, ďWhat the hell do you want to do that for?Ē He said, ďWell, you know, and do tectonics.Ē I said, ďThereís nobody there whoís doing modern tectonics.Ē I said, ďYou better go somewhere else. Go somewhere else.Ē ďNo, I think Iíll go to Harvard.Ē I said, ďWell, itís your business.Ē He was there a year and then left.
Doel:And this was in the mid-seventies?
Opdyke:Ď74 or Ď75.
Opdyke:[Laughs] And I told him straight out I mean that these guys are practicing — theyíre doing the kind of structural geology that was done twenty-five years ago, if thatís what you want to do. Okay. I shouldnít stand in your way. [Laughs] Itís just bad news. So much for Harvard. But thereís nothing. You know, they didnít do anything. Zero.
Doel:How much contact did you have with Lamont after you became established here at the University of Florida?
Opdyke:Oh, Iíve always — you know, Dennis Kent and I ran a mutual program in China for a few years, and weíre trying to resuscitate it right now. But we had — Dennis and I first of all did it together, and then about 1987 or Ď88 he dropped out of the project and Iíve continued it with Dr. [?] Kwame, so —
Doel:And what did this program center on?
Doel:What was the basis of this program in China?
Opdyke:Tectonics in China.
Opdyke:And so for a while I had a formal relationship with Lamont. Iíve given several lectures at Lamont since Iíve been down here. And Iíve been going up once a year every year almost. I stop in to see, I see Dennis every time, or I went up to see Dennis every time I was in the northeast. Dennis [Kent] is probably my best friend. We get along just fine. And so, you know, I got to Lamont parties. I didn't know Barry Raleigh very well, but I did know him, and I knew Gordy [Gordon Eaton], I was on the Vetlesen committee at one time with Gordy. I had met him previously actually, so I was there several times during their tenure. The new director I donít know.
Doel:Peter Eisenberger, you are referring to.
Doel:The last question I wanted to ask you before we wrap things up for today: Have there been any philosophical or religious convictions or strong commitments that you feel have been very important in your professional life?
Doel:Or simply philosophical or other strong guiding principles.
Opdyke:Oh. Well, you know, Iíve always thought that you should — that the principle I have used as far as doing science is concerned, is that you shouldnít waste your time, much time on secondary problems. You should always try, you know, you have to do some —, but you should try to address important, first-order problems. And if you donít, as a scientist, address important problems, you are never going to do anything. [Laughs] And the difference between good scientists and just so-so scientists, believe it or not, is not how well you can do differential equations; itís how well you can decide what you want to do, what kind of research you are going to do, which direction you want your research to go.
Doel:In perceiving the broader problems and recognizing the significance.
Opdyke:What are the problems they must address?
Opdyke:And as I get older and my career is coming to an end pretty soon, I am becoming even more picky. I do service works, you know, friends, things like that, but you know I just went out to Australia because I thought it was important to know the age of the base of the Kaiman. And I regard it as an important problem to solve. Now Iím dickering with thinking seriously about trying to do another one which, if it works out will be the last, which is with Dennis Kent maybe, to look at the secular variation of the earthís magnetic field, that requires redoing a whole slew of lava sites all over the world. So that would be a big project for a first-order problem. Theyíre still lying around to be done.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Opdyke:But to write one more paper, itís not going to do any good.
Doel:Yes. Clearly you are talking about a broader project, program would need to —
Opdyke:Yes, bigger project to address the problem. I think itís very important for young people who are starting out to address the important problems. But they also got to get out a lot of papers, you know, just getting into the business of doing it and thinking about it. That's the only training you get. Thatís the only way you are going to make it work.
Doel:When you look back to your early initiation as a young research scientist at Lamont, are there any major changes that you note in the way that young people are establishing themselves in science today?
Opdyke:Well I think itís a little bit harder. Even in the early days I was an outsider in the sense that I had, I didnít come from one of the major graduate schools in eastern North America or western North America, and thatís always, if you want to be a front line person itís always difficult. I always thought that I had to kick the door down. Youíve got to write a lot of papers and youíve got to really go after it; otherwise you are never going to make it. A kid down the hall here, Joe Stoner, heís really good, and heís really into science, heís really into it, you know, and heís had a hell of a time getting a job. And itís that I think is the difference. I think I had much more an opportunity I think. At the time I may have believed I didnít have it, but he is very good, you know, and there are others who have a tough time getting established. But, you know, heís worked for almost nothing here, doing odd jobs, teaching the odd course, and itís much more difficult, even if you are very good, to get into science today.
Doel:Thatís a good point. Thank you very much again for what has become another long session. And as I mentioned off tape, you will be getting the transcripts from these sessions.
Thank you again.Session I | Session II