Oral History Transcript — Dr. Xavier Le Pichon
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Levin:Okay. Todayís date is the 25th of May, 1998, and this is an interview with Xavier Le Pichon, and this is Tanya Levin doing the oral history interview. And I know you were born on June 18th?
Levin:In Quinhon, Vietnam?
Le Pichon:Thatís right, yeah.
Levin:How was your family living in Vietnam at the time? How did you get over there?
Le Pichon:Well, my father was working there, had been working for them since I think 1930 or something like that. And he first was in a plantation of a, what do you call it, the rubber tree, you know? The ??? make rubber with.
Levin:Yeah. Rubber tree.
Le Pichon:Yeah, rubber tree? And then after the big Depression he moved into the French Administration, which was both Army and administration of the provinces. And he ended in, oh, he went all the way to 1954 I think, 1956. Left Vietnam after having been, the last thing he was doing was he was expert actually for the American government to help implantation of the people from the north into the south, you know, for the war when the north became communist and the south was still non-communist and ???. So he spent all his career really over there. So all the children were born in Vietnam. I was born in Vietnam, and I left Vietnam in 1946, so I was nine years old.
Levin:So you left before your father actually did?
Le Pichon:Yes, because he had to return because of the war. He was mobilized to do the war there against the Vietnamese from the north, the communists.
Levin:But did your mother then take the family back to France because of the war?
Le Pichon:Yeah, yeah. We went back to France and then my father was mobilized, so he was fighting the war there and coming back for vacation six months every three years, which is not much. You know, it was a long time.
Levin:Where did you live in France?
Le Pichon:In France we lived, until my, for my high school I lived in Cherbourg. Cherbourg is in Normandy. So I had my high school in Cherbourg. Then I did two years of what we call classe preparatoire, which is to prepare the consical [?]. We call it consical in French. So it was mostly doing math and physics in an intensive manner. And then when I went into the University of Strasbourg, that was in 1956, and I made the studies for geophysical engineer.
Levin:Well, just to go a little bit slower over some of these details, I just find it fascinating that you grew up until you were nine in Vietnam.
Levin:What was life like there as a French person, a French family living in Vietnam?
Le Pichon:Very nice. I enjoyed being there. I mean, it was a very, very beautiful life. We had many friends and it was a very pleasant. I was in the south. I enjoyed it tremendously. I had a very hard time adjusting back to France. I consider myself as being at home in Vietnam. Actually when I went to the States for the first time as an immigrant — I went as an immigrant in Ď63. I was on the Vietnamese quota, because what they count is the birthplace. So I was taken in USA as a Vietnamese. Yeah.
Levin:So and you had your earliest school there. Was it in a —?
Le Pichon:No. The only school I did with my mother.
Le Pichon:I did not go to school there.
Levin:So she taught you and your siblings at home?
Le Pichon:The older would go, but until the age of 10 we were working with her. Yeah. I prefer that, because I was working maybe two hours a day maximum, so it was very nice. I am somebody who got very bored at school. You know, I thought that school was very boring. I never listened anything at school.
Levin:Did your mom have any interest in science? Did she teach you something about it?
Le Pichon:Not really. Arithmetics and things like that. She was more literary. She had done studies in England and Ireland and mostly literary studies.
Levin:Did you read a lot at this point?
Le Pichon:Yeah, I always read a lot, especially until I was, when I was 10 or 12 I would read ten hours a day. I read enormously.
Levin:What kind of books did you read?
Le Pichon:Anything. Absolutely anything. When we went back to France I was nine, my grandmother had a very large library, ??? very large, you know, five or six thousand books. And I think I had a ??? absolutely there.
Levin:Did you live with your grandmother? Did your family move —?
Le Pichon:We were in the same house as my grandmother, yeah. Yeah.
Levin:So it was a house?
Le Pichon:A big house, yeah. Big house in Cherbourg. Where I went to school there, I went to school there ??? ??? ???, and I went all the way to what we call B??? in French. Itís ??? you normally enter the university. And thatís when I was, in Ď54, so I was 17. Then I entered the preparatory school instead of going to university. It was called St. John Diev [?], which is a very good school in Versailles.
Levin:So you returned back to France right after the war, just barely after the war.
Le Pichon:Yeah. After the war. Yeah, yeah. Because by this time the war had begun between the what we call Vietcong, you know, the communists, and life was very unsafe in the countryside. And my father wanted to start something, so he started a business actually when he came back to France. Business in building. But then it worked fairly well, but then after one year he was mobilized, so he was forced to go back to fight the war. And he fought the war all the way to 1956, to Ď54, Dinbienfoo [?j, and then after Dinbienfoo he was asked by the Vietnamese government and the U.S. government to work as an expert to help implantation of the one and a half million North Vietnamese who, because they were Catholic, chose to move to South.
Levin:Thatís something. He served for ten years. Up until that point when he started working with the Americans and the Vietnamese, is that a very long time, or is that typical for ????
Le Pichon:Well, his status was middle age so he could be mobilized because there was war. He was equivalent of a colonel.
Levin:But he didnít fight in World War II.
Le Pichon:In World War II he was in Vietnam, and Vietnam was not fighting. Vietnam tried to maintain a — it was a French colony, and it was completely surrounded by the Japanese troops so they tried to maintain some kind of truce. Because the French government at the time you know had capitulated to the Germans anyway, so they tried to maintain some kind of truce. And finally in March 9, 1945 the Japanese occupied the whole of Vietnam. And at the time we were all sent to concentration camps. So we had six months in concentration camps with the Japanese, until the end of the war in August. And then at the time the Chinese and the Japanese armed the communists and we begin to have, it was very insecure. Many, quite a few French were massacred at the time. So thatís why we went back to France.
Levin:So you went back to France, and you were living in the house of your grandmother, and you started school.
Levin:What kind of a school was it?
Le Pichon:It was a private school. Catholic school.
Levin:And did they cover all of the subjects?
Le Pichon:Yeah. The typical French school, you know, you cover everything. Very, very strong in Latin, Greek, math. I did both literary, that is Latin, and math and Greek. And no, Latin, Greek and math I mean. I did the both scientific and literary.
Levin:Was that typical? Could you choose that, one or the other?
Le Pichon:No, it was generally some of the brightest students who could do that. And I was fairly good in the literary part. I got for example a national prize for literature when I was 15 I guess. So I had hesitation about what I would do, whether I would go to literature or to science.
Levin:What kind of science classes were you given at that time?
Le Pichon:??? advanced math and physics.
Levin:How did they teach physics? Was it by rote, or was it by, were you in the laboratory at all?
Le Pichon:There was lab, yeah, there was lab. I did not enjoy too much physics. I enjoyed math. Math I enjoyed at the time. Then I did this, part of this school which is very heavy on math and physics and a little bit of chemistry.
Levin:How did you choose to go there?
Le Pichon:I wanted to be a Naval Officer, and so I first did one year to prepare what we call Ecole Polytechnique in France, and then I switched to prepare for Ecole Naval [?], the thing which makes a Naval Officer, because a lot of my family had been in the army or the navy, and I liked the ocean very much, so I thought why not, thatís a good idea.
Levin:Had you grown up by the ocean for most of your life?
Le Pichon:Yeah, I have been next to the ocean most of my life. So Iím always fascinated by the ocean and what was the deal or what was happening. When I was very young I was wondering what was below the ocean [?]. And because my view was not enough, my eyes were not good enough, I was thrown out at the entrance exam to the naval academy. So I had to change and switch. And so this time they offered me to prepare for Ecole Polytechnique or [Ecole] Normale Superior, because I was supposed to be very good ??? ??? ??? we are here. Itís supposed to be the most difficult school in France. But I was tired of doing these kind of things, so I moved instead to a ??? ??? ??? at the university where I did in two years this engineer, geophysical engineer thing.
Levin:How did you get into that? Why —?
Le Pichon:I wanted something to do it fast, you know, and I had a friend who had gone there, so he told me you know, ďWhy donít you come here?Ē so I went there. And I found that it was not a very good school really. I had no problem doing it very rapidly. I think I was the best student they ever had. And I moved, then I did what we call Matrice [?], the physical masters if you want. Physics Masters. And at that time in the — that was in the University of Caen [?], ??? ??? ???. And they offered me to work in research there. They wanted to keep me in research in physics. But at the time I got a Fulbright Fellowship for the States. Because I thought there was nothing very interesting in France in geophysics. So I [was] attaching to geophysics and I wanted to see what was happening. So I got this Fulbright Fellowship to go to Lamont. Columbia University actually. It was for Columbia University. So I was supposed to do there one year of graduate studies.
Levin:Who helped you in France? Did you have a mentor or an advisor that said —?
Le Pichon:I had a professor, was Jean Pierre Rothe, who knew Maurice Ewing. He was seismologist. He knew Maurice Ewing. So he arranged my fellowship. Well, he helped me get the fellowship. Maurice Ewing actually is the one who got me the fellowship, but he recommended me. So —
Levin:So this John Pierre and Maurice Ewing, they knew each other well.
Le Pichon:Oh, a little bit.
Levin:Had they collaborated before?
Le Pichon:A little bit, a little bit. No, there was not that many geophysicists in the world at the time, so they must have seen ??? ??? ???. So I went over there and I was expecting to go into the university, but Maurice Ewing told me that if I wanted to study the world and the earth and the ocean, it was better to go on the ships. So three days later I was on his ship for a world tour, you know. So I left and I started doing a lot of — Actually on the ship he asked me to take care of physical oceanography, which was something I had never done.
Levin:Before that time you had been working on —
Le Pichon:Geophysics. Geophysics and physics. So —
Levin:But was it, specifically was it of the earth rather than the oceans or —?
Le Pichon:It was of the earth. Yeah, yeah.
Le Pichon:I had no training for the ocean. So I was on the ship. There were books, I look at the books what was physical oceanography, and I had to make the measurements so I made the measurements. And as I did not know what to do on the ship actually I wrote a paper on the, on what I had measured, which was ??? ??? Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean. So I wrote a paper on the deep circulation of the Southwest Indian Ocean. And when I came back after four and a half months, I showed the paper in Lamont, but there were no good expert on the subject. They send me to Woods Hole to Stemille [?] who read the paper and said, ďYou should send it to the journal and it will be published.Ē So I sent it to Journal of Geophysical Research, and that was my first paper. It was published in Journal of Geophysical Research in 1960. So my first paper was actually in physical oceanography. So then they told me I should, I still had four months to go for this —
Levin:But, okay, you were — so this was your first paper, and it was on the Indian Ocean.
Le Pichon:Yeah. Indian Ocean water circulation.
Levin:Did it have to do with —? Was this cruise, you were on the VEMA.
Levin:Did it have to do with the Indian Ocean Expedition?
Le Pichon:No, I donít think so. At the time I ??? ??? ??? Maurice Ewing wanted to do was to test whether the rift was really all over world. So he wanted to test whether the earthquake that had been ??? at South of Africa and in the Indian Ocean coincided with the crest of a beach. So we had to zigzag and to tell him each time that we passed it, and it worked. And it was very, very interesting and exciting.
Levin:Were you working then with Heezen, Bruce Heezen?
Le Pichon:No. It was being sent to, the information was being sent to Maurice Ewing who reported it to Bruce. At that time they were not still fighting, I mean not yet fighting. So then they had some decent relationship. So we did that, but my work on the ship was physical oceanography, and I really did that.
Levin:Before we go on, just to really quickly — You were working on geophysics before you left France. What about the International Geophysical Year in Ď56 and Ď57? Did you have any —?
Le Pichon:No, I was too young you know. In Ď56 I was 19. I was still in the school doing math and physics and so on.
Levin:Did you hear anything about it?
Le Pichon:No. Not at all. Especially in this school in Strasbourg they were very remote from active research.
Levin:Okay. So Ď57-Ď58 was not — Okay.
Le Pichon:No, no. My first contact with real science was Ď59 being under VEMA, and it was physical oceanography. I saw a little bit of seismic refraction, I saw a little bit of this thing going, because I wasnít quite [?] sure I was looking at the things and so on. So I came back to Lamont and I was supposed to ??? follow lectures at the university. And then Jack [John] Nafe, who was a professor there tested me and he decided, I think it was probably wrong, that I had enough math so I did not need to go to course and instead I should do research. So I worked with Manik Talwani and did the first ??? ??? a three-dimensional body where inversion by gravity. That was published. At the time he did, because I had requested it, he invited a new method of three-dimensional numerical study of his kind of. And then I had to leave to go back to France to do my military service. So at the time Maurice Ewing offered me to start a new department in physical oceanography. But I was 23, I was very young, and ??? I wanted to go back to France because I had a fiancť over there, and I wanted to do my military service. So I refused.
Levin:But that must show a tremendous amount of confidence in you.
Le Pichon:Yeah. They were very surprised, that they had never had that, a student who had not learned about the subject who taught himself on the subject while he went on the ship, wrote a paper, and had it published in the best, Journal of Geophysics, you know. So that was very unusual. And Dr. Ewing was looking for people like that, you know, who had some drive and so on. But the thing I think liked in Lamont, you had a lot of opportunity. So I went back to France, I spent two years there. I tried a little bit into physical oceanography. I was offered a position in the Museum ??? Naturale, which is a big establishment in Paris. But I thought that nothing was happening in France. So I wrote to —
Levin:And you were, you did your service in the Navy, is that right?
Le Pichon:In the Navy.
Levin:In the French Navy?
Le Pichon:Yeah. Yeah, I was in the Navy and —
Levin:Was that two years?
Le Pichon:Two years, yeah. And actually I was in the ??? scientific research part. And I was working on the provision [?] of acoustic detection of submersible [?]. So I was still in physical oceanography.
Levin:What was that like? How did it compare to what you were doing at Lamont? How were the —
Le Pichon:Oh, it was very cool. I mean it was very nice. I was in the South, and in Toulon, and we were half of the time on the ship measuring things, you know a small ship. And half of the time making computation. I published I think one or two papers at the time. That was very cool. But much work, and very pleasant. Then so I had to go back to this institution that had offered me a position in France, and I thought it was very poor. So I got bored. So I asked Maurice Ewing whether he would take me in Lamont again. So he said, ďSure, but you need an American visa.Ē And it took a long time. That was in October Ď62 and I waited four months and I had no job and I was married now by this time, so after four months I decided okay, Iíll quit. And I accepted the position as electronic engineer in a big French company, which is Thompson Houston. And —
Levin:And where in France was this?
Le Pichon:Thompson. That was in Lyon. So I went down there. They offered me a very good position actually. And when I arrived there my wife called me and told me we just got the visa. So I canceled and I left for the States. And there, because I refused to physical oceanography, I did not want to go physical oceanography, so Maurice Ewing told me, ďOkay. You work with my brother John Ewing in geophysics.Ē So I worked in, I started in seismology. And that was in, I was there in February Ď63. That was my beginning there. So I worked there for five years, from February Ď63 to February Ď68. And what I did really is work successively with a series of people. I first worked with John Ewing on seismic refraction, and I decided to study the ridges. So they gave me some seismic refraction profiles and ??? ??? ridge that they could not make sense of. Because it gave very strange result. Because the MOHOLE — you know what is the MOHOLE? Yeah? The MOHOLE was coming up, you know, instead of going down. You expected because of the ??? ??? the MOHOLE would go down and crust would be thicker. But the MOHOLE was going up. So they could not understand why, and they thought something was wrong. So they gave me the ??? ??? ??? good.
Levin:When you say ďtheyĒ thought something was wrong, was it Maurice Ewing and —?
Le Pichon:John and Maurice Ewing, and Jack Nafe too, and Chuck [Charles] Drake. I mean these people.
Levin:It was a big mystery at Lamont.
Le Pichon:Yeah. Well, what does that mean? I mean, thatís strange. The MOHOLE goes up and it should not, so what do we do with that? So I worked with that, and they said, well I mean the MOHOLE goes up so the composition [?] is below, must be in the mantle. So we published that. And we said the crust is just actually thickening and the composition is below, so it must come from the mantle and something is happening in the mantle. And that first paper I published in the series of which is called ďMid-Ocean Reach Studies.Ē So that was ??? ???, you know. Actually I did most of the work, but the thing in Lamont was that you most of the time you would be ??? ???, you know, some book shop would be on top of it who collected the data. So in this ??? ??? I did most of the work, but I was, I think it was first was on one, I donít remember which one.
Levin:Were these for the Journal of Geophysical Research?
Le Pichon:They were all published in Journal of Geophysical Research. Before that they had given me another study that nobody has wanted, which was the study of the Hudson Canyon. They had a lot of seismic refraction work there. So I was asked to make a synthesis of that. So I made this study which was more study [?] effect of the last glacier stage there. And it was published in Journal in Geophysical Research too. So that was a little of an aside I did. Then working on this I decided I need to work on the cavity to see what the compensation [composition?] was, so I started my association with Manik Talwani. It was a very close one. We were, I had already worked with him on this study of a volcano, you know, the density of a volcano by inversion of density. So we worked a lot together. We were very good friends.
Levin:What was Manik Talwani like as a scientist and as a —?
Le Pichon:Very clever, very clever, very nice. And very efficient. So we had a very good association. And I did the second paper with him, and probably Maurice Ewing too, which was the cavity study.
Levin:Was this —? I have a paper here, itís July 1966.
Le Pichon:Well thatís another thing.
Levin:??? ??? ??? the comments.
Le Pichon:Thatís another thing. We had a discussion on a paper published by Morgan on the Puerto Rico trench. No, I think the paper I am talking about you have in the list that I gave you. Oh, she has not yet given the —? Excuse me, Iíll get — [tape turned off then back on...] The first paper I mentioned is number two, the deep circulations thatís this thing that I did on the ship by myself on the circulation of Indian Ocean. That was physical oceanography. This was during my military service. That was ???.
Levin:That was the paper published in Ď63.
Le Pichon:Yeah. And then thatís the first paper that they told me on the Hudson ??? on the shelf.
Levin:And that was with John Ewing and Maurice.
Le Pichon:John Ewing and Maurice Ewing. I did all the work. But they had collected the data.
Levin:Is that difficult for certain scientists? I know between Heezen and [Marie] Tharp later on it became a problem that Ewing demanded to be ???.
Le Pichon:Yeah. Well I mean he collected the data. He had to be ??? ??? ???. We did not object too much to that. But then after that — and I was very young, and I knew nothing — so then this is the thing I have done with Manik the survey of a sea mound [?] but [?] this three-dimensional, 3-D. First time the 3-D cavity method that he devised for me was used. Then that was the state of the mid-ocean ridges. You know, ??? ??? five papers, published in 1965, seismic refraction, then immediately after we published the gravity interpretation. That was we start ???. Maurice Ewing would come, but he did no work on that. And then I decided from there to move to the magnetics, so I worked with [Jim] Heirtzler, and that was a paper on the interpretation of magnetic anomalies.
Levin:Were you just interested in finding out everything you could about this ridge?
Le Pichon:I wanted to understand the crustal structure of the ridge. So I did everything I could for that. In the meantime we published with Manik and Heirtzler a paper on the magnetic pattern in the East Pacific Rise. You know, at the time there was a big discussion on whether sea floor spreading was right or not, and we thought it was not right. We were fighting against it.
Levin:What about [Bruce?] Heezen? At that time he had —
Le Pichon:He was for the expansion, expansion. And we thought expansion was physically unrealistic, you know. We did not believe at all in that. So — I did the sediment distribution using seismic refraction on the ridge. That was part four. And then finally in Ď66 I did the heat flow through the Atlantic Ocean floor and convection currents. I was the first to really make the first model of convection current and show that you could explain the heat flow by the convection current as well as the topography. But the heat flow we measured was about a factor of 5 smaller than the one predicted by the model, so I said itís not sea floor spreading, itís probably some convection currents which do not reach the surface. Of course we were wrong, but we found out the reason much later. Because at the time we did not know that there was hydrothermal circulation which eliminated a lot of heat which did not come into the measurement. And at the same time immediately after that Dan McKenzie, who had read a paper, found the, had a nice analytical solution of this convection and said, ďItís easy. You can explain it,Ē and he did it by saying that the temperature of the mantle was twice less than what we had said, I mean 550 degrees. Which is ridiculous, but he believed in sea floor spreading you see, so he said, ďIt has to work.Ē And this paper is always considered as the first to be a real [?] indicator. But it showed very well, whether you believed or not you know you would have just the data to fit whether you believed in.
Levin:And of course Ewing did not believe in sea floor spreading.
Le Pichon:No. He was very much against it. That comes from the fact that he was the first to have discovered the structure of the oceans was very different from the structure of the continent, you know, much ??? inner crust. So they were so different that it can to be two different completely permanent structures. That was his very strong belief.
Levin:How did you feel about that? When you were in France and studying, you just said that the ??? ??? ???, but when you were studying on your own what did you think about the views being presented?
Le Pichon:I had little geological knowledge really. I mean, the teaching I got at the university in ??? was fairly poor, and the teaching, whatever was said for the Appalachians and things like that you know. The geology in the 20th century in the States was horrible. I mean it was a very fixed system, very classicist, with a lot of dogmatism, and I think it was useless. So that did not help at all. And ??? ??? ??? the thing that Chuck Drake had done on the interpretation of the margins was made on the J??? ???, ??? ??? and so on. So everything was very fixed [?].
Levin:Did you think that perhaps, were you hearing about ideas in other countries? Like maybe here the ??? ??? ??? where people were a little bit less fixist? Were you hearing some of the point of views?
Le Pichon:Not in France, no. In England, yes. In England there were the schools of, because of the school of paleomagnetics which was started by [Keith] Runcorn really. And there was the strong idea about the possibility of motion and so on. So England was very much ahead in that, and in the States itís only Harry Hess who really got this idea about the motion. I have given my view rather explicitly in this paper which is published in the yearbook of Lamont [Lamont Yearbook]. You can get my view on this subject. Okay, so this paper on the magnetic anomaly and last paper was a paper on letís see magnetic anomaly, ??? heat flow, the ???. Yeah. Yeah, ???, yeah they are all there. So these things concluded my thesis really, and I went back to Strasbourg in France and I presented my thesis in February Ď66 I believe. I donít remember exactly, but itís said in this article of Lamont. So you can get that there [?]. I went back exactly with different things. In the meantime I was going a lot at sea, you know, at Lamont you have to spend a lot of time at sea. I had been chief scientist and many, I had worked on many other things. I had worked on deep ocean currents and sediment distribution. We published with Maurice Ewing things on the Argentine Basin and so on. And so I published a lot at the time.
Levin:Did you work with some of the Argentine scientists, with [Alberto] Lonardi and Grinelli [?]?
Le Pichon:Yeah, a little bit. A little bit. But I did my work mostly on the work I did myself. As chief scientist on the VEMA I worked on the Falkland escarpment, I worked on the Rio Grande Rise. I discovered the Rio Grande Gap and so on. I mean I did a lot. I did the first deep water measurements, deep current measurement in this area. I showed that they were very fast. I had a lot of input in many other things. I collected the oldest sediments in the Rio Grande Rise at the time, because I was very interested to find the age. So I was very active in many things, you know. Iíve been able to work with — Most other people would stay in their department. I would move from. I was with John Ewing, but I would work with everybody. So in my conclusion of my thesis, because of this heat flow business I concluded that the sea floor spreading was wrong. And that was in February Ď66.
Levin:Okay. And what did you use to say as an alternative hypothesis? Did you go —?
Le Pichon:I use this idea that measuring a third way, which is a convection, active convection current coming to the surface with volcanic activity and so on but no significant specimen. Because the heat flow measurements, they can at face value indicate that the motion was not larger than one or two millimeter per year in the Atlantic [?] Ocean. Again, because 90 percent of the heat was being eliminated by high ??? circulation which we discovered four or five years later. But then when I came back from Strasbourg where I had passed my thesis in I think itís in March, I donít remember February or March in Ď66 [?], Walter Pitman at Sound [?], his famous magnetic anomaly ???. So I was completely stunned there. I mean I thought — Then one week I tried to fight it and say there must be something wrong. And then finally I recognized that he had to be right. So I switched back to decide what is here [?], say okay, it has to be right, so letís see what we can do with that. And everybody was starting you know under the direction of Jim Heirtzler to interpret the magnetic anomalies. So I got the Indian Ocean, and I made the first interpretation of the Indian Ocean, a paper that was published later in Ď67 or [Ď6]8 I think, I donít know, Ď68. Probably Ď68. And then —
Levin:So that must have been quite an exciting time.
Le Pichon:It was a very, very exciting time, yeah. So I am —
Levin:Do you think — Well, it took you about a week to process this. Do you think other people, scientists around the world, were they glued to what was happening at Lamont at this paper? Were people recognizing that the Pitman paper ??? ??? ????
Le Pichon:Well by this time, you know, Fred Vine had published his paper, I think itís in Science in early Ď66, which had a big first. Because these was the same ??? we were trying to interpret with Manik Talwani in terms of the study ???, also published in Science. And he I think demonstrated rather nicely that it would fit fairly well the reverse, magnetic reversal field. So I mean people were beginning to move. And then Lyn Sykes, in our ??? demonstrated that transform fault [?] were in deep transform fault. You know, those little, tried Scrippsí solution that he had been in the equatorial patches in the India Atlantic. So I mean things were really moving there. By this time there was, nobody doubted anymore I think in the people actually working with the data in the States at least. I mean England, there was sea floor spreading. And the problem was how did that fit in the world. So this is the time when people were toying with the ideas of [John Tuzo] Wilson about plate transform fault and so on, but there was still this big problem how do you get a complete global system, ???matic system, and how does that fit with the earthquake distribution. And that was really the big problem. So in the spring of Ď67 there was this big session on the sea floor spreading of the, at the meeting in the AGU [American Geophysical Union] at Washington. And I was at this meeting, and Jason [Morgan] was supposed to give a paper on this controversy about the Puerto Rico Trench.
Le Pichon:So I was there with Manik Talwani, and I think Joe [Lamar] Worzel. Because we wanted to hear what he was saying. And instead he presented a paper that completely stunned by me, which was his paper on the implication of??? ??? ??? earth on sea floor spreading. And as usual with Jason [Morgan], it was very confused, and we did not make much sense out of it.
Levin:It was confused because he was a poor speaker?
Le Pichon:Very poor speaker. I mean he would mix up the things and so on. He is one of the worst I have ever seen. So we were very confused, and we said well, what is he trying to do. So I — I did not pay much attention to that. But then when I came back to Lamont he had sent to quite a few people the outlines of his paper, ??? outline, which is the one I published in the Tectonophysics issue later on, because people were denying it existed. He sent it to many places. He sent it to ??? ??? to Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] to [Bill] Menard, and then [Dan] McKenzie had it and could read it, and quite a few people. It was immediately after the meeting.
Levin:So that it became a question of priority immediately after this as to who was the first to actually put this —?
Le Pichon:I think there is no doubt with that that he was the first to, not in a published paper, but the first to really have this idea and present it officially in public. But you see then the abstract was not there, because he had changed the subject at the last minute. So this was the only proof.
Levin:But werenít people saying, ďOh perhaps he has prior ???.Ē Who were the other candidates people were putting forward? Were they talking about Bonnin Matthews [?] or —?
Oh, no. Bonnin Matthews had no priority. Bonnin Matthews had obvious priority on the idea of sea floor spreading with Morlay LaRochelle [?], you know. But the thing about how it worked, how the geometry worked on the earth, I mean it was clearly Jason Morgan who had the idea first. And Iím sure the — Then when I received the paper I, reading it I realized immediately what it meant. So I started working on it, and I offered to work on it to my colleagues in Lamont — Manik Talwani, Walter Pitman, Jim Heirtzler. They were not interested. They did not think it was interesting. So they let me do it alone. So I worked out all the different things to do that, and I worked very intensely during the next two months. And I published, I made my paper for, it was published in Ď68, which is the global clinimatics [?]. I ??? ??? global clinimatics, and then I did the first, uh, so I did the first global clinimatic and then I did the first global reconstruction. You know, I worked back using finite rotations to beginning of cretaceous, and I had the world beginning with cretaceous and so on. So I was the first one to do these two things then. But in the meantime Dan McKenzie had published his paper in Nature very quickly with [Bob] Parker, and he has this French story that — I am a very good friend of Dan McKenzie, but I think his story is difficult to believe.
He said first that when he was, he was in the meeting in Washington but left immediately before Jasonís talk because he was bored. And then second he said that when the draft of Jason [Morganís] arrived in Scripps, I think it was in June, it arrived to Bill Menard and Bill Menard gave it to him, but he said, ďWell, itís not very, itís not very well done, and thatís not the way it should be done, and anyway I have independent ideas.Ē And he started working very fast with Bob Parker on a different thing which was using the four plane [?] solution around the Pacific to test spherical geometry. And, well, personally I have difficulty believing that he was not influenced by Jason [Morgan], but he gives no — Itís very French anyway. So he was published very fast in Nature, and Jason [Morgan], his paper was sent back for extensive review, extensive revisions. So he could not publish it. So Jason you know is a very slow worker and so on, and he started increasing the paper and making it larger and larger, and so it took a long time. And my paper was ready for quite some time now. I had finished it. But I decided not to publish it before Jasonís paper would go out, so I delayed the submission until Jasonís paper was submitted. And I asked the editor not to publish it before his paper. So I think we were published in the same issue or very close. My paper was immediately accepted. I think the reviewers were [John] Tuzo Wilson, and I think the other was Jack Oliver. Anyway, it was accepted in one week or something like that.