Oral History Transcript — Dr. Vladimir Lebedev
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Vladimir Lebedev; January 21, 1999
ABSTRACT: Discusses his childhood, education, and his work in oceanography in Antarctica.
Levin: Okay, todayís date is the 21st of January, 1999. This is an interview with Vladimir Lívovich Lebedev. And this is Tanya Levin doing the interview. And Vladimir Lebedev, were you born here in Moscow?
Lebedev: In 1930.
Levin: And what was the date?
Lebedev: Date, the second of June.
Levin: And what did your parents do for work?
Lebedev: My parents from Moscow, they, my father is military engineer. He was building the houses for military purpose, for milling maybe. Well, and mother is worked in institute, some Moscow institute, institute of buildings.
Levin: And so he built the military homes? Did he build a lot of them in the Far East or were there —
Lebedev: No, no. My father worked always in the central military ministry, Ministry of Defense. And always, always in Moscow, and by order.
Levin: And did you grow up in an apartment or in a house?
Lebedev: In apartment in center of Moscow.
Levin: And did your house have a library?
Lebedev: We had no special room with library, but we have a lot of book in different rooms.
Levin: And what did you enjoy reading as a child?
Lebedev: When I was a child. Well, I liked very much the Russian classics, such writers as Leo Tolstoy and Fydor Dostoyevsky. And poetry also, Russian poetry. And from foreign writers, I like Norvay Knute Gramson[?], one of my favorite writers, he was. And I remember there are a lot of friends and Dickens, Great Britain, British writer, and Jack London, a favorite writers of Russian youth. Jack London and of course — You asked about my young years, young yes, age, young age, yes itís enough.
Levin: And, letís see, at what age did you begin school?
Lebedev: Begin school? At age eight.
Levin: Eight years old. And when the War began, did you stop school? Did you stay in Moscow during the War?
Lebedev: During the War, no. I spent about two years in Kazan. Itís the capital of Tatar Republic.
Levin: Did your parents go with you? Or did you go alone?
Lebedev: No, my father was partly on frontier, partly in Moscow. But I was with my mother and grandmother and sister.
Levin: And while there in Kazan, did you have classes?
Lebedev: Yes, yes, just I belonged to study in a school.
Levin: And after the War, you returned to Moscow?
Lebedev: Not after War. During the War, we asked, we was absent only some dangerous air raid, where the German army was near Moscow. And when he was redirected, we returned. And we hated it. The War continues about two year.
Levin: What was it like to return to Moscow after it was nearly taken over, after it was surrounded?
Lebedev: How I felt?
Levin: Mm hmm [yes].
Lebedev: Oh, young person, he feel quite well in any condition except for he donít know the stress of elder people, or elder person, of parents, of their parents.
Levin: And you started school again, when you returned?
Lebedev: Yes, of course that continues too.
Levin: Were a lot of the teachers gone because of the War? Were they fighting, a lot of them?
Lebedev: There was no problems with absence of teacher. Itís all normal life continued too, in Moscow.
Levin: And what were some of your favorite classes in school?
Lebedev: Favorite classes in school? Itís difficult to say. Maybe I have not some. Physics, some physics, some interest of physics I have always had.
Levin: And in your physics classes, did they have you perform experiments?
Lebedev: Yes, but I couldnít remember a good teachers on this field, on this classes. There are some problems. Men, they were absent in the capital in the country. They were in army mostly. And probably some strange person who [???]. But itís mainly the men profession, physics, and it was luck lack of, you see?
Levin: Oh, I see. So mostly the male physicists, the teachers, were off fighting.
Lebedev: Male physicists, the teachers, were fighting, yes.
Levin: Do you remember if some of the physicists teachers were working on the project to build a bomb or to help in the, with radar? Did you hear about that, about them working for the military as scientists, rather than as —
Lebedev: Maybe. I donít know. Of course, they worked in many fields to defend country.
Levin: And when it was time to go to the university, what did you think you wanted to study in the university?
Lebedev: Well, it is why I choose geography.
Levin: Okay, why geography?
Lebedev: Why geography? I wanted to deal with the ocean. And the being I think 14 or maybe 13 years old, I change the school to change the language. I know I studied earlier French, and no not [???]. But I understand which to study ocean, you should know English. And I changed my school.
Levin: Wow. Thatís interesting. You knew at 13 or 14 years old that?
Lebedev: Yes, yes, I changed the school.
Levin: Öthat it was important to learn English for oceanology.
Lebedev: Yes I, yes I understand. No, itís all know that itís language of sailors, English language, yes.
Levin: And why the ocean? Had you visited the ocean?
Lebedev: I donít understand why. Itís a riddle of sort.
Levin: Had you seen the ocean before this?
Lebedev: No. First I seen the Baltic Sea, when I was 16 years old.
Levin: And so you studied to be a geographer. Did you go to Moscow State University.
Lebedev: Moscow State University, yes I did.
Levin: And did they have a program in marine sciences?
Lebedev: When I entered or returned to the university, they had no such department, but they have a department of rivers, lakes, and I first entered this department. Then immediately as I joined, they created the Department of Oceanography.
Levin: And did you know at the time what you wanted to specialize in: physics, marine physics, or marine geology?
Lebedev: Physics, only physics. I have ability only to physic. Itís harder for me to understand chemistry. Biology also very interesting, very interesting, yes [inaudible]. But most time, it was difficult in this country, it was difficult to study biology.
Levin: Why? Why was it difficult?
Lebedev: It was time when our ruler Stalin, he thought that he knew biology better than anyone, and started to rule — to interrupt in this science and dictate what scientists should understand and how they are to work. So, you know about this [???] problem. It was just 1948, when I join the university. It was after I entered in the university, it was this session, special scientific session and it was brought up.
Levin: So a lot of people decided not to do biology because of the problems?
Lebedev: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Levin: And was there not so many problems in geophysics?
Lebedev: In geography, it didnít happen. But it didnít happen in geography.
Levin: Was there any sort of problems with plate tectonics being not appreciated?
Lebedev: Itís not my field. Tectonics, itís very interesting problem, but I prefer to restrict our field of discussion, yes?
Lebedev: If you donít mind. I donít know much about tectonics. Itís very interesting, I know, because I interested in ocean at whole. Tectonics, also, is this came to the field of my interest respirating this change of heat with the ocean and the floor of ocean, yes. We call it chemical reactor, this zone of? There is some wonderful phenomena in this region, in this part of ocean, yes. But itís not in Antarctic.
Levin: Okay. And so what was your specialty at the university?
Lebedev: At the university, I graduated from the Department of Oceanology, Physical Oceanology, yes. And I was interested in the ice. I read the book about Antarctic and published maybe first book about Antarctic in — it was probably set in — I was first graduated student. And in 1957, I published the book Antarctica, first in University Publishing House. Oh yes, yes, this. First edition was small book on University Publishing House. Then on the Russian, oh, in Moscow central in Geographical Publishing House in Moscow, Antarctica in Russian. Then in English for the Moscow Publishing House foreign — the books on foreign languages. Then in Spanish.
Lebedev: In Spanish, no they publish it, then translate it in [???]. They translate it and publish it in Spanish, also.
Levin: Ah, very popular book.
Lebedev: Very popular, it was recommended in United States for their Commitz(?), Library of [Congress]. I read it now in some publication. I read about, by chance, I read the publication about the Library of the American Publishers. In Fofler(?) is a Russian scientist who [???] of it. Only two Russian books was recommended in the Libraries of America, and all the things, it was, I have a surprised very much.
Levin: Ah thatís exciting. Thatís wonderful.
Lebedev: It was the theme of great interest. Theme, theme, not a book [???] but theme.
Levin: Around that time, of course, the IGY was happening. And so Antarctica got a lot of attention.
Lebedev: Just after university, I worked two year in waiting fleet. In waiting Antarctic, fleet. This waiting fleet, it had one research ship, a small research ship. I took part in two expedition in this ship. When I joined, I was I occupied it the place of Maxim Urivich(?). I was the second in command on this committee. But it was called not deputy direct, scientific secretary of the committee. It was president, first person, and second, scientific secretary. And now we call it deputy leader, yes? It has been here five years, I would say, five years. And do you know, these five years, I go to the Antarctic [???] and spend more than a year. The expedition took more than a year. It began in 1957. Oh, it was very long trip. I remember, we only three marines, three, took 52 days.
Levin: Oh, to get there.
Lebedev: To get there, yes. So, about a month to unloaded ship you needed. Very difficult to work, and dangerous even, yes. And then who work, it was main work of AGI, main in 1958, I think and in 1959, I returned, well —
Levin: So you stayed on Antarctica during the winter?
Lebedev: During winter, yes.
Levin: And how many other people were there with you?
Lebedev: Oh, in this book — I donít remember, but all figures we can find in this book. In this book, all figures, all participants are in this book.
Levin: And weíre looking at one of the IGY reports in the Soviet Union in Antarctica.
Lebedev: Oh, yes, you have not only figures, but alsoÖ itís not this, not this, not thisÖ Oh, we are talking about this. [searching around] Just a minute. Itís all Antarctic expedition. Itís our leaderÖ
Levin: (And weíre seeing a picture.)
Lebedev: ÖDr. Tolstikov. Itís American participant, Mr. Reuben.
Levin: Was he on the boat with you?
Lebedev: He went to this.
Levin: Oh, he worked with you. Did he know Russian?
Lebedev: No, no. He learned us to speak in English.
Levin: English, he taught you English.
Lebedev: But he also had parents from Russia. Or maybe grandparents; I donít remember now.
Levin: Did he do things different than the scientists on this Ob, on the ship Ob? Was he surprised?
Lebedev: This is from ship Ob. He was meteorologist. When he arrived, yes on Ob, yes on ship Ob.
Levin: How long was he on the ship?
Lebedev: How long he was on the ship? About, I say totally, about 58 days.
Levin: Oh, for the entire time?
Lebedev: Yes. Itís a long trip. I think he wrote something about this expedition in United States. I donít know. I have no connection with him after that.
Levin: So did he also winter over with you?
Lebedev: Yes, winter over. Yes.
Levin: And so he started the trip in Russia. He was in Russia when you left? Or did he join you at a port?
Lebedev: I donít know. I donít know. We have two ships which going to through the air space. He was on one ship, and I on another.
Levin: What ship were you on?
Lebedev: Kopiratzy[?]. Itís this, you see?
Levin: Okay. Was this part of your whaling work with the whaling vessel?
Lebedev: Orkan involved whaling. Whaling, I was in whaling expedition in Ď53, Ď54, Ď55, itís all. Two expedition, but three years, because season, the summer season is Antarctic and itís coincide with New Year. And always as Antarctica expeditions took two years, two years.
Levin: And how were you chosen to work on the International Geophysical Year in Antarctica?
Lebedev: How I was chosen? Well, I was the second person on this committee. And I asked.
Levin: You asked to go?
Lebedev: I know it always up to me, because we ordered it. We organized, prepared it between different institute, institution. And so we publish it. Itís our publication, this book, published it. And I asked [???] what to do. To go with it.
Levin: Wonderful. And when you went down there, who decided what you would study? What program you would do in Antarctica?
Lebedev: I personally.
Levin: You did?
Lebedev: It was also my initiative what to do. First I was scientific secretary of this expedition. But I also was oceanologist, and I tried to do investigation on this field. We have a very large program of air research — air, is from air, the sea ice. We made two each month, twice monthly, we made a flight. We made flights through the sea ice, up to open seawater, blue open seawater. Itís very — itís covered, this white covered large area. Itís uncial[?] material, the data weíve compared. And here we can find some — about some charts, some publication about. And then we make jumping station, jumping hydrological station, yes. We freed someone biologist, one hydrologist, one chemist. And me, oceanologist, we occupied a plane. We flied and we had a landing on the ice there, and then we come this ice [???], ice pick. And drill, not drill, we blasted, blasted. We have no time to drill. We blasted, and make the tent on the hole and put our apparatus in the water. And get sensors, measured, measuring.
Levin: And what measuring did you do?
Lebedev: I was connected with quality of seawater. And also I measured ice, sea ice.
Levin: The quality? So was it the temperature?
Lebedev: Salinity and temperature and density and some other chemistry. But it was chemist in our group.
Levin: You cooperated with the chemist and the others?
Lebedev: Yes, yes, yes.
Levin: In the end, did you publish papers with the chemist?
Lebedev: Yes, yes, yes. I published papers, yes.
Levin: But did you publish them with the other scientists as well, with the other fields?
Lebedev: No, itís maybe it depends on the publication whatís involved. Usually not. Usually alone.
Levin: And who paid for this trip? Was it the Academy of Sciences or the Government?
Lebedev: Government I think. It was not expedition, not where Academy of Science, I think. It was inter-department, inter-department expedition, yes?
Levin: Mm hmm [yes].
Lebedev: National [???] and the inter-department.
Levin: And do you remember during this time, news that was being published in Russia, like the Prague Diary, Izvestia, about the work being done for the IGY in Antarctica?
Lebedev: Oh, they often published it, yes. They asked us to give material for publication, give radiograms from winter observatory. Yes, they asked and since I was in? Öjust where information about our achievement of what we do, the difficulties, achievements, and problems we are trying to get some point of train. We call it train, this train of?
Lebedev: Öphysicals, physicals. And Gordon[?], he reached such points —points anyway. He reached some point, and he struggled on. I took part in large center station, different station. In fact, just station Wallace[?], Wallace, here?... Wallace. Itís also on the open land. Open land, not covered with glacier. It was just piece of land here, and we have station here.
Levin: So the newspapers were very interested.
Lebedev: And then, after our expedition, we presented this station, with all buildings, with all equipment, to Poland. To Poland, sent different group. They arrived. They accepted this station, and they closed it, and never visit. I suppose we can check it.
Levin: Oh, thatís —
Lebedev: Right, Maxim Urivich [speaking Russian to another male in room].
Levin: Were the Polish people just not interested in Antarctica?
Lebedev: It is difficult. It is very expensive and difficult. You see, Antarctic is surrounded with belt of sea ice. And ship arrived that, it should unloaded expedition. And it dangerous, very difficult and dangerous adventure to unload it, because there is tidal phenomena, tidal. And when tidal up and down make lift it and fall. The ice sheet, sheet of ice, itís cracked. Ice cracked, there is crack. There is sheet and it cracked. It cracks around islands and —