Oral History Transcript — Dr. John Imbrie
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Interview with Dr. John Imbrie
John Imbrie; May 21, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and childhood in Fingerlakes, New York region; recollections of religious influences on family; recollections of undergraduate training at Coe College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); involvement in Tenth Mountain Division [ski troops] during World War II; completes undergraduate education at Princeton; impressions of Princeton geology faculty; interest in attending law school; impressions of graduate training in geology at Yale; recollections of Adolph Knopf, Carl Dunbar, Chester Longwell, Richard Foster Flint, and G. Evelyn Hutchinson; recollections of discussions of climate change and continental drift at Yale; impressions of summer field training at Woods Hole under Libby Hyman; first academic appointment at University of Kansas. Accepts appointment at Columbia University in 1952; impressions of Walter Bucher, W. Maurice Ewing, J. Laurence Kulp; recollections of courses offered at Columbia; interest in radiocarbon dating at Lamont; recollections of paleontological work at Columbia, including impressions of Norman Newell and George Gaylord Simpson; early research programs in invertebrate paleontology and increasing interest in sea level change. Impressions of Lamont research in marine paleontology, including work of Allen BJ, David Ericson, and Goesta Wollin; interactions with Robert Menzies. Impressions as chair of Department of Geology at Columbia; begins research on paleoclimates; recollections of decision to leave Columbia for Brown University. Development of and involvement in CLIMAP project; recollections of James D. Hays, Andrew McIntyre, and Nicholas Shackelton, including Shackeltonís contributions to marine stratigraphy; impressions of William Donn-Maurice Ewing theory of climate change; personal styles of researchers at Columbia and Lamont; relations between professors and research staff members at Lamont; recollections of Jacques Barzun. Impressions of Soviet research involving climate change; recollections of visits to Soviet Union and of interactions with Soviet researchers; impressions of related work at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; recollections of research involving Milankovitch cycle, including work by Cesare Emiliani. Also mentioned are: Charles Behre, Wallace Broecker, Bronk-Nesmeyanov Scientific Exchange agreement, Walter Brown, Arthur Buddington, Horace Coryell, Erling Dorf, Robert Drexler, Henry Eyring, Steve Fox, Innocente Garasimov, Bruno Giletti, Arnold Guyot, Harry H. Hess, International Decade of Ocean Exploration [IDOE], International Geophysical Year [IGY], Glen Jepson, Paul Kerr, LJo LaPorte, Robert Matthews, Raymond C. Moore, John E. Nafe, A.C. Newlin, Neil Opdyke, Arie Poldervaart, Project SUNSHINE, John Rodgers, William Ruddiman, Arthur Strahler, Taylor Thom, Felix A. Vening-Meinesz, Alfred Wegener, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, L.R. Wilson, Georg Whst.
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with John Imbrie. Todayís date is the twenty-first of May, 1997. Weíre making this recording in Seacock, Massachusetts. And I want to note that Tanya Levin is joining me in doing this interview. And I know that you were born on July 4th, in 1925, in Penyam, New York.
Imbrie:Yes, the Fingerlakes region, central New York.
Doel:Thatís good to know. And what I wanted to know is also about your parents. Who were they and what did they do?
Imbrie:Well, my father was then a minister, a young minister. I was the fourth child. He was a minister, Presbyterian Minister, and then he and the family moved to Newburgh, New York where I grew up. Little town along the Hudson. And he was a Presbyterian Minister and my mother was an active, you know, person in the church, teaching Sunday school and so on. And I was a young preacherís kid growing up and interested in the out of doors and liked to hike and ski and so on in the mountains around Newburgh, New York, in the Catskills. And so I grew up with an interest in mountains which is basically how I got into geology.
Doel:What sort of house were you living in in Newburgh?
Imbrie:House? Well, we lived in a manse. We lived in a small wooden house on Montgomery Street in Newburgh, New York, that overlooked the Hudson River. Solid, middle class house, in a middle class area. And nothing remarkable.
Doel:Was there a library in the house?
Imbrie:Library? Oh heavens, yes. You know, my mother had been a graduate of — unusual in those times — she was a graduate of Vassar. My father was, of course, he was a Princeton graduate.
Doel:Oh, thatís interesting.
Imbrie:Well, both of them were scholarly inclined, and always reading, and I suppose thatís relevant and as well as being philosophically inclined about religion and philosophy. So I grew up in a background that took sort of a reading and scholarship for granted as a background. I suppose thatís relevant to my life.
Levin:Was religion discussed a lot?
Imbrie:More than most, more than in most homes. My father had a religious experience. He was actually in a machine shop as an apprentice on the way to becoming an executive in some company in Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh. And one day a young family — he was walking to work — and suddenly God spoke to him. I mean, itís remarkable. My father said, God spoke to him and said Charles youíre wasting your life; I want you to do this. And he said okay. And went and with two young children they borrowed some money and went to a seminary and became a minister. So he had a religious experience at an age that I couldnít tell if my father was a completely honest person. So whenever we would discuss religion and I would have the usual questions that young people do, here is my father who said, God spoke to me and changed my life.
Levin:What questions do you remember that you had?
Imbrie:What was that?
Levin:What questions did you have?
Imbrie:Oh, I suppose just the usual doubts that people have. Is there really a God? You know, is there a God in the world? And is there a heaven? Those usual sophomoric questions that never really get answered. And he had this fundamental faith. But basically his religion was one of, you know, doing good deeds and the good part of Christianity. So we didnít have deep discussions, but whenever we would go fishing there would be. He was concerned with the eternal questions. I wouldnít say it was more than a background influence on my life. So then I went away to the — and the war came. Oh, I first went to a small college out west.
Doel:Before we — I want to cover that — but before we do, Iím curious. Did he talk to you about his Princeton experiences, about what the university was like? What it had meant to him?
Imbrie:Yes. He — two things, he by the way, had been born in Tokyo, as the son of a missionary, and had come to this country at the age of twelve to get educated in Morristown private school near Princeton. Then he went to Princeton as his father had done. There was a family tradition of going to Princeton. And he, the main thing I remember, he didnít like the social snobbishness of Princeton at that time. They had — they made a big deal then of eating clubs, various social classes. And he Ė-
Doel:That had been a big fight with Woodrow Wilson at the time.
Imbrie:Well, letís see that would be — he was earlier than that I think. Well, letís see — Woodrow Wilson was there just before World War II. And my father was there earlier. I forget his dates. So he did not interact. But he didnít — he got in trouble. He had some unpleasant experiences with snobbishness at Princeton. That and really not too much discussion. It was just — I sort of assumed I would go to college somewhere. And when the time came, just before World War II, we didnít have much money. I went through the old boy network, a friend of his was a president of a small school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called Coe College. A friend of his was the president of that school, and even though I really didnít deserve it academically, I got a scholarship, something you know. Young, white boy gets a scholarship because his fatherís a friend of the president. Something that would probably get the man put in jail today. And I went there because it was financially possible to do so.
Doel:And again, I want to make sure we cover that in detail. Iím curious still when you were growing up, what sort of books you found particularly interesting?
Imbrie:What sort of what?
Doel:Books you were reading when you were Ė-
Imbrie:Oh, it was adventure stories. Nothing to do with philosophy really.
Doel:Those are the sort of things many boys read in those years.
Imbrie:Just adventure stories. Robinson Crusoe. The books about a lot of Popular Mechanics. Nothing in the scholarly venture at all. I didnít really like school too much. I was — got through high school reasonably well only because my mother and father, you know, spoke good English and I had kind of a general knowledge and I could use correct grammar without having to think about it. And whenever I had to memorize something hard, I would goof off. And I can remember, when I was studying Latin, the realization that I was supposed to remember all these words. Every chapter began, you know, with a list of twenty nouns to learn. Agricula, mastolin, second declension, you know, whatever it is, first declension. And I thought they canít be — they canít be serious. I have to memorize these things. [laughter] So when I came, I almost flunked out of Latin. Because I realized at last that I was supposed to memorize these words. So I was not a very good student. I spent most of my time out of doors in the mountains. So in spite of that bad record, I got a scholarship at Coe College. And then I decided, by golly, I better buckle down and work. So by the time I went to college, I realized this is the time I better study. And I worked, you know, I was kind of a grind. I worked hard and did well in all my studies and got over my youthfulness. And then I began reading, you know, I took a course in philosophy, and took mathematics. And began reading and thinking. And became more of a scholar. But it was very latent in my — nothing, I didnít really do any significant reading or thinking up until the age of seventeen.
Levin:You had mentioned Pou1ar Electronics?
Imbrie:Popular — thereís a book called Popular Mechanics.
Levin:Did you have journals coming into the house?
Levin:Did you have any journals coming into the house?
Imbrie:Journals? My father liked scientific — my father, we had, you know, Atlantic Monthly, that sort of thing.
Doel:I was wondering if Popular Mechanics was one of the things.
Imbrie:Popular Mechanics was a boyís book on how to make this and that. And how to repair cars. But there was the Atlantic Monthly. I remember that. I think it used to be kind of an orange color. Is that still, itís probably still —. They may have gotten, they got other, you know, journals of opinion and so on which I ignored. And they read. They got the Herald Tribune every Sunday. I began really I think I read only the funny papers. In those days the Herald Tribune had funny papers, the New York Times didnít.
Doel:Did not. Yes. Still to this day of course.
Imbrie:So I really did not have a — I was not a scholarly boy like some of the people I know. At the age of ten were interested in dissection and science. I was interested in mountains and having fun and —
Doel:Were you reading about geology? Did you come to know what sort of terrain you were living in? Was that one part of the interest?
Imbrie:No. Had absolutely no idea. The place that we were climbing was a place right near West Point — it was what they call the Hudson Highlands. What I now know to be, you know, crystalline rocks. The exciting story of why theyíre there is that these are just mountains, bumps and valleys and I just took them for granted as mankind has since the beginning. And it wasnít until I went to college that I took a course in geology. That was the key event in college. Amongst my scholarly endeavors, my newly awakened interest in doing well in school, I took a course in geology from a very good professor, L. R. Wilson, who was a Ė-
Doel:And this is at Coe College?
Imbrie:At Coe College. And the very idea — the fact that those mountains I had been climbing in had a reason. Those bumps were there because the rocks were hard and the valleys were there because the stream cut them. That revelation at the age of eighteen, I must have been then, I thought, ďThatís really interesting.Ē So that idea, that thereís a reason behind the landscape, is precisely what brought me into geology.
Doel:That is very interesting. You know, I was wondering too were there any teachers in high school that when you think back were particularly memorable?
Imbrie:No. Well there was a — my German teacher, I took German — was a good teacher. Just interested in scholarship. And beyond that my knowledge is sort of just vague. Nothing in science was. But I think that revelation was that the fact that mountains are there for a reason and valleys are there for — that struck me as being enormously interesting because it made my — And ever since whenever I go into an area I like to know why the landscape is there.
Doel:Itís clear that thatís a really important course for you. You remember that very clearly. I just wanted to cover one or two other things in your earlier childhood because clearly the Great Depression starts when youíre at a very young age.
Doel:Did that affect your —?
Imbrie:I can remember that. I remember, we lived in a middle class area. I can remember tramps, they were called, and tramps would stop at our house and later learned that they were the symbols were for friendly people were had little marks for tramps. And a lot of tramps stopped at our house, and my mother in the backyard would give them a sandwich and a glass of milk. And there were hungry people around. We, being a minister, we had a small, but regular salary. And we were not poverty stricken, just living, you know, at the lower end of the lower middle class scale. But because my father was a minister, we had access to country clubs and things like that. I had a social life that was fuller than I would have had in spite of a modest penury. But then. So I was at Coe College, and that one course by L.R. Wilson got me into geology. Although at the time, I was a physics major. For some reason I had majored in physics.
Doel:I was curious. When you think back, what was it that inclined you towards taking a major in the sciences?
Imbrie:A major in the sciences? I really donít know. I majored in physics, and I really donít know why. I liked mathematics. I was doing well in a course in math there and so I took — I was a physics major at Coe and took geology as a minor. And because I was a physics major — oh, by this time I had turned eighteen and the war was on. You know, Pearl Harbor had occurred. But because I was a physics major, I had a deferment to study physics. I see now somebody was thinking ďThe atomic bomb, we need young physicists.Ē And so I think for a year after I had turned eighteen and was draft eligible, I was still at Coe College as a physics major, taking geology as a minor subject. And enjoying that and taking field trips and so on. And I was doing okay in physics. After about the second year at Coe, and I completed two years there, I was the only sort of red blooded man left on the campus. There were, you know, men who were crippled but that was it. And I began feeling, you know, very guilty. Here I am. And I also realized that I wasnít going to contribute to the war effort from my knowledge of physics as a sophomore. So friends of mine had gone into the ski troops, the Tenth Mountain Division. Because I was a skier and mountaineer, and I decided that sounds like it. And so I enlisted in the ski troops.
Doel:This is the end of what, of your sophomore year?
Imbrie:End of my sophomore. I enlisted in the ski troops and went on to —
Doel:This would be in 1940?
Imbrie:That was, well I went in nineteen. That was 1944.
Doel:When you graduated from high school you were just seventeen? Iím just working to reconstruct.
Imbrie:I was born in July 4, 1925. I went to college about the age of eighteen. I must have been a young eighteen when I went to college. So the, I enlisted in the army and after basic training was sent to join the Tenth Mountain Division, and went on to become a — Then the Tenth Mountain Division was sent to Italy, and I was an infantry soldier with a Browning Automatic rifle, a BAR, digging foxholes and fighting the Germans in Italy. And had a small wound. On April 22nd I was wounded in the Poe Valley, lost a toe, and disturbed a joint and got a medical discharge. Now I come back to this country. And itís 1945. The war is just over. The atomic bomb had just been dropped. Iím — now I have the bill of rights, the GI Bill of Rights, and I decide to go to a better college than Coe, and I went to Princeton.
Doel:What I wanted to ask you, before we get to the Princeton years, what were your general impressions of Coe when you had arrived there? Was this one of the first times you had actually spent any time [cross talk]
Imbrie:Yes it was. Because I didnít go around, as people do now with their youngsters, go around and look at five colleges and pick one that they like and can get into and you can afford and so on. This was the only choice. So I had never had seen the place. I was all. I went out there by train and arrived. And this was my first real experience.
Doel:That must have been a very interesting experience.
Imbrie:Yes. Of course, it was first time. I was now middle of Iowa. I was a long way from home. So I didnít get home very often. Train travel was difficult in the war. And I liked the college atmosphere. I mean right away, I sort of felt I think at home in the academic life. I liked, I liked the courses and reading and doing research. My latent scholarly instincts emerged and I liked that life. And Coe was a good, small school. You know, small classes, good dedicated teachers, and professors who really seemed to care whether you learned or not. Itís a nice small school environment, and I enjoyed it.
Doel:You mentioned in particular L.R. Wilsonís class, the geology class that you had. That was in your freshman year?
Imbrie:Probably in my freshman. Then I kept taking geology courses and liked that. And seemed relatively easy, easier than physics and math.
Doel:Do you happen to remember the textbook that you were studying then?
Imbrie:It was probably one of the Yale textbooks, Longwell, one of the [Chester] Longwell, [Rudolph] Knopf and [Richard Foster] Flint textbooks.
Doel:Thatís what I was curious about.
Imbrie:A green bound volume, the older edition. You know it was put out. It was Longwell, Knopf and Flint. And so I enjoyed reading about that. And then I went to the army, came back, and now I decide to Ė-
Doel:You mention that you had some other classes that you had taken in geology. Was it part of a sequence or were you able to take?
Imbrie:There were two professors of geology there. There was L.R. Wilson and there was a man named Drexler, I think Robert Drexler. And the two of them were the two geology professors and they were nice guys. And weíd go out. I took a field trip with one of them to Canada once to look at some stuff.
Doel:Interesting. Was this part of an organized class or were you traveling individually?
Imbrie:No, this was a — the geology majors went on a field trip to Canada to study some peat bogs. L.R. Wilson actually was studying the history of forests in Canada by going down and getting cores of peat in bogs in Canada. Which is the kind of thing I did later on in my developed career. It was an interesting experience. I liked it. Then I went to the army and forgot all about this. And —
Doel:Were there any other teachers that you found particularly memorable at —?
Imbrie:At Coe? At Coe?
Imbrie:Well there was a third one. There was a very good math teacher named Swanson. I canít remember his first name. He was from Minnesota. And he had kind of a, he was either a Norwegian or a Swedish fellow from Minnesota. Swanson, and he was a very good math teacher. And I remember those three, Swanson and the two geology professors.
Doel:Did that go through the Calculus [voice fades off]?
Imbrie:Yes. Yes. I went through Calculus with him.
Doel:And physics courses?
Imbrie:Physics. The physics professor was kind of an old fogy named Weld. He was kind of a classic physicist, but a nice fellow.
Doel:Do you remember learning much about quantum mechanics or was it much more of a classically oriented —?
Imbrie:No. This was a rolling, you know, balls rolling down planes and acceleration. This was kind of Newtonian physics. Nothing beyond that.
Doel:I was just curious if in your own reading by that point you had become acquainted with what was then the twenty year old revolution in modern physics.
Imbrie:It didnít make much impact in this physics course. It was basically, you know, friction and rolling planes and basic Newtonian physics. I donít remember anything about that. Maybe there was a footnote later in the book. I think it was an out of date textbook and probably an out of date professor.
Doel:And in geology were you doing independent reading outside of the books that were assigned in your courses? Because clearly you had an added interest.
Imbrie:Probably not. I think I was just reading the textbook. No real indication of — It wasnít that kind of a school that they know research and people pushing out the literature and getting articles. It was a textbook oriented course. The two professors teaching, doing what they could. I donít think thereís anything more to be gotten from that.
Doel:But you mentioned that you came back from your experience in the war, and you had the GI Bill funding. Were you thinking of a number of different options for continuing your education?
Imbrie:Yes. I had an idea. I realized that I — my interest lay in geology. And I was going to major in geology. And I had the idea, probably because I had grown up with a rather impoverished childhood that I wanted to make some money. So I had the idea that if I got an undergraduate degree in geology and then went law school, I could combine that and become a lawyer with a big oil company and make lots of money. And as well as have some fun with geology.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Imbrie:And that was my plan. So first I got my bachelorís. So I went for the last two years and graduated with a bachelorís degree in 1948 with Princeton, a very good Princeton geology.
Doel:This is what I particularly wanted to hear about. You had majored in geology then when you went to Princeton?
Doel:Was Princeton the first choice that you had among the schools that you were considering?
Imbrie:Just — my father had gone there. My grandfather had gone there. And I knew it was a good school, and I think I applied and went. Didnít apply to anything else.
Doel:What were your impressions of Princeton on arrival? Was this the first time?
Imbrie:You know, I loved the place. You know, this is now a nicer campus than Coe College, Cedar Rapids. A beautiful campus. I had a — in Joline Hall, I shared a three-room suite with another undergraduate. It was none of this modern crowding of people into dormitory rooms. So we had a, it was a gentlemanly school. We had parquet wooden floors, two bedrooms and a study room. I roomed with a man named Bill [William] OíGorman. And itís a very gentlemanly life. You know I belonged to an eating club. It was a very pleasant — it was a delightful experience. And the geology department, which was a very good department, people doing research, quite a different atmosphere. And there was lots of stimulation of good scientists and teachers at Princeton.
Doel:So you were spending quite a bit of time at Guyot Hall?
Imbrie:Yes. Guyot Hall was the place, named for the — And I had professors there like, in my own field there was a young man named Steve Fox who was a young paleontologist. There was Erling Dorf who was a well known student of fossil Plants. We had Glen Jepson was who was a paleontologist of dinosaurs and things like that. We had a man named [Arthur] Buddington who was a good, hard bitten, knowledgeable, hard rock geologist who taught me about granites and so on.
Doel:He was also teaching petrology there wasnít he?
Imbrie:That was. Buddington taught me petrology. And he was a tough, good — those were the main ones that I can — they were good professors.
Doel:Harry [H.] Hess was also in the department.
Imbrie:Oh yes, Harry Hess. Harry Hess was just back from World War II where he had a famous career with a submarine making you know the first bathymetric charts.
Doel:Did he talk to you much? Did he talk to other students about what he was doing?
Imbrie:He was a quiet fellow. You know, it wasnít an intimate relationship. But he was quiet, inspiring. And I remember I learned why he named a certain creature on the sea floor, a guyot, G-U-Y-O-T, a flat-topped extinct volcano thatís now below the surface that he discovered. He called then guyots, ostensibly for the famous geographer, Arnold Guyot, for whom Guyot Hall was named. And so I was aware who was doing fundamental research and he was an active scientist publishing. It was an active, exciting research based department, and so I began to see another aspect of academia which I liked even more than I had at Coe. So when the time, when I graduated, we had—
Doel:I wonder if before we get to graduation, who did you work with particularly closely? You had mentioned some of the people, Steve Fox.
Imbrie:Well, the man I worked closest with was a man named Steve Fox. He was a young assistant professor in the field of paleontology. And he took a group of us out west one summer. We went to see the Grand Canyon and had all sorts of adventures.
Doel:You know Iím really curious was the Princeton train still running at that point? The train? Did you take it?
Imbrie:Oh yes. The little square wheel trolley. I mean to get to New York, youíd, if itís still there, youíd go down from Princeton junction to Princeton I guess and then youíd go to New York on the train.
Doel:Yes. All of that still was in place. I remember that certainly during the 20ís and 30ís Princeton had one of the pullman cars that it was using out west for Geology and Ė-
Imbrie:I heard about that. And that was — they had ceased that posh existence. This was now, people were now driving a station wagon. And so Steve Fox took half a dozen of us on a trip out west to see young majors, we saw Grand Canyon and so forth, and had a good time. So then I graduated then.
Doel:What sort of person was Steve Fox?
Imbrie:He was an inspiring lecturer and energetic. He wasnít intellectually as rigorous, I now realized, as he might have been. But he was a good solid guy. He was an inspiring teacher, and later on, he happened to made a million dollars. He went out doing something out west and discovered some uranium and made a pile of money. And misspent some of it.
Doel:It was a critical period of time too, immediate post war years.
Imbrie:Right. He had some tragedies in his life. His son who was — had something wrong with him, and his life didnít turn out too happily. But he was an inspiring teacher. And the other teachers there taught me respect for scientific scholarship.
Doel:You mentioned Erlin Dorf and Glen Jepson. You had taken courses from them as well?
Imbrie:Oh yes. All those people. Erlin Dorf, Glen Jepson, Buddington.
Doel:Buddington was getting on in years.
Imbrie:Buddington was near the end of his career, he was old.
Doel:What was he like?
Imbrie:Well, I liked him. He looked like a farmer. He actually used the word ďainít.Ē Even though he didnít write that way. I think he came from the USGS. He was an old field geologist. And he was in that group. His background. So he would use — his conversation used the word ďainít.Ē And yet he was an educated man. I donít know quite his background. He was an interesting fellow. Kind of hard bitten, a little reserved. And I remember I was not, never was very good with chemistry and hard rock. I thought I ought to do well in his course. So I — his final exam consisted of identifying a huge number of hand specimens, you know, of all rocks, all chipped.
Doel:Is that right? It was spread over a table and you had to —
Imbrie:It was spread out over a table. So I went around and I memorized it. I had a good memory, but I memorized every damn specimen. And I think I got one of the best scores on the exam, not because I understood the rock, but I really memorized these specimens and I impressed Buddington.
Doel:Iím sure. I had heard that Buddington had done that as one of his examining styles before so itís interesting to hear that.
Imbrie:Yes. Whatís this rock, you know? All over the room there were little, and in those days people, they would chip rock specimens to a nice little size. They all — And so I memorized the entire roomful and probably forgot most of it.
Doel:How did you find the research facilities at —?
Imbrie:Well, you know, for my knowledge it was. I realize now that it was probably somewhat — I donít think they had many x-ray machines. But I didnít. I wasnít aware of any inadequacies. I didnít really understand. Well, the modern world of machines really hadnít caught on. I donít know whether Princeton was ahead or behind on the curve on that. My main memory was people with ordinary equipment like microscopes. And so on.
Doel:Did you have any contact with Taylor Thom? Was he still at Princeton?
Imbrie:Yes Taylor Thom was the — he was the head of — I think there was a separate department of mining, engineering.
Imbrie:And I never had a course, knew who he was, and I never sort of — I didnít like to go underground and never did like mines. I always felt nervous underground. So I stayed away from that part of the group and I think. He did run the Princeton field camp. Thatís right. There was a field camp that Princeton ran out at Red Lodge, Montana, and I went out and took a field course one summer. I think Taylor Thom ran that field program as I recall.
Doel:What sort of person was he?
Imbrie:I donít remember, but I remember him primarily as kind of a good lecturer in the field. And he would set up with blackboards out in the field, and draw diagrams of the geology that we were seeing. And I was rather remote from him. But I donít have much — but I remember the name. If you hadnít remembered it, I would have forgotten all about it.
Doel:Iím curious too, were there regular seminars that you as undergraduates would go to, colloquia?
Imbrie:I donít remember that until I got to Yale graduate school. It didnít seem to be a feature of education then at Princeton.
Doel:Yes. And often undergraduates arenít as aware of that as graduate students.
Imbrie:Yes. If they occurred, made no dent on me. I have a feeling that that era had not arrived when people were traveling. Thatís a little earlier. 1948, you know, just after the war.
Doel:You mention, of course, quite a few other people in the geology department. Did you also have contact particularly with any one in other departments, chemistry for instance?
Imbrie:No. I mean I took courses, but nothing significant.
Doel:I wonder if you remember any of the, Henry Eyring was still there, or had he just left for Utah then?
Imbrie:I remember the name. Well I had, you know, I had I remember the course I remember we had a music course with a guy named Welsh, you know, classical music course. I enjoyed that. Remember those days with the GI Bill of Rights I was able to buy records. And I took courses in philosophy and music and —
Doel:Did you have any physics courses?
Imbrie:No. Because I had had my physics. I took — I continued to take math. But I was able to run — see most of our courses were in the geology department. And I had, you know, cultural things like philosophy and music and history.
Doel:What about biology courses?
Imbrie:I didnít have any biology courses. But my training was inadequate in that respect. I should have had biology courses there. And didnít do that. I had to make that up by reading later.
Doel:Did you have an impression when you were doing the field courses or the field aspects of it, that you were really learning how science gets done? Or did it seem to be more of a cookbook type presentation?
Imbrie:No. No. I think, by the time in the Princeton department you were aware of people and issues and arguments. It became not a textbook thing, but here Harry Hess was, there was a big discussion then of a concept that Harry Hess, I think, had generated called the tectogene. I was an early idea of continental, what we now realized is continental margin tectonics and plate movements. Nobody thought of plates then. But Harry Hess was interested in why there were trenches in the ocean. And he had a theory, I think, called the tectogene and they were. He was thinking and there were, we were aware that there were discussions. And so I knew that science was a human enterprise with arguments and disagreements.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Imbrie:Itís not just a textbook thing. But that was, that was part of the Princeton education.
Doel:And Hess was also getting interested in convection at that period.
Imbrie:Convection cells. And I remember there was a [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz. And so those big theories of earth were in the air, and we were aware of the —
Doel:Did Vening-Meinesz visit the campus, or was he simply one of the other characters?
Doel:Yes. Or was he one of the scientists whose work you were?
Imbrie:I think he was just a name. I donít remember any visits from any significant person. If they came, I was busy doing something else. I got married, by the way, at Princeton. I married and my wife Barbara [Zeller] who is out shopping now, lived with me at Princeton. So my second year there I was married. So I may not have been, I may not have attended all of the lectures.
Doel:Itís understandable. How did the two of you meet? You and Barbara.
Imbrie:She was a — through mutual friends. My best friend in Newburgh, New York, had met her best friend at summer camp. And when they got married, we met sort of at the wedding of a mutual friend. I was the best man and she was a bridesmaid at Newburgh, New York.
Doel:And just to make sure we have that recorded, what was her maiden name?
Imbrie:Barbara Zeller, Z-E-L-L-E-R. From Stonington, Connecticut. We were married and had two children, a boy and a girl, both grown.
Doel:Something very interesting — when you had begun at Princeton you had the idea of combining the work of geology with the law degree that might.
Imbrie:Yes. I thought I would make a lot of money.
Doel:Right. Was this something that you had a chance to talk with any of the professors about?
Imbrie:No. I had this idea and they may have thought it was nutty, but I just — I said this is what Iím going to do. And I didnít get any opinions. That was my plan. I wanted money. And geology. And I thought that way I could. So when the time came, I graduated.
Doel:This is in 1948 that you graduated.
Imbrie:1948. I graduated from Princeton. My wife was with me. I graduated. I did fairly well. I think I got — Iíve really forgotten. I guess thatís when I got a Phi Beta Kappa. That should be it. I got a Phi Beta Kappa degree. So, you know, I graduated and I had a degree, maybe cum laude. Iíve forgotten. Barbara? So I then applied to graduate school.
Doel:How much did you know of other graduate programs?
Imbrie:Well, Iím now going to law school so —
Doel:Oh, youíre applying to law schools? Very interesting.
Imbrie:I got my graduate degree cum laude, then I was now going to head down the money track and go to law school. Somehow I picked Yale Law School because I knew Yale was close by and had a good reputation. So I applied and amazingly was admitted to Yale Law School. And I was with my wife. We were living somewhere. I think we were living at her familyís home in Stonington. And through the mail came the Yale catalogues of the Law School. And I knew nothing about law. Iím really just — I thought that lawyers make money. And I went through this catalogue and I remember a course. There was a course called torts 201. And I didnít barely, I donít know much about what a tort is now, except that need some kind of wrong. And I read the description of this course and I thought, this sounds boring as the devil. And suddenly I realized this was a huge mistake. That I really — the idea of plowing through Yale Law School and through these courses that sounded terribly boring. So I canceled my application and I went there, and I went over and I applied to the geology department. And thatís how come I went to the Yale geology department. I knew that was a good one because Iíd had their textbook as a young man at Princeton.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. So that you advised the law school that you werenít coming and simply were able to get to the geology department.
Imbrie:Well, I think I must have been — I must have applied to the geology department. I must have applied separately to them. I had been accepted by the law school, and I then rejected them. And then I guess I applied to the geology department, and they admitted me without too much question. I had a good degree from Princeton. Was, you know, a war hero and all that sort of thing. There wasnít much reason to say no to me. So I went to Yale and Barbara, and my wife and I went to Yale Law School, Yale graduate school together. Barbara, our people are here.
Barbara Imbrie:Would you like some coffee?
Doel:Yes, thank you. Thatís okay.
Imbrie:So we go to Yale, Yale geology department. Good department.
Doel:What were your impressions of that compared to Princeton?
Imbrie:Well, the campus at Yale is not as attractive. In Princeton youíre like in a European, Cambridge type setting. At Yale youíre in a city. But it was, it was a good department. It was rigorous. And they were tough teachers, they were good teachers. And you took, in those days, everybody took four. Every graduate student took the same four basic courses. One of them is petrology from a marvelous teacher named Adolph [S. Adolphus] Knopf.
Doel:He was one of the major figures.
Imbrie:And he was a marvelous man and a great sense of — probably more than anybody else, he sort of imbued you with a sense of, you know, what scientific scholarship is and rigorous thinking. And youíd read an article at night and bring it the next morning. He would say, Imbrie, whatís the main point of that article? And youíd muff it and heíd say, no, itís this. And thatís —
Doel:And so it sounds like he gave quite a bit of one-on-one mentoring.
Imbrie:Well, he did. It was sort of small classes. And his wife by the way, to give feminists their due, one of the best people in petrology was his wife who was a — Mrs. Knopf. I canít remember her first name. But she was an excellent petrologist. And she was the one who actually helped people to the microscope. She was a marvelous — They were a marvelous, cultured couple. Once he came in. I had read some article. Weíd all read an article at night, and heíd go around the day, and say, Imbrie, what did this article say in one word in Latin. He wanted me to see terra incognita. And I muffed the opportunity. Pretty good challenge. And he was — then there was, we all took a course in stratigraphy from, taught mutually by Carl Dunbar and John Rodgers. Dunbar now dead, Rodgers alive. Both.
Doel:Carl Dunbar contributed to some of the major Yale series in geology in Texas as well.
Imbrie:Yes, right. Major historical geology. Then there was the — [Chester] Longwell taught structural geology. Longwell. And [Robert Foster] Flint taught Pleistocene geology. That was the famous trio of Longwell, Knopf and Flint. Everybody took a basic course in one of them. There wasnít the specialization you normally found. All the graduate students took a course. There was no course in geophysics. That area was just getting going. We had basic petrology.
Doel:Yale was very much a traditional geology department in its strengths.
Imbrie:This was the place. People went from here to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Doel:Tom [Thomas D.] Nolan for instance.
Imbrie:Yes. These were classical geologists who were somewhat skeptical of geophysics, I would say in those days. You didnít —
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Imbrie:If you didnít have a hammer, you werenít a geologist basically. There was a — so that the geophysical revolution hadnít really come into things then.
Doel:Iím very curious about that. What sort of things gave you a hint that geophysics was not terribly highly regarded, if thatís a fair way to put it?
Imbrie:I donít really think the issue ever emerged. I donít think I knew enough to judge that. I donít think there was — just, it wasnít taught there, there was no course in it. You took a course in structural geology and some geophysics crept into the discussion. It was not — I donít think there was any feeling that it was not good. Itís just that Yale didnít do it.
Doel:What sort of things came up in Chester Longwellís course?
Doel:In Longwellís course, the structural geology.
Imbrie:Longwell. Basically this was not the modern structural that we know. Forces and tensors and force fields and stress fields. This was, you know, anticlines and synclines and working out the geometry of rocks and their deformation in the field in mass. Nothing to do with the modern, what is now taught in modern structural courses. Completely field oriented and classical.
Doel:What sort of person was he?
Imbrie:Longwell? Somewhat aloof. Somewhat aloof. Other professors there were more warm. There was a marvelous guy named [Alan] Bateman who taught economic geology. And Dunbar. Flint was an interesting figure. So I took, unlike many people, a course from Richard, Richard Foster Flint in Pleistocene geology. A field I later began to specialize in. He was a commanding, imperious figure, very tall, very cultured. They spoke French at home.
Doel:Is that right?
Imbrie:And you were aware of a great scholar in Flint. His big contribution was to synthesize the world order of Pleistocene. He knew three or four languages and was friends with all the major European geologists. And we were invited out, Barbara and I, to their home outside of New Haven. And they have a private lake. And I remember they had a person swimming in the nude there. The Flints retired to their house and they suggested that we take off our clothes and went swimming. So my wife and I did, feeling very uncomfortable. So we swam nude together in the pool, and, you know, got out as quickly as we could and got our clothes on. And the Flints were different. He was a great scholar of the Pleistocene. So I had that, that later on came to be an important background for me to have that course in Pleistocene geology.
Doel:And many things that I am curious about too is now that youíre in graduate school, do you remember attending the colloquia seminars?
Imbrie:Oh yes. Here was a regular, you know, whatever either a Friday or Thursday, it was some afternoon. Perhaps Friday when there was a — there was a colloquium every Friday whatever it was. And sometimes with outside speakers; sometimes with graduate student presenting the result of their research or professors on the staff. Now it became a regular feature of the program, and I never — that seminar series.
Doel:Were geophysicists ever invited to those, or were the topics pretty much in traditional forms?
Imbrie:No, they were in all fields. They were — there was a good selection of current research people invited.
Doel:Did Longwell talk to you about his wartime service? Because he was —
Imbrie:Longwell? Never mentioned it.
Doel:—because he had been involved in overviews for a number of areas of geology coordinated with the military efforts during World War II.
Imbrie:I didnít know that. Because he, I guess, probably, probably succumbed it from the USGS I imagine. I guess I vaguely knew that and should see what he wrote.
Doel:Because he did have contact with a number of areas of geophysics as well as part of those responsibilities.
Imbrie:By this time I had put my military life behind me. And I didnít want to think about World War II or military things any more. It was not until about five years ago that I got interested and have since published a book on our unitís history. Got quite interested as a hobby after my retirement in this, finding out what I did in Italy and what the war was like and have a whole research career that developed after I retired. Anyway, your kind of history work on my division and its activities in Europe. So I — in those days, I systematically didnít want to think about this. I wanted to get out of ódidnít put all those things behind me.
Doel:If I remember correctly, G. Evelyn Hutchinson was also at Yale.
Imbrie:Yes. He was a — gee you know a lot about it. G. Evelyn Hutchinson, a marvelous man with a marvelous English accent and a superior Cambridge manner, who often came to our colloquia and gave talks. And I did go to — there was a good interaction between the biology department and the paleontologists in our department there. And I would go to biological colloquia and so on, and they to ours. And G. Evelyn Hutchinson was a well known figure. He would probably appear on Ph.D. exams and so on. Ask hard questions. And I remember that one of those little fish hooks of history that stick in your mind. There was some lecture that somebody was giving a lecture on some ecological topic. And everybody was impressed. And G. Evelyn Hutchinson rose in the rear of the room and in his English accent said, but what about the earthworm. [Laughter] And whoever it was was dumbfounded. And he had found some key thing that this man had not considered earthworms; he really wasnít understanding what was going on in that forest or something. What about the earthworms? So he was that kind of a — he was a kind of charismatic character that an influence on me and people in the department.
Doel:How well did you come to know him during your time at Yale?
Doel:How well did you come to know him when you were at Yale?
Imbrie:Well, never enough to be influenced by him. I donít think he had — we would talk from time to time. I donít know under what circumstances, and he would give ideas. There was interaction. I donít recall what the circumstances were, but he had a — he was an interesting dynamic figure.
Doel:Clearly he had an interest in climates and historical dimensions or did that not seem so apparent?
Imbrie:Yes to some extent that was triggered by the course with Flint. I mean under Pleistocene history one looked at the classical theories of why the climate changed and including the [Milutin] Milankovitch theory and so that came in, didnít become a driving motive in my research at that time. It was part of my knowledge of what the Pleistocene was and ice sheets fluctuated.
Doel:I was curious generally about Hutchinsonís own thinking about climates, issues, whether that was apparent to you?
Imbrie:I donít remember that. I have no knowledge of that.
Doel:How did other members of the department regard Hutchinson?
Imbrie:Climate. I think it was. The ideological record showed that climate had changed. You know warm climate in Europe in the Miocene and cold Pleistocene in the ice ages in the Permian. You know, and that sort of thing. That was part of the history of the earth. So it wasnít given any special emphasis.
Doel:What you said a moment ago that was very interesting that you were taught the Milankovitch. At least you were exposed.
Imbrie:Yes, that was part of the — the theoretical part of Flintís course. And one of the theories of why ice ages came and went. That was the astronomical theory. There were carbon dioxide theories. And there were theories that had to do with mountain making. And you know you can destroy most of these because you canít build mountains and destroy them fast enough to cause ice ages to come and go as fast as they did. So we went through the litany of possible explanations. We probably wound up saying we donít know.
Doel:What sort of ideas were debated about mountain building orogeny?
Imbrie:Well the ones that were debated when I was in school, actually sort of go back to Vening-Meinesz and Hess. The convection cell, the fact that they were — in those days it was thought that there would be a convection cell in the mantle. And that where the two cells came together, that would drag down part of the crust.
Doel:Youíre putting your hands together at that point at which thereís full [cross talk].
Imbrie:It may have been Hessís, the tectogene. And youíd have a lot of — so that was a step toward the theory, and that was the extent of —. It was a hot theory at the time and arguments pro and con.
Doel:David [T.] Griggs was contributing to that idea at the time.
Imbrie:Continental drift of course was considered. And was poo-poohed. This was a — I mean. Continental drift had been considered and rejected by the American establishment, including the Yale establishment. The Europeans, many of them always did believe in continental drift. But Yale, the Yale department, and I think most American geologists, didnít believe it. So we went through [Alfred] Wegenerís theory of continental drift. And part of our reading for our oral exams was to read that and to read refutations of it.
Doel:Itís interesting when you say that. Did you read the original theory as proposed by Wegener? Was that —? Or a summary?
Imbrie:Yes. You went to basic stuff, you didnít read secondhand stuff. You went back and got the field reports. If you were studying Alpine geology, you went back and you got some people who had done mapping and basic data as well as reading summary papers. So we read, yes, I presume a translation of Wegener. And we read people who said this wasnít true because — That was probably a typical American. They may have been. There was only one American geologist at the time. What was his name? He lived down in and he worked in Cincinnati. He wrote a textbook. Canít think of his name. Ken Caster. That name is a name that deserves to be mentioned. Kenneth Caster, who had done field work in South America. And had compared the rocks in South America with the rocks in Africa. And he sent essentially, by God, these were once together. So he believed, unlike every other geologist in this country, that Wegener was correct: that there was a continental drift. And his textbook says that and his articles say that. And he was unique and probably considered a nut. But he had the firsthand field experience in South America. And itís probably why some of the Europeans. If youíre living in, I think people living in Africa always did believe in continental drift. You have these rocks staring you every day in the face. If youíre sitting in New York State, you can ignore them. So I think. Also Wegener was a German and in World War II. But I think the main thing was that. Anyway, Caster was unique among American geologists to believe in continental drift.
Doel:Thatís an interesting point. And clearly those who did have much more exposure to South American geology or even were well aware of some of the similarities, the sort of evidence that Wegener put forward. Did you have in your colloquium series ever at Yale any proponents, European proponents of drift, who gave presentations on that? Lester King for instance.
Imbrie:Yes. I think there. Someone came. I forget who it was. I think it was somebody from Australia who was visiting. It was some non-American geologist who presented the evidence. I remember that. I didnít ever — I would have stayed, I myself wouldnít be working on that area of geology so I didnít look at it maybe as carefully as I should have.
Doel:Iím just curious generally — were any other graduate students at the time particularly interested in climates, paleoclimates at Yale?
Doel:That simply wasnít a topic that was particularly emphasized.
Imbrie:Thatís probably one of my — I think Iím one of the ones thatís responsible for bringing that idea into the — Because of, well, for reasons. I think probably my largest influence being one of the ones who brought that long before the modern concern about global warming and so on. I think my own career. I wasnít responsible for it, but I worked in the group that brought that. And it was not a thing then, it was just a — You knew about it but it wasnít a major focus. One might argue that itís too much a focus now. Except that itís politically useful to be that way. Everybody is now an environmentalist. Even the term environment. We took courses in ecology. The terms ecology and environment were not a big thing then. Itís become now politically correct and absorbed and people accept it without thinking.
Doel:Who was teaching the courses in ecology that you took at Yale?
Imbrie:I think it was either Hutchinson or somebody working with him. They had a forestry department there that I recall. I think [Edward Smith, Jr.] Deevey was in there. There were several people working on, in. But itís not worth pursuing any further. I donít have any more knowledge of that. Okay, next.
Doel:Are there are any other — ? Iím just curious if there are any other points as you think back on your education at Yale that you found particularly important for your later career that we havenít already touched.
Imbrie:I think the central thing was the dedication to careful field work, hard evidence, clear thinking and the importance of knowing what other people had written about. All this personified in the personality of Adolph Knopf, who was in a completely different field. He was a hard rock geologist. But somehow in his presence, it became vitally important to find out what somebody really had said, but not what somebody said that person had said. And to go back to the originals. And to look at the field evidence, well what did the rock say? And this is one of the basic inductive reasoning from the bottom. And a critical look at the evidence and consideration of other ideas. That was sort of personified in — he was the strongest personality. He was an imperious old man with a pince-nez and white hair, and you know, you just didnít — students sort of trembled in front of him. He was not somebody you would walk up and put your arm around his shoulders. An authority figure, but a pleasant one. He sort of epitomized the best of that department.
Doel:Would you see people like Knopf and others outside of class often? Was there much after-hour socializing?
Imbrie:I think, sort of once a year each faculty member would have people over for dinner or something like that. And I donít think the Knopfs ever did. The chairman would do that. I think Knopf probably only had his petrology students over. So in my case, Dunbar who was the senior professor in stratigraphy and paleontology, would have his students over for a picnic lunch once a year. And it wasnít a socially active department. And, of course, I was married and lived my own life. It wasnít socially very active.
Doel:I meant to ask you, what were you doing during the summers during your graduate years?
Imbrie:You were expected to do field work somewhere.
Doel:Where did you do your field work?
Imbrie:Well I did my field work in, with my wife, out in Michigan. The northern part of the southern peninsula of Michigan. I studied some rocks. Theyíre Devonian rocks that go from Halpina, Michigan on the east to some other town on the west and theyíre very fossiliferous. That was my Ph.D. thesis to study those rocks, collect the fossils and analyze the fossils, brachiopods in that part of the. So I learned, you know, basic, did basic field work in the summer up there with my wife. And I had a rotten old car that could barely make it out.
Doel:How were you supported during the years at Yale? Did the GI Bill cover it?
Imbrie:Basically, most of. Well, I had a Shell Oil fellowship that I forget how I was assigned, and my wife worked in the — the salary — in the Yale admissions department. She worked as kind of a statistician analyzing applicantsí grades and making numeric predictions of how they would do at Yale. And she had a nice office there. And she earned money, and I had this fellowship. I donít think there was any GI Bill of Rights. I think that was — I must have blown that when I went to Princeton.
Doel:I think generally that covered the undergraduate.
Imbrie:Yes. This was my wife and the Shell Oil Company that kept us going. Maybe they gave me a three hundred dollar grant to go for field work. Maybe the department gave me three hundred dollars to help with my field work or something. But there wasnít — this is not the department then that, you know, had government grants. There was not. Money was. It was not a government grant department. As all departments are to some extent now. This is just before that era.
Doel:Well certainly at Yale, the older traditions that prevailed.
Imbrie:Yes. People paid their own way. Some people — a lot of the students would have their Ph.D. thesis field work paid by the USGS. They would go out and do a USGS project somewhere or be a part of a project and get funding that way.
Doel:Did all your work actually take place at Yale, or did you spend time at any other university during your years?
Imbrie:Well I had one significant experience there. One summer, rather than go to — my first summer there, it was a good idea. I was expected to get more experience in field biology. So I went to the, Iíve forgotten where I was at, the — Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, then as now, has a summer program in field biology where you spend a month and take courses and collect marine animals and plants and study them and have. They had some very outstanding lecturers there who came in and worked in the summer. I see now they earned summer salary that way. So, I spent a summer at Woods Hole collecting and studying marine organisms and looking at them in the lab and conducting experiments and getting a feeling for, you know, what real invertebrate organisms were like in the field, which was going to be the area that I was going to specialize in. Invertebrate fossils. So that was, when my biology experience. That was better than any other course. That was really very good.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Do you remember any people in particular that you worked with?
Imbrie:Yes. The one person I remember was Libby Hyman, H-Y-M-A-N, who had written. She was an incredibly, I would say, unbeautiful woman. I mean she was really, she was well in years, but she had kind of distorted features, she was not a pleasant looking person. Very warm heart. And she had published a series of books on the anatomy and morphology and physiology of invertebrate animals. Volume 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. She was the god of this field. And she taught there. And she was a tremendous authority. She knew everything. And a very nice person. And she was one of the laboratory instructors. She would show me what makes a clam tick. And that was a very good course. I remember her above all others. And then we would go out and collect stuff in the field and dig around and see on the mud flats. And people would go out and they would patrol and bring back living stuff, and we would dump it in tanks and we would look at it. So that was a good hands on experience in field biology and ecology.
Doel:That sounds like that was all taking place over in the Marine Biology Lab rather than in the oceanographic.
Imbrie:Yes. MBL, right down in the center of town.
Doel:I was just curious if you had contact with the folks who were actually doing the oceanographic work when you were.
Imbrie:No. I didnít. I didnít really know that. I came to know them later, but no, I was just at MBL looking at invertebrates. So that was an important experience in my life. I it gave me firsthand experience as oppose to secondhand. In this case, not the details of the molecular biology but what the real animals look like and what they do in the mud. And the importance of plants in the marine environment had not realized. So that was a pivotal experience, I would say.
Doel:It sounds like it reinforced some of the ecological perceptions that you were already getting from Hutchinson.
Imbrie:Yes. You were doing natural ecology. Iím not sure there was a course in ecology, but it was just sort of involved in that. And so that was an important experience in my career. And then it was a tribute to whomever, I think it was Carl Dunbar, that said I must do this. So I did it. So thatís my one summer. The other summer was doing field work on my thesis, and I think the final summer I was rushing like mad to finish it.
Doel:Was it common for people to get through in three years at that time.
Imbrie:A little bit unusual. I would say that the usual thing was four. But I was in a hurry to get the career going and I finished as fast as I could. Probably had been better if I had taken four. I would have taken more courses. But I took the minimum courses, worked the maximum amount of time. And got out, just barely got out in three years.
Doel:Row did the opportunity — your first appointment at Kansas come?
Old boy network. Pure and simple. The famous geologist at University of Kansas, named Raymond C. Moore, M-O-O-R-E, was a, one of the major figures in paleontology and stratigraphy, telephoned Carl Dunbar and said, we have an opening. Do you have a bright young — Iím sure he said a bright, young man. Nobody thought a woman might do this. So and he said, gee, we got a good guy here, John Imbrie. So they invited me out. I donít think I even gave a lecture. The idea of traveling out to Kansas. I must have gone out. I guess I did go out. They must have paid my way out for a trial lecture and then they hired me, on the spot. So I — wait a minute. No, it was all done by the mail. So that I was hired as a young assistant professor, University of Kansas, for the salary of forty-five hundred dollars a year. I remember that figure. And Iíd never gone out there. So my wife and I then go out, drive out there, we arrive.
The head of the department, the one who hired me, Raymond Moore, was now gone. He was in Europe on sabbatical. So, and I began teaching at the University of Kansas. A good department. Classical department. And I began. I worked on a field project there which I developed. I had the idea. The question was you know to figure out the environment of rocks in the mid-con Pennsylvanian Permian rock. And most people were studying them vertically. Youíd take a cliff and A, B, C, D. You look at cycles. Cycle them, A, B, C, D, and try to reason out that. There were a lot of discussions about what the environment of these limestones were like. Was it deep water, was it shallow water? And people would reason out from looking at the rocks and doing and studying the sequence of the deposits. Did A come above B and C. I had, one of the ideas I had, I donít know where I got it from, was rather than look at the section vertically, you took one of those layers and followed it horizontally and sort of make a map of where was that, where in the hell was the shore line. If we knew where the shore line was, then maybe we could tell which was was the deeper water. So I had the idea of tracing one thin unit over a long distance. And I — maybe thatís just one of the ideas I had myself.
Anyway, thatís what I did. So I got some support from the local geological survey, a good man there named Dreyer. Gave me field expenses. And with a graduate student named Leah LaPorte, we — Oh no, I started this myself I think. So I picked a unit in the Permian subcession called the florena shale, F L O R E N A. Itís a thin unit of lower earlier Permian age. I forget now why I picked it. And it was sandwiched between two limestones. And I started up in Nebraska and tried to trace that unit all the way across, and I got all the way down at Oklahoma before I lost track of it in the big red bed sequence. And it was a pretty good strategy. I studied the lateral changes in that rock and tried to interpret them in terms of off shore, on shore distance. And that was a strategy which I later adapted for another project. It also got me into the environment of those rocks and these limestones. Now sometime during that first year there, about the time I got started with this field project, another telephone call came. This time between two other old boys.
The first was between Raymond C. Moore, and at Kansas and my professor Dunbar. And I had every intention. I probably didnít feel I would stay in Kansas the rest of my life. But I was just getting going. It was a pleasant town, and we had friends there. And I had certainly expected to be there for a number of years. And a phone call came to me one day. This is now my first appointment, a phone call came from the chairman of Columbia, Walter Bucher. Walter H. Bucher, a Swiss geologist of great distinction. Lovely, cultured man with a slight Swiss/German accent called me and said, ďMr. Imbrie, weíd like you to come and interview for a position at Columbia which has just opened up.Ē And it was quite a surprise. My boss hadnít yet returned from Europe. He was still on sabbatical when I get this call saying to come east. I knew that this was an interesting opportunity because Columbia was a big name and I was just getting started. It turned out.
Doel:Had you been to the campus at all before? Had you known about who was at Columbia?
Oh, I knew, yes, I knew [W. Maurice] Ewing and Bucher. I knew these were well- known people there at Columbia. I knew the department reputation. So here came a chance to interview for a position at Columbia. So I knew that was a major opportunity. So — and the reason that that developed is interesting. There was a — my predecessor at Columbia was a man named Horace Coryell, C-O-R-Y-E-L-L. He was kind of a frustrated micropaleontologist. Frustrated in the sense that his specialty was ostrecod[?], and he had never done much published research. I guess he was working for an oil company and the department didnít like that because he wasnít publishing science. And they kept him at the rank of associate professor for years and years and years and years, and werenít going to promote him. And he got ornery in the process and somewhere about that year, he began, in his lectures at Columbia, he began violent anti-Semitic statements. I donít know what they were, but he was very anti-Semitic and made it publicly known in his lectures.
Well, at Columbia in New York City, this is not a good thing. Not a good thing now, and it certainly was — that was a very sensitive subject at Columbia in New York City. And the Trustees in their wisdom decided letís get rid of this guy. He had tenure by this time. So they just — they retired him early and paid him off. He was, weíll say two years from retirement. And they got him out of the way and just bought him off. They didnít want this embarrassment. So suddenly, for this reason, a position opens up in micropaleontology at Columbia. And that was the trigger for the telephone call to me from Bucher. I was studying microfossils. An ideal person. And probably Dunbar had recommended me to Bucher. I think thatís probably — Bucher, I think, Bucher had probably called Carl Dunbar and he said, gee why donít you try John Imbrie out there at, bright young guy.
Doel:And probably because Yale has such a reputation, that this would have been the school.
Imbrie:Yes, this is the old boy network and it worked. And so Walter Bucher trusted his judgment, called me, and I so I flew east. I think the first time I took an airplane. A plane to New York City. Dramatic moment in landing at LaGuardia or wherever and took a propeller plane back. And gave a lecture at Columbia in Schermerhorn Hall Met the people like Ewing, and gave a lecture. And I knew these were senior, these were all senior people. The people that were there were people like Maurice Ewing, you know, who was director of Lamont, Jack [John E.] Nafe, who was a geophysicist, Joe [Joseph Lamar] Worzel, and Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp, with the geochemists. Then there were people in the department. Walter Bucher, Arie Poldervaart, Art Strahler, these were the main figures. And thereís an old mineralogist, kind of a fuddy duddy old guy, Walter, not Walter, but [Paul] Kerr. I forget his first name.
Doel:Paul Kerr, wasnít it?
Imbrie:Paul Kerr. Paul Kerr. So that was the department of Kerr, Poldervaart, these were geologists at Schermerhorn.
Doel:This is very interesting because this is nineteen fifty?
Doel:Ď52 that you give the lecture. And by that point Ewing and Kulp were all working outside of Schermerhorn. So they had come down.
Imbrie:Right. They had just formed Lamont. They were now out. And their stuff, the quarters I moved into there, a lot of their geophysical. When I moved into my quarters at Schermerhorn, a lot of my lab space was still occupied by sea equipment they hadnít had time to remove and take to Lamont. They had just moved out. They had just left. Just formed the Lamont thing, and I arrived just after that.
Doel:What were your impressions of Columbia during the time you gave the lecture?
Imbrie:Well, letís see. I guess mostly I was impressed by these leading scientists. So many leading scientists together. World famous people like Ewing, and Poldervaart, major scientists clustered together and being very nice guys and open. And I felt comfortable with them. So my main feeling was that Schermerhorn Hall is kind of a — This part of New York. I didnít really relish the idea of working in New York, a big city. It wasnít as difficult an environment then as it later became. But the main thing was the fact that these were really exciting people to work with ideas. And just bright, nice people.
Doel:Thereís lively discussion during the time that you gave your presentation.
Yes, lively discussion. And I felt comfortable with them. And that was my main impression, and when they offered me the job, I took it. And left Kansas before poor Raymond C. Moore ever arrived back on the scene. He was somewhat teed off. And I felt a little bit embarrassed that I was leaving so quickly. And I remember going to see the dean of the school, University of Kansas. Iíve forgotten his name, but heís a very nice person. And, you know, no dean likes to see bright, young people leave right away. And, but it was clear that this was kind of a major opportunity for me to go at this early stage in my career to a major school. And that, he said a very nice thing to me which Iíve thought of since then. I hope Iíve applied it. He said, ďImbrie, institutions have many opportunities, individuals few.Ē I thought that was a very nice thing. Some other bright guy will be available, but in a personís career, because of accidents of timing, you just donít get dozens of opportunities of that sort. Unless youíre a real genius and make them all yourself. So that was a very nice thing.
So I left there with a feeling of a wise, nice person. And I always felt friendly toward them. So I went to Columbia. My wife and I moved east. We bought a house in Leonia, New Jersey, which is a little commuting village right across the way. Conveniently about halfway between Columbia and Lamont. Which is, whatever it is, ten miles north along the parkway. So later on, I could drive to Lamont one day and the next day I could drive. So it was situated halfway in between.
Doel:Iím curious. Was that a consideration where you chose to live? Did you actually get out to Lamont?
Doel:This was simply a good place.
Imbrie:There were — people in Columbia lived, professors lived either in Leonia — Because it was, in the old days there used to be a ferry that would land right 125th Street.
Doel:Oh, thatís interesting.
Imbrie:And the people. Oh, another famous person there, I should have mentioned. A very nice guy who was an influence on me, a stratigrapher, did the famous work on geosynclines. Iíll think of it in a moment. He was a world renowned stratigrapher in ordinary field geologist stratigrapher. And he and people like Walter Bucher and Charles Behre who was the economic, all lived in Leonia. Because in those days they could take a ferry from Leonia, or from a little town right next door. Thereís a ferry that goes right near Leonia and goes across to 125th Street. And people would get on the ferry and they could sort of then walk to Columbia from the 125th Street ferry. By the time I got there, of course, the ferry had gone. There was now the George Washington Bridge. But the people were still living in Leonia. And it was a modest priced place to commute from into the city. Some of the professors lived in New York City. Most of them preferred to live in the suburbs. The Lamont group naturally were clustered around on or near the Lamont campus. So there were they — So I went to Leonia because all my colleagues, they were there, and it was the obvious middle class place to go. And the town north, Englewood, was more expensive, and the town south was lower class and cheaper. So this was sort of intermediate. So we moved into a house and began a — whatever it was, I think I spent a total of fourteen years at Columbia, commuting every day by car, in a carpool, to Schermerhorn Hall. And later on, as my interaction with Lamont developed, I would on some days go up and spend the day at Lamont.
Doel:What were your expectations in terms of what you would do at Columbia, in terms of the courses that you were going to be offering and the research?
Well, I was told when I went there that they needed from me a course in paleontology, which I gave, to replace the one that Coryell had taught. And that there was a adult education school there, which was called the School of General Studies. And they still have it. And that was a college education open for adults in the New York City area. People who were, you know, over twenty-one who were for various reasons wanted to go back and get a college degree. And these were mature people, ranging in age from seventy down to twenty-two. And that was what Coryell had taught in. And he lived in New York. And so I was told this is, they needed, it was a, it required giving a lecture in a general geology course. One lecture in the afternoon, four oíclock I think, and then repeating that lecture at seven, to a group who would only come in the evening. They gave late afternoon and evening classes.
So I would give, in the general geology course, I guess three lectures a week I would give at four and seven. And then I would have to commute home at seven oíclock at night. So it was a little bit grueling in the sense of having to go home late, having given two lectures. So it was not as pleasant as just giving, say, three lectures at ten in the morning to bright-eyed young undergraduates. But I enjoyed the — They were interesting students. They were mature people who often had — they had motivation to learn because their own money was on the barrelhead. And they werenít any, and there wasnít any. They were serious-minded students, adults, and self-motivated, and they were an interesting group. And I enjoyed — then and now, Iíve always enjoyed explaining geology to the average educated person. So they were. I enjoyed it. It was a little grueling in the sense that I had to go — I didnít get home until ten oíclock at night. I had to, you know, commute across by subway at night in Columbia. And so that. I gave those two courses. I may have given — I gave seminars I guess. I gave a seminar, and I taught a course in paleontology, and I taught a course in this adult education program. That was my job as long as I was there. Those same courses. And I did all that while I rose through the ranks. Faster than I probably would have otherwise because Columbia kept losing chairmen with the arguments between. The strains of being a chairman with Lamont and its academic staff on the one side, with their own concerns for getting people in the field and raising money. And the chairmanís concern to run an educational program, to get courses taught, and committees staffed. There were a lot of friction between these two. And so chairmen kept leaving.
Doel:Now weíre talking about the 1960ís?
Imbrie:Yes. Iím going forward. The sixties — they were leaving. And finally, the only — I was the only one left. Art Strahler I guess was then the chairman, and he was on sabbatical. So I replaced Art as chairman. I replaced Art Strahler for a year as chairman.
Doel:Thatís right. And that was during the year before the Brown opportunity came up. We will get to that.
Imbrie:And so then I guess they must have hastened my promotion to — I could have implied that I wasnít going to do this unless I got something for it. So I think I probably became a full professor at least a year earlier than I would have otherwise. Anyway, so I became chairman, was a chairman for a year. Had the — and the executive committee included Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker, young, bright, feisty guy, and someone else, maybe Art Strahler. And the three of us were kind of an executive committee. And once every, thereíd be a staff meeting when people would come in from Lamont. So those were exciting times. Lamont was growing and the idea of field work and deep sea geology and seismic geology at sea and deep sea cores and all that stuff, all those good things. Although Lamont didnít make the original breakthrough as you know in the plate tectonics. They set the pattern on how to do research, how and why to do research in the ocean, in terms of deep sea cores and seismic gravity studies and so on.
Doel:Iím particularly interested. You arrive in the fall of 1952 and much of your time in the early mid-1950ís is spent at the Columbia campus. What were people in the geology department saying about what was going on out at Lamont? About Larry Kulpís geochemical work or about Ewingís work?
Well, some of the older fuddy duddy people, like Paul Kerr, you could see clearly resented it. It just wasnít, you know, they werenít acting in they way the USGS taught them all to act. This was a new area and they were jealous. And Paul Kerrís own mineralogical research wasnít that exciting as far as I know. Good, solid stuff of [?] I think. So I think people like Paul Kerr were jealous and resented the attention and the money and the excitement that people like Ewing and their colleagues were doing developing a new field. And but people like Walter Bucher, who was, you know, an old style geologist but a great visionary, said this is the future. And he was, Bucher, for example, thought this was great stuff and probably responsible, because he was chairman, for bringing for getting Lamont. He was probably the point man for the classical geology department with the university, I donít know this, for getting Lamont developed as an idea within the — when the Lamont grant came. Whatever. I donít know really the — how it developed.
But Bucher was excited about it and did everything he could to further it. And would paper over the difficulties. And say, weíre lucky to have — we would not be — we have now a department with the worldís leading geophysicists and geochemists, like Larry Kulp getting students, bringing in government money, which was a new thing to me, and having facilities, and people doing field work in Africa and the ocean. And so there was the majority of the department understood the problems to deal with them. A minority, of which Kerr will be typical, resented this. And I was a young guy in the middle, and I thought it was very exciting and began, you know, working with them. I didnít have any ax to grind. Molded my own research to fit and take advantage of these opportunities.
Doel:And people like Arie Poldervaart?
Imbrie:Oh, Arie Poldervaart. He was a very nice guy. He would commute. He lived in Leonia, and we commuted every day together in a car pool from Leonia to Columbia every day for as long as I was there. I forget when he died. I guess he died before I left. I canít remember his death. He died tragically early. But you know he was a solid field geologist and a tough minded guy. He knew the excitement of Lamont. He welcomed the extension of the frontiers of science into the areas that people at Lamont were doing.
Doel:And how about. One thing I was thinking about was that while Ewing had been a professor at Lehigh for years before he went to Woods Hole and to Columbia. Larry Kulp was a fairly young person himself. He had just finished his own degree not all that many years ago.
Imbrie:Yes. I donít know where. He got his — there was a Midwestern school that he and Wally Broecker went to. I canít remember.
Imbrie:Wheaton College. He came from Wheaton. Or did he come? He was fully installed when I arrived as an active, doing such famous things as doing a study of radioactive Strontium by ashing a hundred and fifty corpses or something like that in their labs out there. They were getting a, one of the first studies of the dangers of radioactive Strontium. This was a different kind of research than most people were doing.
Doel:About the Strontium studies.
Imbrie:Yes, Larry Kulp was —
Doel:Project Sunshine as it was called.
Imbrie:Ashing a hundred cadavers, something or other, to get measurements of radioactive Strontium in peopleís bones. It was a different kind of research. And —
Doel:You were aware of it at the time it was going on?
Imbrie:Oh yes. He was not an easy person to deal with either. He was very dynamic and built up a big geochemical facility. But the other people know more about that and how that developed and Wally [Wallace S.] Broeckerís role and so on. I was simply aware that was an exciting, growing thing.
Doel:Were people in the department generally interested in his Carbon 14 dating work that was going on?
Imbrie:Sure. I mean. They didnít develop radio carbon dating, but they were applying it. I mean one of the early laboratories, and everybody realized the importance of radio carbon dating. And people like Bruno Giletti were students there who are now retired from Brown and was a colleague of mine here. He was one of the Kulp students who came here and founded geochemistry at Brown. And he recently retired. I think he — I think he was in the carbon 14 lab. In fact, I think that was his role, his Ph.D. thesis. Wally Broecker did carbon 14 studies. So to have all this going on right there was very exciting. So for myself, I was at that time doing. I arrive at Columbia and my first research plan was to carry out the research I had started at Kansas. What was the environment of these limestones? And I had the idea of mapping these limestone and shale units across the mid-continent. Then when I arrived at Columbia, another thing was going on, which made Columbia an exciting place for me, was the fact that they had a cooperative arrangement with the American Museum of Natural History. And several senior well-known world-class scientists were curators at the museum and were also had joint appointments at Columbia and were in my department.
Doel:Was Norman Newell one of them?
Imbrie:Norman Newell. For me, Norman Newell was the key one. Norman D. Newell. Still alive and active. Was the professor of invertebrate paleontology and shared the teaching load with me at Columbia. And his office was at the museum, and I would go down once a week. I spent one day a week at the museum, with him, and working there. And another famous name was George Gaylord Simpson.
Imbrie:Who was, you know, world famous writer and thinker. And he was a — I think he almost never appeared at Columbia. He did all his work from down there. But when I would go down there, I would have lunch every Tuesday or something with George Gaylord Simpson, Norman Newell, and the other senior professor there, was a famous guy in dinosaurs, whatís his name, Ned Colbert. He was the world famous vertebrate paleontologist. Dinosaurs and so on. So I would make contact there, and there were graduate students who were studying with them. And it broadened the dimensions of — and that was a very positive element in my experience. It also made the department extremely complicated. You had one campus at the, administratively and in terms of travel and interaction, it made a nightmare. You had Lamont Observatory, twenty miles north with people at sea half the time. Then you had Schermerhorn [Hall], kind of a crummy quarters actually. It was not then refurbished anywhere near the way it has been now, and in the middle of New York City with no place to park. And then you had on Central Park West, the people in paleontology, we had American Museum of Natural History. So, you know, I spent a lot of my time going back and forth between central New York and Schermerhorn and Leonia and so it made — And for students, letís say going, eventually they got a bus going. But it was just that parking was difficult. So that physically it was a grueling experience if you wanted to be active in all these spheres. And I ranged from the museum all the way out to Lamont. Thatís one of the things that sort of wore me down. Just kind of exhausting way to live, always traveling and looking for parking places. And eventually toward the end of my career there, not only did the parking spaces get more difficult, but it became — New York became more dangerous, you know, you werenít pleasantly going in subways at night at ten oíclock and getting out and going home. So that part of the environment was the downside of Columbia. And various of these things were fixed and they did get transportation. But to go back to my relations with Newell were important.
Doel:What sort of person was Newell?
Oh Newell was a lovely person. Kind of a classical geologist. Very great scholar, who was a pioneer in paleontology of the ecology. How to — he was really the first serious students of what we now call paleo-ecology. How did the animals, how did the fossils we collect live and what did they do in the invertebrate realm? People have been doing that with dinosaurs for years, but Newell brought to invertebrate paleontology the kind of a ecological insights into and biological insights into what made invertebrate fossils, in his cases, clams, tick. And he carried that. He was a great pioneer. He was an inspiration to me. And one day he said to me, John, why donít you come down and join me at Bimini? And I didnít know what Bimini was. Adam Clayton Powell hadnít yet made it famous as a resort. But Bimini as you know is a little island thatís sixty, thirty or sixty miles east of Miami, the nearest Bahamian island. And on the island of Bimini, then and now, the American Museum of Natural History has a field station. And Newell had the idea of going down there and basing a study of essentially ecological study of the sediments and organisms on the Great Bahamas Bank, including the reefs and the great mud flats of. And the Bahamian, as you probably know, the Bahamas is, has almost no terrestrial input except dust. Itís a pure marine area where ninety-nine of the rocks there are made of the broken remains of fossil shells. And so itís a pure, almost a pure calcium carbonate marine environment like the limestones that used to live in, used to grow in Kansas. So Newell was a pioneer.
He had raised oil company money. I think the Gulf Oil Company from a friend of his named Fisk I think it was, who funded a small operation in the Bahamas by Norman Newell and his graduate students, and they would charter boat. They studied reefs, modern reefs. They studied the mud flats, [?] deposits. And as part of his plan, he then would go out and study, some of his students studied the modern, studied Permian coral reefs in west Texas. And so here you had a group of graduate students and one professor studying modern reefs, modern fossils, and modern limestone and going out the next summer looking at ancient limestones and ancient reefs. And that was a very — that was a pioneer. And so Norman said to me, ďJohn, would you like to join me at Bimini?Ē I had to go rush up, look and see where Bimini was. And I realized, he invited me to participate with him in the, in these, in the Bahamian, the last year or so of the Bahamian project. I said sure. So I went down with him into the Bahamas and with him donned a face mask and scuba gear and swam on reefs and got frightened by sharks. And so now I have my experience of the — I knew how to deal with marine invertebrates because I had my experience at Woods Hole. So here I was looking at modern sediments formed. The Bahamas are nice and effective waters, very clear. When I came back to this country after my summer there, I put on my face mask and go in New England waters, you canít see anything, the waterís so productive. You know, itís very hard to see. Down there you can read the newspaper up to sixty feet. So you can actually watch the process of ripples forming and animals burrowing, and you see modern limestone form. So we, he and I completed the series.
We did some publications on our work there. And it imbued me with the interest in how sediments form. And then the rocks on land there, Newell was very good in this respect. They were, they were rocks, they were Bahamian coral rocks. Some of them were above sea level. What were they doing there? Why were these fossil reefs here? So Newell got me into studying with him the history, the Bahamian rocks which involved sea level changes. During the last Ice Age the sea level was down a hundred and twenty meters and the whole Bahamas was a great plateau sticking out of the water with winds blowing up the sediment into dunes. And then the sea level would come up again, and while the sea level was down, for a while these dunes blow and then the rain water comes and circulates and cements these into rock. Now sea level rises again and you have what, the next time sea level gets high you have rocks that were formerly sediments or reefs and now become the nucleus of islands. So the Bahamas is kind of a palimpsest of re-written manuscript of dunes, rocks and very. And in order to understand it, you have to understand sea level change. And that gets you into the Pleistocene history of sea level changes.
Doel:Right. And that was one of the times —
Imbrie:Reawakened my interest in sea level history and also I began studying modern sediments there. In this case, just digging them with a shovel, or making my own cores by sticking down a tube. So that was all interesting background to me, and I began thinking more about the Pleistocene and — Then the next event, I donít know exactly when it occurred, but I was still teaching my course in paleontology and I wanted to cover the foraminifera in micro better than I knew them. My specialty had been large invertebrates like clams and brachiopods, and so I asked Allen Be, who died tragically, who was a student of modern forams. And he was, he was studying forams in the oceans by going out with nets and seeing where they lived. Another man at Lamont, named —
Doel:Was he at—
Doel:Dave [David] Ericson?
Imbrie:Dave Ericson. Was a friend of Maurice Ewing. I donít know where he came from. He didnít have a Ph.D., but he was interested in fossil forams. And he was studying, he was the only person studying microfossils in the Lamont deep sea core collection. And strictly forams. And here they have a warehouse full of deep sea cores which would take a thousand people to study carefully. They had Dave Ericson who was studying the fossil forams and working with Ewing on interpreting the history of the sediments, history of the Pleistocene basically. And Allen Be was studying the living forams in the water and where they lived. And so that was a very powerful combination of people studying. And early papers by Ericson and Ewing for the first time began interpreting the history of the lake Pleistocene deep sea record in those cores.
Doel:And this would be the opus of work that comes out from the mid 1950s to the end of the 1960s.
Imbrie:Yes. Right. Starts about mid fifties and goes— Exactly.
Doel:Was Goesta Wollin already there?
Imbrie:Goesta Wollin was there as a colleague and co-worker with Ewing. So it was Ewing and Ericson and Wollin, Wollin and Ericson. Then Be was studying the modern. Ewing was kind of a godfather of them all, and there would be papers with Ewing. Various combinations with Ewing saw the — Ewing, of course, was responsible for building the core collection at Lamont. He gave a famous order saying every Lamont ship will take two cores every day no matter what else youíre doing. And other, other institutions, you probably know the story, like Woods Hole or Scripps, they had prestigious scientists who had a cruise never going to from here to Tahiti and back, and they would take cores if they damn well wanted to. And each person on a — for awhile, would just do what they wanted to do. And the geophysicists wouldnít normally give a damn about taking a deep sea core. But Ewing said I want. He saw the advantage of having a library of cores. So he had every Lamont ship take two cores a day. And so into the Lamont library, no matter what else they were doing, gravity or whatever, these cores would come in. So ten years later, you have thousands of cores. Now you say on Tuesday morning, I want to study a core in the — I wonder what things are like just north of Australia. Well you can go to the core collection and pull it out. You donít have to mount an expedition, which it might take two years to get funded to go there. Other institutions took a while to catch up to this. Lamont had this global coverage. Ewing knew that they would be important. And he probably guessed half of what might be accomplished with them and not the rest. So you had this huge — and the only person who was studying them was Goesta Wollin and —
Doel:And Dave Ericson.
Imbrie:These two, somewhat poorly trained, but ingenious people. Goesta Wollin and Ericson were not — were good scientists, but they were not formally trained in this area.
Doel:Thatís what I was going to ask. How were they regarded within the Columbia community for example as —
Imbrie:As you know —
Doel:— sorts of things they did.
Imbrie:As useful and clever amateurs who were doing good stuff that nobody else was doing. And so into this background now, Iím now — I finished my research with Norman Newell down there, and I didnít see anything else I could really be doing with limestones that I really wanted to do. And one day I had, Allen Be gave a lecture for me at in Schermerhorn Hall on the, the biology and the uses of foraminifera. And he gave a lecture, maybe he gave two. And they were, by the end of the lecture, he explained all the good things you could do. Here was living organisms that you could see what they were doing today. And you could find them as fossils. And the fact that they were small, the sediments were often made of these things, you could get a continuous sampling of these populations of foraminifera down the deep sea cores. And I began to realize that this really was a major thing and why donít I — So I decided then I was — I had a sabbatical coming up. And I thought well, Iím going to make a switch. So I thanked Allen. I went out to talk with Ewing and said, you didnít do anything at Lamont without getting Ewingís okay. I said, Maurice, I want to study, you know, deep sea. He says, great.
Doel:Roughly when does this occur?
Imbrie:Must have been about sixty, cause I went, I went to — Just before I resigned as chairman. It must have been —
Doel:This is already nineteen —
Imbrie:I went to Brown. It must have been Ď66.
Doel:Sixty-six. How often had you been out at Lamont already by this point?
Imbrie:Well quite a bit. I mean I was working, there was a — one of their biologists out there, I canít think of his name —
Imbrie:There was a young guy who — [Robert] Menzies. And I have, you know, I have people like Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker out there. And I would go out and interact with them. By this time I was now chairman. I was getting on to be chairman so it fell to me to understand what was going on. I would go out and pay a visit as chairman to see what the hell was going on, and also and to see what the research was going on by Kulp. And so, I was, a familiar, I was a — I think they had made me an adjunct, with some kind of an adjunct title. I forget. Thereís some kind of a non-paying title you get for research associate at Lamont or something. I was that. So I was technically on their staff.
Doel:And this only comes out of the mid-1960s. I just want to be sure of the chronology.
Imbrie:I donít know. All I can remember is that by Ď66 I was, you know, probably a weekly visitor to the Lamont campus doing something. Either talking to somebody with the department, or having meetings with the staff out there to try to settle political problems, or whatever. I was on the campus. And also following the work of graduate students like Jim [James B.] Hays and Andy [Andrew] McIntyre who had offices out there and who were, I was probably on their Ph.D. committee. So I was following graduate student research out there. Particular names that were important to me were Jim Hays, Andy McIntyre, Bill [William] Ruddiman. And so I would be in their offices, following their research. I would be arguing with Ewing about some political problem here. I would be getting political advice from Jack Nafe on how to calm this problem down or whatever. So I was a common visitor to the campus. And now I get, Iím having a, by this time Iím chairman. And I decide, thanks to the lecture of Be, Iím going to go with this field. Maurice Ewing says great. And he called up Eric —
Imbrie:Dave Ericson. And says, you know, give Imbrie a hand. Hereís a new recruit to study deep sea sediments. So I went over to visit Ericson.
Doel:What were your impressions of Ericson?
Imbrie:Oh he was a nice guy. Nice, shrewd, modest fellow. And tremendous capacity for work and a good vision of what he was doing.
Doel:What sort of background did he have?
Imbrie:I have no idea. I should know. I have no idea. I may have put it in my book. I donít know. But I donít think so. I have no idea where he came from.
Doel:And I should say, you mention your book and weíre talking about Ice Ages.
Imbrie:I donít think — I donít think his background is in there. He just appears as one of the characters.
Doel:Just so that we have it in there, itís Ice Ages that you wrote with your daughter, Katherine Palmer Imbrie.
Imbrie:Right. Harvard University Press. Itís still in print. So Dave went to his closet. He picked out a core. Said hereís a good core to study to get. He gave me samples. And he gave me samples, he gave me samples to work on as a main specimen. And I had a sabbatical and I went to England, carrying those specimens with me. And I spent my entire time there studying these materials, learning the materials, and reading the literature. And I came back. I was — took me a year or so to get to where I felt I could publish in this area. So I switched fields there and that was due to Dave Ericson and the inspiration of this man. And ever since then Iíve worked in deep sea cores and various aspects of deep sea records. Somewhere along the line here, I forget the — I forget exactly when it was, but I had a major argument with Ewing about some issue involving the conflict between my responsibilities as chairman of the education of the department and Mauriceís vision for the, how the, the Lamont Observatory run. I forget what the issue involved. But there was a conflict. And I said, Maurice, you know, I canít live with this. If you canít agree to this, you know, Iím going to leave.
Doel:This is something that youíve mentioned off-tape. Yes, go ahead.
Imbrie:I had in my pocket a letter from a former student who was now a — was then a professor at Brown, Leah LaPorte, who said, ďJohn, how would you like to come down here and be a professor in a quieter environment at Brown?Ē So when Ewing called my bluff I said okay, thatís it. And I left. And resigned, I guess still as chairman. So it was not an easy thing for me. And I came down to Brown and it was a calmer, happier, more peaceful life in a good university. Itís smaller and itís not, and I didnít have the three campuses to worry about. So my life simplified. So I had, you know, one department, and Iíve enjoyed my career at Brown ever since. Ironically, I had just begun my work in deep sea cores. But I still — I had my relationships with the people who were now, a young professor at Columbia, Jim Hays particularly. James D. Hays. And Andy McIntyre was a researcher at Lamont. And thereís Wally Broecker there. And other people. Neil Opdyke was a researcher there. And so I — as the things developed, I worked more intensively with those people, having moved away to Brown than I did when I was actually there. First place I had more time. And I developed an inter-institute. I was, along with Jim Hays, responsible for developing an inter-institutional research program called CLIMAP, a feature of which was the union of talents from different institutions, such as Cambridge University in England. Nicholas Shackelton who was then making the use of oxygen isotopes clear to people, how important a tool that was. People like Jim Hays and Andy McIntyre and Neil Opdyke at Columbia. Myself at Brown. And we got a couple young guys from — we wanted somebody in the Pacific Ocean. We got two young people from the University, OSU, Oregon State University, named Nicholas Plasias and Allen Mix. So that group of people. Nick Shackleton in England. Jim Hays and Andy McIntyre and Neil Opdyke at Lamont. And myself at Columbia. Eventually George Kukla who was by this time on the staff at — on the research staff at Columbia, with a specialty in terrestrial deposits. And then some people at Brown, Tom Webb, who was a student of fossil pollen on land. And Bob Matthews who was a student of coral reefs and sea level.
Doel:I want to make sure. We have a lot to cover on CLIMAP and the work that youíre doing then to continue interactions.
Imbrie:Yes. That was a group and that. I think itís worthwhile knowing how that began. Maurice Ewing again had — Maurice Ewing had pipelines into Washington, and learned of a new funding resource coming along called the IDOE, International Decade of Ocean Exploration. There was going to be a pot of money to do really big science for ten years to make a major study of the [?] research.
Doel:And this is the late 1960s that weíre talking about here?
Imbrie:Yes. Probably something like 1970 by this time. Iím already at Brown by this time. Must have been about 1970. I think the decade was the seventies. It was to be an international decade of ocean exploration. All sorts of funding. And I think it was to begin in 1970.
Doel:You mention Ewing. He was the one who let you know about this?
Imbrie:Ewing called. I think Ewing knew about this money coming in. And Ewing knew the political contacts whom to talk to in Washington. And he told, I guess he got in contact with Jim Hays, the young professor, saying Jim, I think you guys ought to, you know. Thereís an opportunity to do work with deep sea sediments here. Jim was studying radiolaria. Why donít you use this? So Jim Hays, somehow Jim got in touch with me. He and I had been working together. And I think I actually went to Lamont, to visit Jim Hays. And I remember we were having, as I tell the story in the book, we were having lunch in a coffee shop. And Jim had the initial idea. He said, you know, no one can try to do this. We need a lot of people. You have expertise that I donít have, vice versa. We need a team of people to study this Lamont core collection. People who know forams, radiolaria, oxygen isotopes, sediments, magnetic stratigraphy. We needed magnetic stratigraphers like Neil Opdyke to do the magnetics.
Doel:Magnetics in part to establish the ages?
Imbrie:Establish the age, exactly. We wanted to know where was the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary of these sediments. The age of that we didnít know at that time, but we knew that was an important stratigraphic marker. So Jim had the idea. And I donít know how many — I joined and said we need a group of people to do this. And so Jim said, letís get together. And we, Jim and I outlined the idea of what became the CLIMAP project.
Doel:What did CLIMAP stand for?
Imbrie:What, Climate. Itís a Nabisco word, it doesnít make complete sense. Climate, letís see. Long Range Mapping and Prediction. Climate.
Doel:Mapping and Prediction.
Imbrie:Mapping and Prediction. That was the acronym. It was a clever word. I forget who had the idea. But the idea here was to study the last Ice Age, not as a — as a map. Somewhat similar to what I was doing in the Permian of Kansas when I was, letís make a map. So I thought the idea of putting on a map the whole world at the end of the last Ice Age: ocean, land and sea. Weíd learn something from that. And Iíve really forgotten whether that was Jimís idea or mine, but we put it together and as we tell the story in the book, we said, gee this is going to take a lot of money for airplanes. You canít organize thirty people from ten different institutions without having, you know, money for transportation and phone calls. So Jim said, well we can get the money from IDOE, letís do it. So Jim and I began writing proposals and raising money and that became the CLIMAP project. And it was a very exciting one.
Doel:What were the principal funding sources for it?
Imbrie:The funding sources were strictly from IDOE. One National Science Foundation project that funded. Jim Hays was the chairman at Lamont and then some of the funds we would submit a proposal jointly and the funds would go separately to Brown, to Oregon State University, to Columbia and some to Nick Shackleton at Cambridge.
Imbrie:So we developed a procedure for inter-institutional funding by NSF. And we had funding for eight or nine years. We didnít — And they were very generous. And we would have meetings, at least semi-annual meetings, at Lamont. We had big meetings; people, everybody would come to Lamont. And we would have a meeting there. Sometimes we would go to Oregon, but usually weíd do it at Lamont. Most people were there, the core collection was there. So all of us would gather. Nick Shackleton from Cambridge and the guys from Oregon and myself would drive down, and weíd meet at Lamont in Lamont Hall. Weíd have a tremendous meeting. Graduate students around and planning what to do, and how to make this world map. And weíd have people coming. So it was a very exciting venture of — And at one of those meetings — and a story that we tell, which really should go in, we tell that story in our book. The big problem in making a map of the world ocean was to find out what the age of the sediments were. You need to get the sediments of the same age. In those days, that was possible by Carbon 14 but not in all cores. Because we didnít have the Carbon 14 dating facility so that it became possible, it became important to work out the, what we call the stratigraphy of the sediments. And you can do that by normal stratigraphic techniques of looking for layers of red shells or something like you do in a quarry to correlate physical beds. But itís very difficult. How do you correlate a sediment from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean to the Atlantic if you have a magnetic reversal? We have one group of people going. Neil Opdyke was looking like mad at all these magnetic records and finding the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary which is the most recent reliable data. But that only gives you one time point that we now know is about seven hundred and eighty thousand years ago. So that gives you one stratigraphic time point in a bunch of cores. The base of the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary. But we needed to know, you know, the details within that last seven hundred thousand years, specifically when was the last Ice Age. This was a hard problem. And it was solved essentially by Nick Shackleton in a famous study. And we had all these people in the room, knew that our major task was to work out the stratigraphy of the deep sea sediments in detail. How do we correlate? Because we were going to do, not just the last Ice Age, but several ice ages.
Doel:And Iím wondering, in practical terms, you had a long, particularly at that time, the largest problems with slumping, so that one wasnít entirely sure what one was getting from the —
Imbrie:Sure. I mean —
Doel:And one also had as I recall the cores that were being [?] from Lamont and at least through 1960 werenít quite long enough to sample deep enough. Was there a new generation of cores?
Imbrie:No just the same.
Doel:Devices that came along.
Imbrie:Well we didnít have the long cores then. What you have to do then is just what you do in the lab, [voice fades out] the rocks in Boston or Pennsylvania. Thereís no place in the earthís crust where everything is exposed on the surface. What you do is take various places and put them together. Same thing in the deep sea. Some places thereís Miocene exposed. Some places Pleistocene. But you have to know where they are. So it comes down to telling. Taking a bunch of mud, and saying, aha! this is middle Pleistocene, this is older Pleistocene. With long cores, you can circumvent that. But you can never get rid of it because there are huge gaps everywhere and you sought to know what youíre drilling into. So the basic problem studying sediments anywhere is finding out what layers are there and what is the original sequence of layers and which ones of that ultimate record do you have here in this core. Because how do you know there wasnít a slump? There are nonconformities, things are missing. You can have a situation where in the core older material will slump down into the younger sections. So to make sense out of it, you have to be able to recognize the, what primary layers are there and what are secondary. And this problem was solved by Nick Shackleton, who by himself at Cambridge was studying oxygen isotopes in deep sea cores as the great pioneer. There are two people really studying deep sea O8, Oxygen 18 records. One of them an American, Cesare Emiliani at the University of Miami, who did brilliant work. And Nick Shackleton at Cambridge in England. It wasnít clear initially what the oxygen, marine oxygen record meant. Emiliani thought it was mostly a temperature signal. That when the oxygen isotope ratio changes, basically youíre reading the temperature of the environment of formation.
Doel:And this was an argument that Harold [C.] Urey and [cross talk].
Imbrie:Right. So this is a laboratory. There was another. In a Pleistocene record thereís another possibility. How do you know? As the ice sheets melt and grow, they dump oxygen isotope, different water with different oxygen isotope ratios into the ocean. So during an ice age, the O18 is sequestered in the ocean because thereís — O16 is — comes out with the rain that falls and ice. So during an ice age, the O18 — the number of O18 atoms relatively in the ocean increases relative to the O16 which have disappeared into the ice sheets. So as the ice sheets melt and grow the O18, 16 ratio of the ocean is changing.
Doel:And youíre moving your hands up and down that one is superseding the other.
Imbrie:Yes. That, and it turns out, most of the effect you see is the ice volume effect. There are two effects that work together. The main effect, going from the Ice Age, is the change, the O 18 ratio you were measuring in the core is the result of changing the amount of ice stores on the continents.
Doel:When is this recognized? When do most scientists —?
Imbrie:Well, this was the big argument then in the Nick Shackleton solved the problem in the following ingenious way. It really is an interesting point. He developed techniques at Cambridge to study small samples. Thatís important. Because he wanted to do one thing. Some of the fossil forams live at the surface of the ocean, plankton, these because they live in a sunlit area. These flood the sea bottom. There are few forams that live on the bottom. Theyíre called benthic forans. And theyíre living and dying there and recording sea bottom O18. The plankton are recording the surface. So Shackleton had the following ingenious idea. Because you should understand his brilliance. That the — whereas the surface temperature of the ocean changes quite a lot, the bottom temperature of the ocean never — doesnít change very much. It can never go below minus 1.7 because then it freezes. And so the deep water of the ocean is always near one degree Centigrade and changes only a little bit. So he said if we have a place where we got benthic records, we can eliminate the temperature effect. To do that, you have to have a machine that will measure small samples because you donít get. If you take a teaspoon of deep sea sediment, maybe youíll have three benthic forans there. The rest are all plankton. So the easy thing to do technically is to measure the plankton. And thatís what Emiliani was doing. He did some benthic work too. But Shackleton developed machines that developed, so it enabled him to measure one or two specimens. He then went to the deep, the Pacific Ocean, took a core, and he went down, letís say a hundred and fifty thousand years with the sediment. And he measured the plankton. Measured the O18 ratio in the plankton, and he also picked out the benthics in the same samples he measured the O18 ratio of the benthics. Now thereís a famous picture in one of his papers where he plotted both of these together. And it was that picture that he, he brought that information in his briefcase, and he gave a lecture to the CLIMAP group and said, look at this. And he showed a picture which showed a pattern thatís become familiar as you go down from the top down. Iíll draw it for you.
Doel:Youíre sketching on a notepad.
Imbrie:It looks like — This is time going this way and this is O 18 going that way.
Doel:O 18 on a horizontal access, time on a vertical.
So when you start at the surface of the core — This is zero time. This turns out to be — This is time going — You start with the top of the core. You have a given value of the planktic O18. As you go down to the last Ice Age, that value goes down and it gets more positive. And the last Ice Age has about 1.4 more positive value. This would be the planktic record. Now on the same, letís say he had those plotted in black. On the same graph he had the benthic records plotted. And if I change the scale, a different color, you find this the benthic records here. The benthic record, the first approximation has exactly the same amplitude of change as the surface one does. So he showed that graph. Right away a cheer goes up from our audience. This is a fairly — he said, weíve got a stratigraphic method. Because from that, what that shows is that the temperature effect is very small. Because the temperature at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean canít change by more than a degree Centigrade. So that this basic — that says right away that the basic feature of the O 18 record is basically a ice volume record. Itís a record of how much ice is on land all over the world.
In Antarctica, you know the hemisphere, wherever. And as that, so you have a fantastic thing. That marine O18 record is a record of changing volume of ice on the planet earth through time. Yes, thereís a temperature effect, but itís small and hard to read. Now the fact the oceans mix around. In a thousand years all the water in the ocean mixes around. That means if you donít worry about a thousand, and weíre looking to correlate, you know, records that were saying, we were looking — a thousand years is an accurate correlation for our purposes. So the advantage is now you can take a core anywhere in the world and look at the O18 pattern. Itís like a, itís like a fingerprint. And you could recognize stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 in the Indian Ocean, in the Mediterranean even, in the South Atlantic Ocean, the Antarctic Ocean. And you can say this core here, whoops stage 7 is missing. Thereís a nonconformity. Or this core begins with stage 8. So, suddenly, and so when he gave this record, there was a simultaneous cheer. Everybody in the room realized my God, weíve got it! So it was a sophisticated group to work with. They took one look at that graph and say, ďThis is fantastic.Ē And we knew we had it. I describe that story in here. And itís a golden moment in science.
When Nick Shackleton solved this puzzle that you could use the O18 record for many things including working out the basic layering of the sediments in the ocean. And thatís — And so the CLIMAP project was the first to use that, and itís now a standard technique and has revolutionized the face of marine stratigraphy. And that happened in a Lamont room and is a tribute to this group together. And this actual work was done by Nick Shackleton. And then Neil Opdyke, who was in the same room, has done the magnetic stratigraphy on that very core. And we knew in that core where the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary was. And we had a approximate radiometric date for that boundary. We then thought it was seven hundred thousand years. So then we could say, okay, we have a core now thatís this long. This date down here, one meter down, is seven hundred thousand years old and we can interpolate between there and zero. Which is a hell of a lot better than taking Carbon 14 date an inch from the top and extrapolating down, you see what I mean. So we were able to interpolate and get a first approximation of the age of everything just by interpolating between magnetic reversals in the core which had been dated radiometrically in lava flows on land. And all that was first used by that group. Neil Opdyke and the rest of us in the room used this material and we began studying the ocean and getting.
Doel:Itís very clear that the magnetic work was critical for developing the absolute time scale that you were using there. You mention Neil Opdyke. Were any of the other people who were involved in magnetics at Lamont, also involved in this work? People like [cross talk]
Imbrie:He was the point man. He may have had assistants and graduate students, but he was the investigator who was responsible. He represented magnetics. Shackleton represented O18. And Hays represented radiolaria. I represented forams. We had Allen Be working with us. And so we had a group of people that were looking at different aspects and exchanging ideas and information and it was a lot of fun.
Doel:I want to get further into some of the other results that come out of CLIMAP, of course, the [?] work that you do is also in that context. You were raising a number of really interesting themes back in the time that you were still at Lamont. I want to make sure that we get a chance to cover those as well. When did that program roughly end with Norman Newell when you were in the Bahamas? Did that run through the early 1960s?
Imbrie:Letís see. The first one was 1950, I think about 1957. I ran one expedition myself after he. I ran one expedition myself with some gravity students after Newell went on to other things. Something like Ď57 I would say. By late fifties I was out of the Bahamas. Maybe sixty, I donít know.
Doel:Itís interesting. Of course, thatís the time of the International Geophysical Year. How, did IGY affect your thinking about these programs?
Imbrie:It didnít affect my thinking at all. I mean, I knew it was going on. I was lecturing about it. But it didnít affect what we were doing in a sense. Well, in the — I think the IDOE project. The IDOE, the thinking in Washington was that we need another infusion of money. And so the IDOE was to do something else. It isnít really relevant to our work.
Doel:One of the other things that you had mentioned in passing earlier was that as you became aware, particularly through the work in the Bahamas, of sea level change for spotting climate change. How were you learning about work that was going on by researchers who were particularly interested in climatic change?
Imbrie:The usual old boy network of literature and you have friends who are in the field who know whatís going on.
Doel:Iím curious particularly who — Do you remember consulting folks in particular, articles?
Imbrie:About sea level?
Doel:About either sea level or —? Who you felt, who you felt were the more [cross talk]
Imbrie:Well, at Brown, thereís a man, there was a man then and now Bob [Robert] Matthews whose special field was it, and he knew what was going on. So youíd call Bob up and say whatís going on and heíd tell you. Thatís the best way of learning.
Doel:Indeed. And during that time too, Ewing was working with Bill [William L.] Donn on the —
Imbrie:And earlier they had their own Ice Age theory.
Doel:Indeed. And I was curious what your impressions were of it at the time. I mean, did you have discussions, for instance, with Bill Donn and Doc Ewing about it.
Imbrie:Yes, I think so. It was an ingenious idea that just, you know, turned out not to be true. I mean, it was a clever deductive thing that you might buy exposing the Arctic ocean to the air you could change. Well it turns out this didnít happen. So I mean itís a clever idea that theoretically was good, but turned out, itís not what happened.
Doel:How did people regard it though at the time? Say Ė
Imbrie:That way basically.
Doel:Even at the time, there was, given that Ewing was clearly moving out from the field in which he had.
Imbrie:It was just that people realized it was a clever idea, but the facts didnít support it. And if Maurice Ewing hadnít been such a famous person, it probably wouldnít have gotten published as wide. The fact that it was a Ewing/Donn theory got it known.
Doel:Got it known and got it into Science for instance because the three main publications. [cross talk]
Imbrie:Most people I think correctly judged it. It was a good idea that just could have been investigated but the, all the facts, were sort of against it.
Doel:Even from the time that theyíre publishing it, it had seemed to —
Imbrie:I donít recall the details. I mean, maybe the facts that. Essentially you want to know, was the — whatís the history of Arctic ice cover. Itís not an easy thing to know. So at the time they published it, there was probably less evidence to reject it later. But by the time I got to thinking about it, it was clearly an interesting theoretical concept.
Doel:Right. Thatís interesting. Clearly by the late, mid to late 1960s support for the theory had fallen off. And I was just curious if you had remembered how [cross talk]
Imbrie:Itís always useful to have a list of theory, when you say thereís four ideas in the Ice Age, of this and this, you want to throw some away. It became one of the useful number of things when youíre reduction, you throw away.
Doel:How early on did you become acquainted with the work of Emiliani? Because he was publishing of course [cross talk]
Imbrie:Classic paper in 1955. I knew it from then on.
Doel:And also work that was done between Wally Broecker and Ewing on the rather sharp climatic shift eleven thousand years ago was coming up just one year later in 1956.
Imbrie:Right. That was —
Doel:I was wondering how acquainted you were with —?
Imbrie:— because itís happening right there at Columbia.
Doel:You were mentioning as we were turning the tape over, that one of the real advantages was that you were able to talk so directly to different people like Wally Broecker. How much of Wallyís research were you able to follow say by the late 50s, early 60s? He was working in deep ocean circulation, developing what becomes the early ideas on the great [cross talk].
Imbrie:I would say everything that was relevant to my work. You know, weíre meeting each other every day and talking.
Doel:Was Wally coming out that often to Columbia? Because you had mentioned you were out at Lamont about once a week.
Imbrie:We were together on the — I think we were co-chairmen at one time. We were on the executive committee.
Doel:You were mentioning that. That was when you were chairman.
Imbrie:We were together and there was a famous case which Wally will remember the details of. It was June and we were — I was chairman, we were signing diplomas or something. We had just gone to the graduation ceremony together, Wally and I. We had our academic robes on. And we were sitting in the chairmanís office doing something, the committee were, and in the door. I think we had our shorts on or something. It was — And in the door walks the famous German oceanographer.
Doel:Was this George Wust?
Imbrie:George Wust, who was coming to pay his, pay his respects to the chairman of the department of geology and something. And he walked in and hereís Wally and I in our shorts with our academic hats on. And here comes this distinguished old Nazi, you know, full of protocol with a black suit on, clicking his heels, and saying, you know — And I forget, there was an amusing exchange between the informal young Americans and the formal European old Nazi oceanographer.
Doel:It sounds like it was a memorable moment.
Imbrie:Well, we were involved in all the — they were a kind of a younger group of the department. Wally Broecker, myself, other young people, Jim Hays were sort of actively working together all the time on research and in departmental problems.
Doel:How does it come to be that group of individuals?
Imbrie:How did it come —?
Doel:— to be that group of individuals versus others?
Imbrie:Well there are people there that just liked each other and worked together. And we were all on the same staff together, had the same, you know, committee problems to solve. I donít really understand the. We were all there working together, just, whereas opposed to. I didnít. By this time Walter Bucherís retired, but Paul Kerr was there. Paul Kerrís kind of older generation doing mysterious things with clay minerals that I didnít understand or care about. So hereís Maurice Ewing doing climate theories or Wally Broecker doing dating of climatic events, and Jim Hays working. So one group naturally gravitates together and —
Doel:Who did you feel closest to in a professional sense on the Lamont campus in the 1960s?
Imbrie:Oh I would say probably Wally Broecker and Jim Hays and that group. I mean, just that we were doing more similar things. Jim Hays and I were both working on fossils in sediment. Wally Broeckerís doing dating of those sediments. Neil Opdyke is doing magnetics of those sediments. So people who work together, talk together and —
Levin:You also collaborated with Menzies and [Bruce C.] Heezen.
Imbrie:Yes, thatís right. We did one small paper on deep sea faunas. And thereís one small paper that I did together with those people. And then Menzies left and —
Levin:Do you remember the details of his leaving?
Imbrie:No, I donít. There was some flap behind the scenes that Iíve forgotten. I mean, Menzies left. I forget why. Itís one of the many little kind of flaps that occurred at Lamont that I probably didnít want to remember and donít remember. I donít think it was a tremendous loss. I donít know who was at fault or why he left or what happened.
Doel:When you had mentioned Allen Be before, where was he actually working during the time that —?
Imbrie:Well he had, there was a little —
Doel:Was he out at Lamont?
Imbrie:— there was a little building at Lamont that was sort of the foran lab and I think it may have been the same building that Goesta Woffin worked in with Ericson. I think they may have been in the same building. One of those little white buildings that were sort of Allen Beís area, and I would go out and see him there. And I think around the corner was Ericson. Maybe they were in different buildings, but they were —
Doel:That was my concern that he was administratively connected with Lamont at that time.
Imbrie:Yes. All these people. I mean, the people at Lamont were Woffin, Ericson, they were and Opdyke, none of those people were professors in the department. They were all researchers at Lamont, whole long list of people, including Neil Opdyke was a researcher, he was not a professor. One group of the — one small group of people at Lamont had been made professors because Ewing wanted them that way. People like Larry Kulp, Wally Broecker eventually, a little bit over Maurice Ewingís. When I went there, Wally was an instructor. Eventually Wallyís talents were recognized and we made him professor. So there were — It caused some problems within the university. To be a professor at Columbia in addition to being a Lamont staff member meant you had tenure and maybe a little more influence and your policy, because you were in the inside of the educational establishment. You had a lot of skut work to do. You had to teach classes and make exams and it made it harder for them to go in the field. So it meant Opdyke could go to sea whenever he wanted to without worrying about an exam, although he would teach in courses. So there were advantages in being a professor, and some disadvantages. I think most people probably would have been a professor if they could just get a little more secure salary wise. So there was, I donít know to what extent, I never saw any evidence of different, there may have been some feeling within Lamont of the guys that were professors and the guys that werenít. I really donít know about this. As far as the young people I talked to, they just didnít make any difference. Opdyke was a colleague and a scientist, and he didnít worry about whether he was a professor or not.
Doel:Indeed, this was a concern among certainly the more senior of the Lamont researchers not having [cross talk].
Imbrie:Yes. And, you know, how many people should you declare on the tenure line while the university is trying to cut its budget down? Donít want a bunch of professors on there for who and when federal funding fails, and eventually it did, you know, theyíre responsible for — So thereís a fight; the university administration doesnít want to put any money out on tenure lines, and to make, to keep good people there, Ewing needed certain people to keep them happy. So this is one of the kinds of tensions that go on between academic desires and academic budgets, and Lamont desires and Lamont budgets. So thatís the kind of tension that develops, just those issues. And the chairman is always in the middle of these because youíre the conduit to the tenure line. And — or the procedures for granting tenure.
Doel:Were there issues that you felt that as chair that you needed to discuss with the deans or the provost or even higher levels at Columbia?
Imbrie:Well, there were and I did. And at Columbia, it would take me about a week to get a conference with the president. Maybe it might take me a week to get a telephone on President [Grayson] Kirkís telephone schedule.
Doel:Just to make a telephone call?
Imbrie:Just to make a telephone call. I would — maybe the next Tuesday you can call him between ten-thirty and eleven. Whoops, canít do that because heís leaving. So youíd make quite an effort to get a telephone call to the president, much less actually a face to face meeting. Itís a big university. And, you know, itís hard, I like that at Brown. Just pick up somebody and say, I want to come over and see you, you can do it. That was the part of the difficulties of being at any big institution.
Doel:It sounds like you were dealing with — how often did you deal with Grayson Kirk?
Imbrie:Oh, very rarely. Usually with the — Iíd deal with Dean [Jacques] Barzun.
Doel:What sort of person was he?
Imbrie:Barzun was a — I liked Barzun. He was an old world scholar. Who influenced me by publishing a book Darwin, Marx and Wagner, which is a very good historical summary of three books. Marxís Das Capital, Darwinís Origin of the Species and Wagnerís Triston des Older, all published the same year. And he makes a big story out of this. Anyway, I, he was a scholar, I liked him, and I didnít have too much to do with him. Basically, our interaction was through budget committees and submitting budgets and getting, you know.
Doel:During the time that you were there, he had also published Science, the Glorious Entertainment.
Imbrie:I guess so. I remember the other book.
Doel:There are a number of other matters that I wanted to touch on briefly today. There was a conflict that emerged between Emiliani and Woffin and Ericson concerning the bruchner system that Ericson and Woffin held to the idea of the four greens, the speciation.
Imbrie:I donít think that terminology is the essence of it really. I think.
Doel:What did you feel it was?
Doel:Thatís how at least some others have interpreted it.
Imbrie:Letís see — Well I guess there were, there was a European sequence of names. And I guess opinions differ as to how the marine work correlated with that. So I guess that is true. And the — since the record they were correlating against, what these names like Gunst, Mendel, Rouss and Verm is a seriously flawed succession, which has little to do with climate. As I said, it has to do with uplifts of terraces in the Alps. Those arguments are not really not the essence of it. The essence is what is the chronology of the deep sea record.
Doel:As we understand it in the moment, that what youíre saying is exactly right. Although at the time, in that context, the argument did seem [coughing drowns out words] as being that of climate.
Imbrie:The unreality of the European classic sequence was not working then.
Doel:Thatís a good way to put it.
Imbrie:So the more significant event, significant discussions, came within letís say, well I guess that was the argument. So that the — and nobody today really operates by calling against the sanguinine of the Gunst, Mendel, Rouss and Verm. What we had done following CLIMAPís suggestion was to take the deep sea O18 record as the standard against which to correlate other things. And the question is, does the word Illinois mean anything, and if so, what is it in terms of the marine record? And thatís the revolution that Iím happy to say CLIMAP began, and not all the problems have been worked out.
Doel:How much work were you aware of going on in the Soviet Union during this period of time?
Imbrie:Well, not much until one of CLIMAPís job was to get a map of what the — where the ice sheets were on land. And since the Soviet Union covers a lot of the earth, we needed to have Soviet help in determining where the margins of the ice sheets were in Europe eighteen thousand years ago. What Carbon 14 dates they had, etc. And thatís pretty hard to get out of the literature. So, at one stage in the proceedings, somewhere in the seventies, during the height of the Cold War, we had a scientific interchange between Russian investigators and ourselves. I led, Jim Hays and I, led an American team of scientists into the Soviet Union. I led them. Jim Hays was with me and somebody else. Oh, George Denton, a fellow at the University of Maine, who was doing our ice sheet mapping and who knew. So George Denton representing CLIMAP at the University of Maine. He was the ice sheet expert. Myself, as sort of a chairman, and Jim Hays. We three went to the Soviet Union and sat down with our European colleagues, Russian colleagues, and tried to find out what information they had. And we had a lot of exciting times. And we eventually got information out of them and got contact with European, Russian geologists, particularly a man named [Innocente] Garasimov, a very big deal. And had to persuade them what we were doing, and we were able to get information out of them. And give them information, cooperate with them. And so thatís how we got in. And their information is part of the map that we eventually made of the Soviet Union.
Doel:This is going on in the 1970ís?
Imbrie:Yes. It was during the Cold War. And we had the thought of, you know, being — We had two trips in all over there. And we hosted them, once they came over here, we hosted them in this country.
Doel:Right. When you went over to the Soviet Union, did you actually get into their research facilities?
Imbrie:Oh yes. We got right in.
Doel:What were your impressions of what they were doing compared to our —?
Well, we got into one in Moscow. We went to the geographic institute where Garasimov was the chairman of the department. And he, Garasimov was a very powerful man because he was, his party card is the next one after [Andrei] Gromyko. You remember Gromyko? Gromyko was number seven and Garasimov was number eight. They were early big communists and had been through the World War II together in the wars. And he was part of the power structure. So unlike most geologists he could snap his fingers and do anything he wanted in the Soviet Union. And he was a pretty good scientist. He was — his special field was the history of climate and climate map. He was very helpful I remember one amusing thing that. When we got there, he would say, Imbrie, you know, while I was in his office, theyíd have two sets of telephones. He said, we have two telephones. He said one is a only a people of the ministerial level use this phone line, and he was one of those. He said I can call up somebody and I can really make them jump, you know. [Laughter] And to show his power, he led us. We finally got Garasimov understanding what our goal was and how they might help us. And with him behind us, doors open. And but naturally they hosted us very well.
One day we had a late lunch because the vodka and the lemonade and everything went on too long. So our conference that we had in the afternoon was very delayed. That evening they were taking us to the Bolshoi. No, it was the opera, Iím sorry, it was the opera, the state opera in the Kremlin. And we were due there in a set of cars at seven oíclock. As we sat down in our seats in this beautifully decorated Russian opera house, he said, Imbrie, Imbrie, did you enjoy your — did you have time for dinner? I said, well actually we didnít have time. Itís a long lunch. I said, but itís okay. Weíve all eaten too much anyway. Donít worry about it. And so I could see him worry that weíd missed our dinner. So just as the lights went down, he beckoned somebody. And at the intermission they said, come this way. [Laughter] And with a word from this guy, you could imagine. In the intermission they took us into the directorís office which had been cleared, and there was a giant feast there, you know, of pomegranates and wine and, you know, food, salmon and everything.
All done because he beckoned his finger. And when he came to this country — also one time we were a little late getting to the airport. Thereís a phone call. The airplane was held up because our party was late. So they held Aeroflat airline until our party got there. So we had a good trip around the Soviet Union. When we came to this county — this is a funny story — we were having a banquet at Lamont, and Garasimov was there. And Garasimov was a classical geologist. And we had a trip planned for him, for them, out west, which we had to check with the State Department because these are — this is Cold War.
Doel:There were still closed areas.
Imbrie:And they want to know where these Russians were every damn minute. So we had a very careful schedule arranged. And we had an American Airlines flight from New York to Salt Lake City. And about — during dinner, he said, Imbrie, I would like to see the type section of the Sangamon. In Sangamon, Illinois, is the type section of the standard section of the Sangamon interglacial deposit. To him as a geologist this was. He said, I want to. Could you have our plane? I said, well our plane leaves tomorrow morning at nine. Weíre going from New York, American Airlines, to Salt Lake City. He said, well, ask them to stop at Sangamon, Illinois. He said, I can do that in Russia. Arenít you a member of the academy? I said, yes, we donít. Heís a member of the Russian Academy of Science as I am here. He said, youíre an academician. Canít you do this? He didnít understand that in this country, you know, we donít do that sort of thing. He expected me to stop American Airlines. I said, we canít do that. So I had my assistant, Rosemary Clime, who was a marvelous assistant. Rosemary Clime and I got this — and said, letís see what the hell we can do here for this guy. So we called friends in the Soviet Union — we called USGS friends out there in Illinois who knew the technicality. And by the next morning, we had — And we also had to get the State Departmentís permission at two in the morning to make this change. And by next morning, we had changed his plane from, letís say, to a United flight that stopped at Chicago, and had American geologists meet him and actually took him to see the — Thatís the kind of power that he thought we had just because we were — He didnít understand the system.
Doel:That speaks volumes of the way in which the Soviet system was operating in that period of time. How did you know how to contact the State Department in doing that? Was this something that you had already had experience in doing?
Imbrie:I imagine that. See this whole — this was a program called the, what was it? There was a name for this program. It was the Soviet American Cooperation Program that was agreed to when Nixon — Remember when Nixon went to, dealt with Brezchnev, I think it was in Moscow.
Doel:Yes. The late 1950s.
Imbrie:And in one of those Brezchnev/Nixon meetings, where they had him banging the show on, whatever. Iím not sure that was when. I think this was when Nixon got on television and got one up on Brezchnev. So they were in Moscow and they wanted to quit that meeting with something significant done. And they didnít have much of real significance. So they agreed on a data exchange program, which, between the U.S. and the Soviet scientists. And that was one of the things that they could say was a positive result. Probably the only one. So there was a program created with money and officers. Iíve even forgotten the name. It was called the — it was some program created in the State Department that came from this initiative. It was a U.S./Soviet exchange program.
Doel:And right around that same time, and maybe the same thing youíre thinking of, the Bronk, Bronk on the U.S. side and one of the academicians [A.N.] Nesmeyanov if Iím recalling it correctly. But that was one of the —
Itís the same thing. So there was a — And the State Department ran this thing. And so we had contacts there. And so we called our guy and said, you know, do something for us, get this done. And so they were running the political side of the show. It was very complicated. And it wound up with Garasimov having a heart attack when he was over here. And one of their people losing her passports, which caused a furor. It was one of their people, woman scientist lost her passport out in the desert in Utah. Well, this is a major crime. She was flown back to Washington, D.C., and her husband, who was a big scientist, their careers were in jeopardy because she had lost her passport which is almost a first-order crime. And you begin — and by the way, as soon as they heard that, the whole tenor of this happy group changed. And everybody went back glumly to the — So youíre really understanding how bad things were.
One other story, when we were, Garasimov was hosting a conference in Bachu, where we had a conference down there. In the Soviet Union. And we had — we agreed to some data exchange. We wanted to have a little ceremony with flags, and kind of, you know, saying the U.S. American scientists. And we finally hammered out an agreement. And there was a piece of paper which had in English what our agreement was. And we needed two copies. And I said, well, you know, have a Xerox made. Well, he said, we canít do that. And I said, donít you have Xerox machines? Yes, but theyíre locked down. And they had to get the KGB permission to make a Xerox copy because Lenin had made a revolution with a mimeograph machine. So in order to make, hereís a city of a million people, in order to make a Xerox, he has to call the KGB, fill out a form, and two days later they could unlock that Xerox machine. So thatís the status of things there. When he left, he said, Imbrie, tell me what equipment I need to make our Russian scientists equal. I said, for Godís sake, get a Xerox. Because you had senior scientists copying like monks, reprints out by hand, because, you know, they were afraid to have a Xerox machine. Anyway, thatís really irrelevant.
Doel:No, itís an important observation because that tells a lot about developments. How did their instrumentation seem compared to —?
Doel:Instrumentation. The work that they were doing, for instance, in oxygen isotopes?
Imbrie:Inferior then. They had a lot of people. They had a lot of bodies working. There would be roomfuls of people picking samples. You know, twenty underpaid women doing skut work. And then probably an out-of-date machine. Things were not good. But the main thing was the communication. They had good people but without modern — You realized a Xerox machine is more important, in some cases, than any other machine. Thatís irrelevant really.
Doel:Okay. Allen Be, again. He was involved as you mentioned I believe off-tape in a number of cruises that were being done through Lamont on the Vema.
Imbrie:Yes. He was the pioneer in studying modern living formanifera in the ocean.
Doel:Did he talk to you about those cruises? What it was like to be a biologist out in —?
Doel:Community of oceanographers?
Imbrie:We never — we just discussed the results. He was kind of a — you know, quiet modest fellow. We didnít — If he had problems, he didnít tell me about it.
Doel:What were your impressions of Menzies by the way? We mentioned him briefly.
Imbrie:Ahhh. A little bit of an entrepreneur. I wouldnít say they were — I didnít. He was okay. I didnít get — He wasnít a great brain in his field. I didnít have that much contact. I was not overly impressed. He had a — I really donít know that much about Ė-
Levin:Do you remember a biologist by the name of Fred Sisler?
Imbrie:I remember the name, but I didnít have any contact with him I donít think. So I donít know.
Doel:How much contact did you have then with the people working in at least related areas in Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] and at Woods Hole? Did you regard them in some of the climate work that you were doing as, as potential competitors or did they seem to be?
Imbrie:Potential competitors. They werenít — At that time they werenít doing things that were. They were potential competitors, but what they were actually doing was quite a few steps behind what we were doing, with one exception. The work that Wolfgang Burger was doing in deep sea dissolution cycles was then and now, you know, front running stuff.
Doel:Where was he located?
Imbrie:Wolfgang Burger. He was studying the dissolution signal in deep sea core. Dissolution, chemical dissolution, was then and now good stuff.
Doel:Did you have any contract with people like Harm Craig or —?
Doel:One last thing that we didnít get a chance to cover so far has been the work that you did on Blankevitch cycles. And we want to make sure that we have that on tape.
Well, that goes back, the fundamentals of that, go back to that marvelous scene I described at Lamont. Where Shackleton gets up and shows a graph and we all say great, weíve got a marine stratigraphy. Because then, for the first time, we have a way of looking at a deep sea core any place in the world and knowing that imbedded in that core, in those sequence of sediments, there is a signal whose general shape we know. And we have names for it. There were names given by Emiliani. Stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 going back in time. The even numbers are glacial stages, like number 2. The odd numbers, like number 1 and 5, are interglacial warm periods. That, by the way, has been carried now, back now, to over a hundred, back for five million years, the same type of signal goes back. And so that for the first time we had a signal in deep sea cores that represented the amount of ice on land. And that after all is the essence of glacial age, is having ice piled up on New York City or not. So with that, every deep sea core then has that signal, and you can then look at it.
You can also look at other records in that core. For example, letís say if you have the amount of dust in the core thatís blowing off Africa. And you can — somebody else can measure the dust content of that core. And you can say, gee, during this glacial age were things dusty or not. Or you can look at the foraminifera in there and get an idea whatís going on with the marine fauna. Are they cold water organisms? Are they warm water organisms? So with the O18 stratigraphy, as we call, the basis, you can then look together at a global set of records. You can also, for example, you know about the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary. Thatís the time when the last major magnetic reversal occurred. Another result of the CLIMAP project was the work of two scientists, Shackleton and Opdyke, who for the first time had a core that had the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary in it. And it also had foraminifera, which Nick Shackleton had studied the O18 record. And it turns out that the Brunhes-Matuyama boundary occurs in stage nineteen.
And that was important because for the first — because people had then — geochemists on land had dated lava flows where the date of that was known to be, we were told then, seven hundred thousand years old. So you could then start with a radiocarbon date, letís say, at fourteen thousand years ago, and interpolate at least between then and that stage nineteen and say, well letís assume that sedimentation rate was on the average constant. You could then estimate the ages of all the individual sediments, individual stages in between. On the assumption of a linear sedimentation rate. Probably not a very safe assumption, but itís a lot better than extrapolating from a knowledge of one Carbon 14 date down. So that was all made, that was all done under the, that core was selected. Itís a core whose name, itís like a rosetta stone core, we call it V28-238. A Vema core. One of Ewingís cores. That became kind of the open sesame to the stratigraphy and chronology of the Pleistocene. Now for the first time we knew that stage nineteen was seven hundred thousand years ago. So with that in mind, Jim Hays and Nick Shackleton and I decided we would take a serious look at the Milankovitch theory, since we now knew the chronology approximately. And we used that core and other cores to say, Milankovitch had predicted that there would be two frequencies of climate change. One averaging about forty-one thousand year period, the obliquity, the tilt of the earthís axis. And another one due to the change in the procession that would average about twenty-three thousand years. And those two signals would be going on independently. And you should see, like two notes played on a piano, two different frequencies should be present in the O18 record it Milankovitch was right. As a matter of fact, the prediction was actually — Thereís actually three cycles in there. Thereís forty-one. The period I just said was due to the procession is not really twenty-three, itís two. Itís nineteen and twenty-three.
So think of three notes on a piano. Two high frequency notes, nineteen and twenty-three thousand years, periods. And then one lower frequency note with a forty-one thousand year period. So thereís a prediction of three tones, three frequencies. Frequencies, itís probably easier to think in terms of periods. You know, a period means a cycle of forty-one thousand years long or twenty-three thousand or nineteen. So three different wave lengths are predicted by the Milankovitch theory. So we took, a set of deep sea cores, and Shackleton had done the O18 records on them. And Jim Hays had studied the radiolaria whose composition fluctuates back and forth with the temperature of the water. And I took these records home and I had then some skills in the computer. And I analyzed these for what frequencies were involved. Thereís a technical term called spectroanalysis, you know, what frequencies are involved. And I took it, I remember I opened up the results, and at that time we used a big down main frame computer. And I took the results home. Opened it up on my table down in the basement and there it said, you know, the ice at forty-two, nineteen and twenty-three and a half, you know, very close.
I knew right away this could not be. I knew how much slop there would be in the age record. So I knew right away that this, that prediction would not have occurred by chance alone. I thought, my golly, Milankovitch is right. So I rushed to the phone and called Jim Hays and Nick Shackleton and that led to a paper that we published in 1976 called by Hays, as the senior author. Iím the second author. And the third author is Nick Shackleton. And we worked very closely on the paper. And that was the first significant indication that the Milankovitch theory was correct. The details of how it operates and why another period is a big deal for part of the record, a hundred thousand year cycle we still havenít figured out. But the. So that was the story and that was one of the outgrowths of the CLIMAP project and the ability to have all 018 stratigraphy and bringing the magnetics into it. So no one person could have done this all alone.
Doel:No, clearly this was very much a group effort between different specialties. And that the part of the question was organizing the appropriate structure to bring these groups of people together.
Imbrie:I guess one of the contributions and Jim Hays and I organized that structure. And it was a very nice group of guys to work with. Some women. Milva Kipp. Connie [Constance] Sancetta. Basic, but most of them were men in those days. And they were self-confident people who enjoyed arguing and it was an exciting time in science. And so I was the right person with the right friends at the right time. And somebody else would have discovered this, Iím sure, two years, a year later.
Doel:It was becoming on the frontier. Now, one of the things weíve discussed briefly off-tape was the difference between American and European reactions to Malenkovitch theory after the time that it had been initially introduced. Iím curious if you have some thoughts on why generally European, at least a number of European scientists, were favorable to astronomical interpretations.
The distinction, itís not as strong a distinction as it was between Europe and America over the issue of the continental drift. There the Europeans, the South Africans were, you know, very strongly pro-drift in general. Where the Americans, for whatever reason, were not. That, I donít think itís [word drowned out by cough] to say that that distinction was much less marked. The Europeans did have a literature on the Malenkovitch theory and did believe it more than the Americans. I donít know quite why except possibly that because one of the first results of dating a small interglacial deposit in Illinois. I forget its name, but it dated twenty-four thousand years was the radiocarbon date, for a small world event. And the fact that Malenkovitch theory predicts a twenty-five thousand year ice age, and here we have a retreat of the glacier in Illinois at twenty-five. Seemed to be a conflict. At least the radiocarbon people played it up that way. Without stopping to look at the fact that at the time of that small retreat of the Illinois glacier, the glacier was always out in Illinois, it only retreated back, you know, twenty or thirty miles. So it was a small wiggle on the — at the time of great glacial advance. Somehow that was lost track of. And it was one of the things. Then there was another.
So some of the early results of Carbon 14 dating seemed to be against the Malenkovitch. There was another one, whose story I tell here. I forget the details. There was also the question, not dating the last ice age, but dating the — We live in an interglacial time called the Holocene. And whatís the date of the next. Another interglacial time going back which we used to call the Sangamon. Whatís the date of the Sangamon? The next interglacial going back in time. The next warm period when Europe is covered with, a lot of people in northern Europe. And some Carbon 14 dates were used, again in the mid-continent for deposits as old as seventy or eighty thousand years. And those dates seemed to be in conflict with the Malenkovitch theory. Later on it turns out that you really canít use Carbon 14 dates for anything as old as seventy thousand years because one little quirk of a contamination of a lute or something will destroy the age. You can only really use radiocarbon, particularly in those days, back twenty or thirty thousand years. Now you can extend it a little bit with modern techniques. So those dates were completely spurious and gave a false impression of a falsely numerical and falsely convincing that this was a hard number that goes against. So I think those two datings weakened in most Americans feelings about Malenkovitch. And it wasnít widely — it wasnít when I was in school — it wasnít widely debated. It was just sort of assumed that it was an idea thatís not true.
Doel:Were there any people, say into the 1960s, that you regarded as proponents of the —
Doel:Malenkovitch in that sense.
One of them was, thatís an interesting story. One of them was Cesare Emiliani, whose 1955 paper, maybe it was 1957. See Emiliani found this marvelous succession of glacial and interglacial marine oxygen isotopes, stages as we now call them. And he numbered them, 1, 2, 3, 4. One, three and five being warm times, two, four, six and so on being cold times. And that number 1, 2, 3, 4, he notices, now he was trying to get a chronology for these, for these dates. He doesnít know the age. This is now 1955. He has a radiocarbon 14 date in the upper part of his Caribbean core thatís about say fourteen thousand years. And he extrapolates that down and finds that stage 3 is about forty thousand years old. Stage 1 is today, stage 3 is forty thousand years old approximately, by a radiocarbon extrapolation. So he says, ah hah, stage 3 is forty, I bet stage 5 is forty. And he said this is the Malenkovitch tilt cycle of forty-one thousand years. So he probably, cleverly jumped to the conclusion that a good interpretation was the fact that the sequence 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 was a forty-thousand year, forty-one thousand year Malenkovitch sequence. Moreover, he said, look, unlike the European records of the Sangamon, which just were kind of irregular. I mean, theyíre not really climatic. Emilianiís O18 stages is a fairly regular cycle. You can see it looks sort of rhythmic and astronomical. It looks regular. And it wasnít just four periods as you learned in school, Minsk, Dindle, Burn and so on. So Emiliani was quite right. He said this is, this is an [?] and I think this is a [?]. So he proposed a chronology which took advantage of that, essentially saying these are forty-one thousand year blips.
Well that was a good, it turns out that stage, that stage 3 is an anomaly. It is forty thousand years old; thatís quite right. But that sequence is not a forty thousand year cycle. It turns out to be, hold your breath, a hundred thousand year cycle. In other words, his dating of that was wrong by a factor of two and a half through no fault of his own. And for many years there were two views of the chronology. One was Emilianiís view, sort of a short chronology. And other people felt that was wrong. Broecker and others argued for a longer chronology based on dates. And it wasnít really until that CLIMAP meeting when the, when. The paper by Shackleton and Opdyke in 1973 settled the matter by saying stage 19 of seven hundred thousand years old. And it turned out that that chronology argument that had an understandable origin that I think Emiliani hung onto to that idea too long. And when he should have said, well, that was an initial guess, letís change [words drowned out by coughing]. So that was the argument between Broecker on the one side, representing one group of geochemists looking at the record, and Emiliani on the other. And Broeckerís chronology turned out to be basically correct. And itís sort of unfortunate that Emiliani hung onto that idea longer than he should have. Sort of out of whatever it is, pride or — And it was quite a reasonable mistake to make. Everybody does that in science. You make your best guess what you can at one time, and sometimes it proves wrong and sometimes itís wrong. Iíve done the same thing. And so, thatís the argument there. And that was between Broecker, really between Broecker and Emiliani. And then thatís probably enough of that. So thatís the Malenkovitch theory got into it, and how I got into it and CLIMAPís role. Thatís probably as much as you need. It seems to me that.
Doel:I meant to ask you how well you came to know Emiliani?
Imbrie:Well, pretty well.
Levin:What was he like?
Imbrie:Letís see, well, he was an interesting fellow. I met him first at the time — I was just getting — it must have been about Ď68 or Ď69. Ď69 or Ď70, maybe Ď70. I was getting into this game. And Carl Turekian at Yale thought it would be a good idea to bring Emiliani together with Woffin and Broecker and Emiliani on the one side and Woffin and Ericson and Broecker on the other. And letís, you know, letís discuss this matter. So Carl Turekian got a government grant and staged a conference at Lamont. With Emiliani, who didnít like to travel by plane, he only would travel by train. It took him a long while to get around. He didnít travel as much. Emiliani came up by train. I went up from Brown to be at the conference. And there was a very interesting two day conference, sitting around trying to bring these disparate ideas together. And so thatís where I met Emiliani. And he was very self-confident, very bright, and really one of the fundamental contributors to the science. And he probably hasnít got the. Well those in the field understand his contribution. His paper in 1955 is brilliant. He made a few reasonable misjudgments such as this chronology thing. And if heíd only said two years later, gee, this is probably wrong. He got into an argument between the geochemists in his lab and Wally Broeckerís lab. It came down to what kind of work theyíd done on a certain standard. You know, get geochemists arguing about the purity of samples and it got fairly bitter. I donít really know the details except that itís too bad in retrospect that Emiliani didnít say, gee, my ideas were good. Letís just change the date and go forward. He didnít —
Doel:He didnít change his mind?
Imbrie:Yes. He hung on to that chronology too long and I donít know why. Itís just he had kind of — But he was a very creative person. I used to go down. I visited him in his lab in Miami. And been taken out to dinner. And he was a delightful companion. And a very bright kind of guy. Somehow or other he hung on to some ideas too long, and got into controversies that werenít necessary. But thatís personalities that make science. But his work. So he did the first work. And Shackleton then really picked up and carried on the work. And carried on from him, and did it sort of the way it should have been done.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Let me ask you one —
Imbrie:Did you know that Emiliani had gotten a grant? He was going to do a history of this thing. He was going to do an oral history project and write it up. And had made a date to come up and talk with me, and he died a couple of years ago, I forget.
Doel:I knew his death was very, very recent.
Imbrie:And that he was, I had already agreed to have him come up. And he was going to do a book or a story, and he was going to come up and tape my reminiscences and match them with his. He never lived to do it.
Doel:That would have been a valuable exercise there. Let me just ask you —
Imbrie:We must be near the end now. I donít see anything else.
Doel:Well, youíre referring to a list that you have by your side and I did want to ask if there was anything that you had wanted to contribute to the interview that we havenít covered yet.
Imbrie:No, thatís it. We covered my list.
Doel:And you became in 1976 the Henry Doherty Professor of Oceanography?
Doel:When had that chair been endowed? Was this the same Doherty Foundation that endowed the —?
Imbrie:Yes. It was endowed with me in mind as the first recipient. Thatís all I know.
Doel:Had you had contact with people in the foundation?
Imbrie:Yes. And theyíve been here.
Doel:Was this [A. Chauncey] Newlin and [Walter] Brown?
Imbrie:Yes. Newlin, Iíve met Newlin at least once.
Doel:Have they spoken to you about how they had viewed the gift to Lamont? Did they talk about their views on the way in which it was being used?
Doel:Finally, let me ask if you have any more? I wanted to ask one last question. When you think back, had there been any either religious or philosophical principles that you have found particularly important throughout your life or particularly important to your scientific career?
Imbrie:Well, I guess honesty. So deeply imbedded. You know, what ever your — whatever you see or say or do, just have to report honestly. Seems too basic to have to mention. But once in a while one reads about people juggling biomedical research when theyíre competing for huge prizes. Somebody fakes some data or something or other. It seems such a large sin, itís hard to imagine anyone actually doing it and calling themselves a scientist. So I would think just basically honestly reporting what you see and think is the basis of everything. And I donít know anybody in my experience thatís ever gone against that principle. I read about it in the newspaper and Iím always horrified. Generally in the field of biomedical research where they were racing for some huge prize and somebody faked some data in the Harvard biological lab. I donít know anything of the sort thatís ever gone on in my field. But, I mean, you make observations, you do the best you can to explain it. If you have honest observations and an honest rational interpretation, the Lord canít ask any more of you than that, even though you make mistakes.
Doel:Well let me thank you very much for the time thatís taken in this interview, and I will say that you will be getting a transcript of the interview from Columbia University.
You better cut out ninety percent of it, itís four hours. You better cut out.