Oral History Transcript — Dr. Nestor Granelli
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Nestor Granelli; August 22, 1997
ABSTRACT: Childhood and youth in Buenos Aires, Argentina; impressions of importance of the Antarctic to Argentina, Antarctic scientific research, geopolitics; 1955 revolution and subsequent political unrest; the International Geophysical Year, Argentine participation and presence of Lamont Geophysical Observatory in Argentina in late 1950s; Impressions of W. Maurice Ewing; perceived differences between Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lamont Geological Observatory; early reception of continental drift in Argentina; Argentine aid to Lamont expeditions, workers, equipment; work on the Vema; comparison of Argentine naval ships with the Vema; perceptions of map of the Atlantic sea floor by Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen, and their mapping technique; impressions and contributions (to Argentine science) of Soviet scientists during the Cold War; W. Maurice Ewing work ethic. Also mentioned are: Cape Horn, Jacques Cousteau, Charles Darwin, Drake passage, Harriet Ewing, John Ewing, Falkland/Malvinas Islands, Stephen Hawking, HMS Challenger, Hector Iglesias, Louis Kapur, Xavier LePichon, Robert Menzies, John Nafe, Juan Domingo Peron,, Andrei Sakharov, Captain Sinclair, South Sandwich Islands, Sputnik, Manik Talwani, University of Edinburgh, Vema Seamount, Fernando Vila, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Georg Whst, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales.
Levin:Today is the 22nd of August, 1997 and this is an interview with Captain Nestor Granelli and this is being taped in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And I know you were born the twenty-seventh of March, 1931, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Granelli:That’s correct Tanya. We’re comfortably sitting having coffee at the navy club hotel basement restaurant. Street traffic noise is intense; this is the heart of the city.
Levin:Could you tell you a little bit about your parents, about what they did? I know you said you were from a seafaring family.
Granelli:Yes. Yes. Really, we are truly from the sea. We come, of course, like many Argentines, from the northern part of Italy, from Genoa [Italy]. My grandfather was the first one to come to the New World, to this half s side of the equator, the so-called Rio de Plata, the River Plate. He was a trained mariner of course. Very humble origins, but he knew his trade. My father — a graduate from the Merchant Marine School — was also a sea captain who spent a lot of his professional time in the oil tanker business. Of course, in those days Argentina’s merchant marine was of a very small size and tonnage. So the only organization in oil transport that owned tankers was the newly starting YPF [Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales] which was a State-operated oil monopoly. Until, fortunately for YPF, it was recently privatized and given a revamping — the industry which has given so much wealth to this nation.
Levin:Interesting. And your mother?
Granelli:My mother comes also from a family which is a quarter Italian and three-quarters Spaniard. She has more of a blend of Spanish blood than my father had, which was more Italian. Of course, Italians are going to immigrate in mass, particularly, as you know when the empire fell — they didn’t have enough space in Italy for all the Roman Empire to return back. So that’s why you have old nations like Romania, which is actually all former garrisons of the Romans which settled on that region of central Europe or eastern Europe. My grandfather married a half-Indian local lady here, from the northern part of the Jesuit enclave in the upper Parana River, relatively close to the gigantic Iguazu Falls. So like many Argentines, I do have a blend of Indian blood, although I look fair — very gringo. The word “gringo” in this part of the world is applied to the Italians. The Italians here are called gringos.
Levin:Oh. The Italians only.
Granelli:Yes, only. There was a relatively small entrance of Americans, North Americans, with the exception, of course, of people who were involved in the seasonal sealing business in the remote southern parts of Argentine’s Patagonia. Those were hunters, most of them people coming from Boston and New England occupied in the booming fur seals trade, and pursuing the whaling trade too. That’s the entrance of migratory people from the United States to this most remote, newly independent nation, historically very much aligned in its commerce mainly with the United Kingdom and Europe.
Levin:How many brothers and sisters do you have?
Granelli:Well, I’m the only son. I don’t have any brothers or any sisters.
Levin:And what kind of house did you grow up in?
Granelli:Well it was a small house, a classic mid upper-class house. Of course my parents made substantial efforts for my upbringing so I was sent to an English school. I had a very, say, typical Italian-European type of education. My piano professor taught me to write and read.
Granelli:And learning the English program in grammar school which was government authorized — I went to an English school because we as a family trade were in the marine business. My grandfather was an influence to my mother’s schooling decision because my father was at sea permanently. So he [grandfather] said, “Well, Nestor will have to go to an English school because that’s the main language of trade in the marine business. So if he learns Italian at home, he will acquire his Spanish in the country, and then English at school.”
Levin:And there was an English version school, where you only spoke English?
Granelli:Yes. Yes. It was, in a way, very seductive, as concerning language, because we did have in the mornings, of course, a regular official program of Spanish teaching, and in the afternoons our schooling subjects were all taught in English, and pupils were very heavily reprimanded in case they used another language other than English. So we really had to learn very early to speak English all the time, including the behavior — the reactions of children’s manners in English too.
Levin:That’s interesting. And they taught you a full range of subjects. You said you had piano as well.
Granelli:Oh, yes. Of course, it was very interesting. And when I learned my first prayers, actually they were in English too. Very, very nice, I believe, that my first exposure — in Argentina, that is, a majority Catholic country - about toleration, that there was no segregation of the children from parents coming from other faiths. They were religiously very open. In time, without pressures really, without recognizing it as such, I learned to understand the way other children prayed in another manner. To the same God, but in other ways.
Levin:And you learned the Catholic manner.
Granelli:Right. And I was brought up at school and home as a Catholic. This early Anglo education brought to me interesting points of reference, particularly coming to my teens in very trying times of our century, during World War II. Our seafaring family became a World War II exposed family — in a neutral homeland.
Levin:What about? [Interruption to speak to someone else.] And so what about religion in your own home?
Granelli:Well, let’s see. Well, religion in my home was not a strong factor. My father was a religious person. My mother also was, but not a practicing Catholic. Of course, I think religion was taken care of mainly through my schooling courses. I didn’t have much free time left. I attended the full day and Sunday school and even went to the music Conservatory during evenings in Buenos Aires. And, of course, late in the afternoon when I was coming back home, I went to do my homework at my piano professor’s home which was very close to mine. The northern lower-end section of Buenos Aires was a sort of Parisian-type area of the Capital. The neighborhoods were then very family-oriented, so that youngsters recognized well each other’s families. My piano professor lived in the Conservatory which was a block from my residence. I always remember him very dearly. His family name was special — it was Vinci, like Leonardo da Vinci. I remember he had the entire roof decorated with frescoes and I could see painted playing there this genius young child — [Wolfgang A.] Mozart. And so I was inspired to the arts without knowing, and of course, this developed in my Italian kind of blend a good taste for music, an educated ear. Of course, this meant enjoying the treasures of opera very young. There is an established tradition of the opera house — Teatro Colon [the Colon Theater] — in Buenos Aires.
Levin:This is very interesting. You had school all day. And would you go home for Mediodia, the lunch period?
Granelli:No. Normally, no. It only happened temporarily. After the first six months I started to go to lunch back home. Well, of course there were not many gourmet chefs there. And she thought I was becoming too skinny, growing too fast. But then school lunch time didn’t last too long. And again, if you would have tried to do it in a different manner — when World War II broke out and there was not much fuel around, rationing was enforced, so I just couldn’t commute by school bus to my place between the lunch time and back to school in the afternoon. The Belgrano Day School was more than forty-five minutes ride from my home itself. We used to be carried within using public transportation. There was a school bus coming to pick up the students at home. We all dressed in a typical English uniform. I was in the lower grade’s grammar school. The Green family was the founders in 1911 of the Belgrano Day school. It was a very respected and traditional place of teaching, and an expensive foreign school in Argentina.
Levin:And you would be at school all day and then at night you would go to your teacher’s house.
Granelli:Exactly, for piano lessons and school homework.
Levin:Were other students going to this house with your teacher?
Granelli:Well, yes, of course. They were not pupils from the same English grammar school. They were learning piano lessons and singing, too. Also violin was taught. And I was privileged in another way. I recognize it, because most of the other students were young girls, so I felt myself very at ease in that matter. There was very little male competition. It was really exciting because in those days our social relationships between different sexes were very innocent. I mean it was a kind of a children’s trademark. Our innocence was very, very lasting. Until really coming into our mid-teens, we didn’t lose this innocence. It was totally different than the way our present society has evolved — in these parts remote from the geography of the main countries in the world, a provincial atmosphere and Victorian morals prevailed, even in the capital city.
Levin:It’s interesting. So this early training — you stayed at one school for all your training from six years old to about twelve?
Granelli:Yes. I completed my grammar education there. I was intended, actually, to continue also my English high school education there, but of course interruptions arose from World War II. As you know, the war started around September, 1939, and many of the professors in the English grammar school — they were all professors. English or Scottish by birth, or Anglo-Argentines, most of them went back to the old continent (Europe) to fight for their motherland. Some of them did the typical course which many Americans took — before the United States was hit by Pearl Harbor, those two years between ‘39 and ‘41 — men traveled to Canada and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and then joined the Royal Air Force. And several of my professors lost their lives in the Royal Air Force in the UK [United Kingdom]. Of course, my father was then sailing to the Caribbean. There were no refineries that were able to process and extract special aviation refined products in Argentina. The country had to import oil products from overseas. So my Dad skippered the only YPF tanker that was then available, the Santa Cruz, to pick up those needed fuels from Curacao and Aruba in the Dutch Indies. He was sailing in the middle of this atrocious U-boat submarine confrontation that the Germans so heavily inflicted to the Allies’ sea bond commerce that originated in this part of the world, and as a consequence cutting heavily the whole European seagoing trade and North Atlantic routes to the Allies for the Merchant Marine. So there are some very interesting anecdotes of those days. We didn’t know how common people as ourselves sometimes become a part of history, not only of daily life. We were a war family in a neutral land but exposed to the dangers of naval warfare (submarines) plus the stress of living in such an atmosphere. My Dad rescued the survivors of two Allied tankers sunk offshore of Venezuela by German submarines. We keep mementos given by members of these vessels — the USA John Carter Rose and the Dutch tanker Ombelin.
Levin:So what kind of an apartment did you live in at the time?
Granelli:Well, we lived in a house — we didn’t have an apartment, which were very few in those times. [Background noise] It was a small, rented, modest home, with a typical Spanish character with rooms looking inside at the patio. And this was located in a neighborhood close to Belgrano, close to Colegiales due to its railroad station, a British concession at the time.
Levin:Did you have a library?
Granelli:Oh yes. Yes. Certainly bilingual. Of course containing children’s world classics.
Levin:And did you receive journals? Do you remember any journals that were coming into the home?
Granelli:No, only local ones. In those days (1939) journals were not that plentiful. But, of course, because of the English contribution to my education, most of our textbooks were printed in the United Kingdom. I not only learned the language, but studied history, geography, and arithmetic — adding pounds, for example, to shillings, pennies, and farthings, in those days. This was quite uncommon for a small Argentine boy to convert quarters and farthings into pennies and then into shillings. So as I say international journals were not easily available or plentiful. Of course, we had several local newspapers. My mother was and is a very strong reader. She’s a painter. She’s still alive, almost ninety years old. And so that artistic vocation must come from her side. I was very fond of classical music early in life.
Levin:What kind of books did you like to read at that age and during grammar school?
Granelli:Well, really, I was always very inquisitive about geography. Because I took the habit of stamp collecting, that introduced in me a need to know more about the world. And I remember then looking at maps that Argentina is at the very tip not only of the America’s but also of the world, a condition of isolation I didn’t recognize until later. The entrance through immigration of millions developed a very strong European culture. At this excellent and selective English school, many of the children attending were sons of citizens or even ambassadors of several German-occupied European nations in those days — Nazi Germany. I could sense the dangers that they and their families were facing, not knowing if they had a home to return to. And some returned to Washington, D.C. because they were for an interim sheltered in your great nation, in America. I found out these facts later in life.
Levin:What were some of the subjects that you really enjoyed studying in school? Geography -–
Granelli:Yes. Of course, geography and history were two very exciting subjects. As I say, it was desirable subject matter. Maybe also the professor — sometimes, it must be pointed out the kind of teachings that you get from your professors — very attractive, well, effective. People who transferred a strong, cultured, European background education to the students. And also they were completely different persons from the common local people that we normally met. Which — they were not many cases, but of course I could see by comparison the difference.
Levin:What kind of science was taught in the school?
Granelli:Well, the science there was not a very special science in the manner that we know it today. It was superficial, but very factual, of course.
Levin:So more rote learning.
Levin:Learning rules rather than -–
Granelli:Yes. Yes. More rote. There was some experimental stuff, chemistry type. I remember Professor Jackson. He was attracting us to scientific experimentation, which I enjoyed a lot. I believe that such applied experimentation made me inclined to the inquisitiveness of science, in a way that later in life I very deeply found in my own professional vocation. Without knowing it, this was introduced into my future.
Levin:And so from there, you finished grammar school and you went on to a different school? I know the war broke things up. Were you out of school for a few years during the war?
Granelli:No, never. I was not out of school. I was still the only son. I had no other brothers or sisters. Of course, family reunions were then very difficult. My father was continuously at sea. Those days we didn’t have any communications satellites. There was scarce mail censored by the Dutch authorities. Our nation was neutral — how would I say — but its policies or international relations much inclined towards the German-Italian war efforts. Under those circumstances we were very limited in our possibilities to contact my father at sea who was traveling in areas of the Caribbean — a region of military interest to the United States at war and occupied Holland.
Levin:Did you notice, were there any problems with that, among neighbors or friends, or just people seeing more allies toward the US? Was that ever a problem?
Granelli:No, it was never a problem really. I cannot say that it was a human relations problem. I have an impression that this did not touch us in that social manner. However, we were prudent. Only later in life, I found that it was more at the governmental level — that there, they knew. In those days, to me as a child, it was a very remote issue. The episodes that were happening in Europe were, locally, lightly masked with political propaganda. They did not come easily to our attention, of course, until the turning points of Germany’s and Italy’s war fortunes in Europe.
Levin:So you remained in school and you went on to high school.
Granelli:Yes, after 1944 to the Liceo Militar General San Martin, an army boarding school.
Levin:And while you were there, what sort of subjects did you study? Was it just the general courses?
Granelli:This is an interesting question because it also comes back to my first days there. The schooling at the high school level at this English school was interfered with — there was no way of getting the textbooks, which were really important. There were few English printers here. Concurrently there was just a cut-off flow, easily interrupted, of course, because there were no commercial connections with the occupied regions of Europe or the U.K. So the English high school program was temporarily interrupted. My parents decided then to change my school. In those days parents had actually much more authority — you were told what to do by them, you would evaluate your reactions, and how you would continue to take it, etc. So I went to the newly founded Military Lyceum, a gymnasium, which was an army boarding school, similar to The Citadel in the United States. So at the gymnasium they gave me a very good education, because the professors’ roster was composed of very talented, locally selected professors. And then we participated in a lot of outdoor sports. I was in the cavalry. So for a child of twelve, thirteen years old, it was really formidable, very enjoyable, you had your tuition lessons, and then you go horse riding — learning to jump and play polo and those kind of attractive manly things which really were a bit above my social position — it was only reserved otherwise for very wealthy children. Of course I was enjoying it. It was a very rigorous type of training — you were only allowed to go home during the weekends and had a relatively short leave from Saturday afternoons to Sunday early evening. Very enjoyable. These kinds of semi-military schools were called “Liceos Militares” — mine was the Liceo Militar General San Martin, sited on the grounds of the former Army Officers’ College. We formed a very homogenous group of children at a not distant good suburban location. We had compulsory military training. Upon completion of three years’ tuition of the curricula of such a military kind of high school, you were then waived service in the compulsory military conscription. You wouldn’t have to interrupt future university studies because of compulsory military service. Some families said, “My son doesn’t want to pursue a military career” and the high school responded, “He can comply with his draft service obligation.”
Levin:So during this time it was compulsory for a man to serve in the military?
Granelli:Oh yes, by Act of Congress. It took two years in the Argentine navy or one in the army. The Air Force was later organized in my country during those years.
Levin:So by going to this high school, Liceo Militar, you didn’t have to serve. It wasn’t obligatory.
Granelli:Exactly. You became a kind of a reserve officer type of trained person. They considered that you already had enough training. They tested us in the use of small arms such as hand pistols, rifles, machine guns, and that kind of equipment, but we didn’t even realize the meaning — it was just a lot of boys’ fun, without army sectarian elite implications. Attendance improved your curriculum vitae description for the future.
Levin:And did you have science courses then?
Granelli:Oh yes. It was a regular high school system in the country with substantial reinforcement because of the nature of the facilities, talent of the civilian professors, the army officer instructors, and finally, the whole staff. It was a very controlled medical environment for the students’ benefit — we were all teenagers — both from the physical and the psychological aspects of coming of age. I enjoyed it very much regardless of the stiffness and cloistered regime. Bear in mind Argentina was experiencing political turmoil of a social and economic nature transferred from the ending of World War II events.
Levin:That’s interesting. So you were in the cavalry and you played sports as well. Is that right?
Granelli:Yes. We had one tough technical entrance exam, then if admitted for that branch of the army services, you could pick several options. You could select your final special schooling after completion of the fifth course year. You could sign to take your final exams, then apply to go to the Army or the Navy or, with promotional advantage — at that time — you went into the Air Force. After passing your first year in the Air Force they would give you a credit to enter directly to the Air Force to become a commissioned officer upon graduation. Well, I decided of course — to go to sea, because it was our tradition, our family tradition from merchant marine origins, my love of the ocean, my calling was to be spent with my father at sea. So to me learning about ships was nothing new. So I would regularly spend my two or three months a year — a summer type of holiday — with my dad at sea.
Levin:So it was typical that when you graduated from high school, you went to the army, the forces, or you went on to university.
Granelli:Oh, yes; mostly to the University, of course. And those children with Gymnasium background were really well looked upon. They had a very substantial education. Considerable discipline because of the system that was implemented. A valuable curriculum at that time. Talking about fifteen, sixteen years old, you understand this exposure already to a kind of very rigorous discipline.
Levin:So you started in the navy about sixteen years old?
Granelli:Well, yes, I went into the navy in 1947. I was born in ‘31, so yes — sixteen years old. Yes, you had to pass examination, the same as with this high school Gymnasium. The Naval Academy also was a selective place. I was privileged to be able to join these schools, because of my marks and ratings, and also to obtain a scholarship which would contribute to support my studies. That was always my welcomed case. The same happened at the navy. It was also a selective system through examinations — both physical and through teachings and writings.
Levin:So the navy didn’t accept just everybody. You had to take this examination.
Granelli:Yes. You had to take this exam plus inquiries into your family background.
Levin:And once you got in, did they give you a post? How did that work?
Granelli:Well yes. In those days they even scrutinized your family. They wanted people who were coming from, I would say, from a kind of family who didn’t have many disturbances. You know, to this and to that, the Christian nature of families changing so much. But of course you really had to have a record of an acceptable family. That was actually paramount. And then of course you had to pass both examinations — physical and academic. In those days they started classes very early in the year. A kind of new course was initiated which was called preparatory school. So, until completion of one year they will only accept you for continuation upon passing exam grades and then they finally accepted you as a regular naval cadet in the commissioned officers program. A naval academy similar to the United States Navy in Annapolis. So it was really straining too. And then I started anew — it was a kind of completing and finishing my high school in the first two years and then continuing mainly with naval studies. Typical of a military institution of learning at university level to graduate as a regular commissioned officer with a diploma from the Naval Academy.
Levin:So within the navy they had — it was like Annapolis, like a university.
Granelli:Oh yes. The level was relatively high, in comparison to civilian institutions and the selective manner too — not that many openings. And Argentina was a very well-to-do country in a manner because of her neutrality in World War II, untouched grain crops, and the relative abundance of food. And the conversion of money then was not the gold standard, it was wheat. We had intact our five years crops. I remember that we had a couple of ships in our family that we owned and we were burning corn in the boilers as supplemental engine fuel.
Levin:So what were your major studies when you were in the navy?
Granelli:Studies in the navy were, as they were in the very early days of your nation, organized through its regulations, means and ways, very much copied under the influence of Great Britain — to Argentina that tradition has been very strong. This is even coming from our colonial days. Our big Liberator, the equivalent to your George Washington, our general San Martin, was a lieutenant colonel when he came here to fight for this country’s independence. He was born in the Northeast highlands of Argentina, the Jesuit area of “Misiones,” the tropical hinterland area of Argentina. He came all the way from occupied Spain to fight for his country on board a British frigate. And of course this region of the Spanish empire was not very much cared about, because there was no gold in sight — few valuable mines existed in this southern area of the Spanish dominions. The name of Argentina is derived from the Greek word for silver, “Argentium.” But the “conquistadors” never found it. They discovered it in Bolivia, Peru and Mexico, but not in this remote area. The whole evolution of the American libertarian way of thinking became a fact upon the occupation of Spain by Napoleon. It was the start of the professional Creole soldiering. So General San Martin, after completing the liberation of Argentina, Chile and Peru, he turned out his troops to Simon Bolivar, who was a friend of his in Europe — The one genial person who gave the Latin American continent the freedom to choose and to do. So his Argentine troops in Ecuador — Guayaquil — continued. Under General Bolivar’s command many Argentine soldiers, or gauchos, our cowboys, made their way through jungles, sickness, and battles all the way up to the hinterlands of Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, fighting the decisive wars of independence from Spain.
Levin:And I know in September of ‘55, 1955, [Juan Domingo] Peron, of course was dismissed. How did that influence your —?
Granelli:Well, for me it was a breaking point. It was very, very directing, your question, because at the time, I was a junior officer. Of course, in ‘55, I was only twenty-four years old. I had the luck of surviving, in 1952, an accidental explosion from an artillery shell which killed three people who were just by my side. We were exercising in a small minesweeper in the Rio de Plata. It was very shocking. And it was, really, because of what happened simultaneously with a two ships artillery exercise — it was some kind of electrical discharge from a passing subtropical storm that hit the Rio de Plata around that time. The Naval Command asked the crews where we wanted to be transferred after this accident, and many people requested to be transferred to a post that they could sail overseas. Rather than do that, I thought I would love to go to the South Pole. Of course, I was transferred to the Antarctic Naval Task Force. That was September, ‘52, or October ‘52.
Levin:What entranced you about Antarctica?
Granelli:Well, I think it was the glamour of adventure.
Granelli:Yes. An uncle of mine, a young brother of my father, used to talk about the Antarctic. Uncle Daniel Granelli. Later he was lost at sea in 1984 with one of our merchant ships in the South Pacific area — the Gulf of Penas in Chile. The San Martin II was the name of his vessel. He used to go whaling there. He used to tell me about the Antarctic, and as he was a young uncle and had kind of a colorful personality, he gave me fuel and food to imagine things. But of course it contributed that Argentina was expanding its early initiatives of exploration — which was started in 1903 when the pioneer expedition from the University of Edinburgh started the endeavor of working into the South Shetland Islands and islands of South Orkneys, erecting the magnetic observatory south of Laurie Island. The constructed buildings were donated later to the Argentine government, which started a regular weather station and meteorological data collection there. And so the region arose a lot of interest in many young people. My first round was the first season of the summers of ‘53, ‘54. I was hydrographer-navigator involved in the Argentine Navy Antarctic Task Force, which was covering and supplied more than thirty different posts in the western side of the Antarctica Peninsula, an extension of this region of South America into the Antarctic continent. In those years there was no binding International Antarctic Treaty agreement, so every nation was claiming geographic ownership. So Argentina had to maintain some kind of physical presence. And that was a very natural habitat for a young naval officer to learn about the sea.
Levin:So you were sent down there to stake territory, or was there any other scientific interest involved?
Granelli:Yes. Yes. Of course, the Task Force was in that kind of scientific endeavor. And also we were supplying logistics and moving people around for the summer season. I was involved mainly with hydrographic survey work. And there was really a mapping effort — actually using some original discoveries reports, some of them as early as and written by Captain [James] Cook, discoverer of the South Sandwich Islands. And of course, we’re talking from the first world voyage using chronometers, 1770 to 1810. Because of my position and the education given by my parents, my command of English lead to the means of being able to read such reports. I was able to go through all these elaborate types of ancient records. And, of course, I was given this appointment by my commanding officers to research about it and start producing reports and going to places which were first looked upon by some of the very scientific oriented English explorers. So Antarctica for me was really an opening, and I started to work too as an oceanographer using the first bathythermographs available in Argentina. 1953 for me, that summer ‘53-‘54, is a professional landmark which later convinced me to be close to Lamont [Geological Observatory].
Levin:What were some of the duties then that you did? What were the tasks?
Granelli:Well, most of the tasks in that case were very close to the areas of navigation: sounding and checking, preliminary charting and mapping of uncharted areas. Concurrently a systematic sampling of the near-surface thermoclines with BT [Bathythermograph] observations in the Drake passage, South Shetland Islands, and Bellingshauser Sea.
Levin:Charting and mapping.
Granelli:Yes. And describing and expanding for the new, first Argentine sailing directions to most of the Antarctic territory. Most of our sailing directions in those days were not even authored or done by Argentine sailors. So we had to really come with our own script.
Levin:Was it mapping the land or the floor of the sea?
Granelli:Well, it was both — mapping the islands and of course with emphasis sounding the sea bottom. The tools we had were very rudimentary. This had been historically the case since the early Greeks in the Mediterranean — maybe years before Christ’s era — until 1920 when the first echo-sounders were used. There was not a reasonable quantitative instrument to be implemented to measure something at sea underwater with more precision than a lead plumb. Argentina had some ships which were built in Canada — the Acadian region of Nova Scotia, Halifax. The ships were multipurpose. They were used mainly for logistic support. And then the officers with functions on the bridge were responsible to chart and collect maps and to develop a reasonable improved report of sailing directions to keep on improving the safety of polar navigation for the Navy. Then of course, in that manner, with the help of our comrades from the Army, we tried to occupy locations on the continent and build new bases there. This effort was also in preparation for the future transverse to the South Pole by land with Argentine personnel. Most of them were military men. There were a few civilian scientists — scientists mainly served temporarily during the summer seasons, seldom at wintertime. The occupation of this original Observatory — built by the University of Edinburgh in the South Orkneys — started the official settlement by Argentina on the Antarctic, around 1905. So, in those days we were young and we had a most interesting and attractive dialogue with our fellow scientists. Most of them were European-born people — scientists who were looking for shelter after World War II. People coming from Hungary, from Germany, from the Netherlands, from Belgium, and many from the Baltic States area. I remember several scientists from Hungary and Romania, too, coming from these countries and who were involved in the National Sciences in the Antarctic.
Levin:I know [Albert] Einstein and [Enrico] Fermi both visited during this time as well as Guido Beck came and he stayed in Argentina.
Granelli:Yes, and [Werner] Von Braun too.
Levin:So you remember hearing about these scientists coming in?
Granelli:Oh yes, yes of course. They did lectures, they always had scientists. They kept a very low profile, but once in a while all of these geniuses came alive. And of course Antarctica, in one way or the other, attracted them. Some of their work was in this area of relatively good research opportunities. It was a virgin territory and with a substantial budget supported by the military. The logistics assured it was a challenging position for scientific programs.
Levin:So, it seems to me that Antarctica became attractive to the government more for just staking out the territory and the claim to it more so than for scientific purposes.
Granelli:Well, I think there was in reality a combination of both ends. Definitely it was indeed more a local geopolitical priority. Our claims to these areas, which are of course remote from the mainland, they do come in essence from the Falklands/Malvinas Islands dispute, so we’re talking actually to the times of the ancient 1832 upheavals described on Dr. [Charles] Darwin’s voyage memoirs. And as you well know, there’s a very touching letter of Dr. Darwin to his girl cousin in England where he describes the bombing of Port Stanley which had happened less than six months before the H.M.S. Beagle arrived and the British occupation of those territories — at the time they were part of the Spanish administration, and of course, upon later independence, the Argentine nation. So these dependencies, as they were called in Europe, and these regions of dispute, drew attention to Antarctic, which officially started to be occupied with the aim of showing a presence. And the scientific venue was a natural consequence — very strongly influenced by the European scientists who came to Argentina, sheltering themselves from World War II effects.
Levin:So did you hear about it? Of course, you said you heard about the scientists coming over, and they kept a low profile. Did you hear about any talks that they would give or any announcements or did they give conferences?
Granelli:Well, yes. They were not as plentiful as today. The navy officers like me were the young generation. We were close to the scientists — at least I had befriended them in Antarctica and much respected them. Other participants were relatively ignorant of their presence because they were concerned of course with the demanding activities of supporting the logistics of this Lamont expedition which were very cumbersome. You really had to cover the military bases with a significant amount of personnel between the year — refueling and re-supplying and changing the guard and all that kind of matters. We had an active icebreaker; an icebreaker newly built in Germany, bought in 1954, named General San Martin.
Levin:Where was it bought from?
Granelli:Well, it was built in a German shipyard in Bremerhaven. So that was a really interesting challenge because it was a new unknown vessel for the navy. One which you really needed to answer many operational questions. The ship brought in more scientific support facilities — like a well-equipped weather station as a deck area where you could use a helicopter — air support which was yet unused in those days, until the ‘54, ‘55 season. Then again, arriving to Buenos Aires — coming from Antarctic during the 1955 September revolt — I was serving as a chief navigator — which to me was the best job in the navy — on board of a great ship, with my young twenty-four years, accruing these three years of Antarctic experience over my shoulders. Planted with the DNA from my sailing family. [Laughs]
Levin:So most of your — you said most of your equipment that you had to use was mostly rudimentary. Did you find that most of it was made in Argentina or was it bought from Europe?
Granelli:It was from Europe. I would say rudimentary today because coming from the world of physics and involved in the oil business, the level of sophistication, you can see, was absolutely a dream in those days. The big effort was really directed to the Antarctic logistics. Of course, equipment was also coming from Europe and some from Japan and the United States — to the point that we even imported from Alaska Alaskan dogs — and from Greenland, too, to support our polar work. And of course Argentina still had an embargo so it was very difficult to get helicopters, but finally in ‘54 we were able to purchase the first helicopters, which I recognize politically as quite a successful effort to get that kind of equipment.
Levin:So that brings us back again to ‘55, the turmoil which you said was the breaking point.
Granelli:Well, it was a breaking point because our ship — of course, I was very strongly influenced by, like all people in love with their careers, no? I had a skipper who was a graduate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — he was Captain Hector V. Iglesias, a very talented man. Cum Laude in his class in the Naval Academy. Later in life, in civilian life, he became the senior scientist and director of research of DUCILO, the DuPont de Nemours Chemical Industries, which is a chemical textile subsidiary based in the United States. He was my commanding officer. He introduced me to the field of oceanography, to physical oceanography in those days. Measuring salinity and temperatures using bathythermographs. He was appointed in 1955 the commanding officer of this newly built, modern polar icebreaker. So I was selected from among many other officers to be the chief navigator on this vessel. So it was —
Levin:So you were selected as the chief navigator?
Granelli:Yes. So with my recent polar experience and significant hydrographic exposure to the area, plus my ability to read the chronicles and old manuals in English, I was able to demonstrate a little more knowledge than the regular average naval lieutenant to obtain that job. And of course the skipper did a lot because he had earned his master’s degree from Scripps, in La Jolla, California, working with professors who were the pioneering names in the difficulties of polar oceanography, both in Europe and in the United States, as you will recognize.
Levin:Now Iglesias, he studied at Scripps Institute, but he also worked for Lamont, did he not?
Granelli:Not Hector V., the father. His son Eduardo [Iglesias] worked for Lamont both at the laboratory and on board several scientific expeditions.
Levin:Oh, his son.
Granelli:He still resides in the United States. He’s also a very distinguished professional and scientist. In 1955, in the same way that sometimes you receive from nature good luck, you are in the right place at the right time. We were coming from Antarctica and we were very much involved in improving our profession totally out of politics, as to sense what was happening in the near future of the country. Our ship was in repairs in dry dock at the time of the revolution, in September 1955, actually without engine power. We didn’t even have artillery on that scientific ship. Our armament was pacific deck winches and oceanographic gear, marine equipment, cranes and holds to carry supplies to Antarctica. We were towed out without engine power to anchor in the Rio de Plata, and on September 16, when the revolution broke, the home fleet sailed towards Buenos Aires and revolted against the Peron government. So we didn’t know at this initial time what was going on. We just remained anchored there, loyal to the elected government, as a sitting duck. And so when revolutionary events became very obvious to many people, the staff — except the Executive Officer Captain Tanco — all of the officers, of course, aligned themselves with the home fleet, which was revolting against the civilian authorities. Our commanding officer did not participate. Our commanding officer protected his crew and ship and didn’t want to get involved. He was trained as a scientist and he had, I would say, very special ideas of staying on his job and protecting an irreplaceable vessel. And of course, I learned at home that if you sail with a Captain, you stay with that skipper. The officers particularly revolted against the Captain. I remained loyal to my Commanding Officer. And that attitude brought me a lot of questions later and trouble. However in the long run I believe everybody was just. So I made my defense to the court martial explaining why I remained with my Captain. I had previously compulsorily sworn my loyalty to Article 32 of the 1948 Constitution. I was taught by my father and grandfather at home when you sail with a skipper, you stay with that skipper. We don’t have any politicians in my family home, I told them. I was apolitical. So it’s just the nature of my trait as a military navy man to follow my Commanding Officer. And that’s what I did. Well, of course, immediately I was replaced and I was sent in detention or something like that to a coastal remote place. So then very early in my life, I learned of the cruelties of, I would say, war on one’s brothers. Really, such events had impacted me. I didn’t recognize the seriousness of the thing that was happening. I was a witness of this train of historical events which restarted the involvement of the Armed Forces in politics.
Levin:How long were you detained?
Granelli:Well, I was transferred to a lighthouse on the Atlantic seashore for a while, until they decided what to do with me. I was too young, low rank, and without any political connections. Maybe I was too much of a fool. But anyhow, I had an impression that they did not know what to do with me — having already a brief but distinguished naval career, seeing that the remedy for that kind of interpreted delinquent attitude was normally sentenced three years in a military prison, which I finally never served, thank God. I was commissioned to do some hydrographic work offshore the Tuyu shoals where the River Plate reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Then fortunately in ‘57 — the Lamont oceanographic expeditions reached here.
Levin:To do some what work?
Granelli:Hydrographic work on swampy land, close to lonely lighthouses. A year later I was transferred to a sort of old, heavy reserve cruiser which was out of commission, useless, and I was just there serving under state of siege conditions without paying, personally, further specific consequences to the 1955 events until 1957, when the agenda and activities of the International Geophysical Year became a reality. Of course our Government and the Navy, particularly, took the challenge of participating. Those geophysical years were born as a continuation of the international polar years. We had at the Hydrographic Office very talented officers who were academically trained in the United States, most of them graduates from Scripps and then the privilege of having the presence of the Lamont Geological Observatory Director, [W.] Maurice Ewing, on board R. V. Vema, three months, in 1957, that very summer.
Levin:Did you meet Ewing?
Granelli:Yes, Yes, because I was actually a participant in the inner circle with professor Ewing. Maurice or “Doe” as well called him. He was really a father to me, very fine person and educator. Hard working, setting an example of dedication. In any event, under any circumstances, he was the first one on call. Very eager always. So I was assigned as a liaison officer. I was an aspiring young scientist — a fortunate observer to listen, learn, and participate in the USA supported Verna 12 expedition in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Levin:In the International Geophysical Year?
Levin:Interesting. Who decided what programs would be accomplished during this year? Was it the government, or the military, or the scientists or the government?
Granelli:Well, in those days, in this particular area due to circumstances that were political, the military had a very strong presence. There had been a previous Presidential — early — election to normalize political life which elected President [Arturo] Frondizi, also a man of Italian stock — his parents were Italian. He was the first generation born in Argentina. A very visionary democrat rather than a powerful president. He did not hesitate to even talk to Che Guevara at the Punta del Este [Uruguay] Inter-American Presidential Conference of 1959. In those days of the cold war it was very, very risky business for the President of Argentina, closely monitored, to talk to a Cuban leader, no? President Frondizi legislated and induced private participation to the oil industry, automobile industry, too, from Europe and America. But of course to answer your question, the military was continuing to have a presence, a pressuring voice participating, actually, in the daily events of the government. So to answer you, really at the Hydrographic Office we were left alone — just to ourselves — to produce whatever agenda would be supportive of Ewing and Professor [Bruce] Heezen’s research.
Levin:So Ewing and Heezen came down to advise as part of this International Geophysical Year?
Granelli:Well, really what happened was that — as I understand, because I was not a physical witness to these events — but the first connections started with Bruce Heezen. And then, simultaneously, Ewing was met and he was really the arbiter. And the man in Argentina who has to be given all the credit was my later friend, and then at that time, my superior, Dr. Luis Capurro. Luis was a graduate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, too. He was a brilliant man, working later on Antarctic work with Admiral Panzarini, a Scripps graduate oceanographer and top polar researcher. And I assume, of course, with Captain Iglesias, who I mentioned before, that they were all classmates at Scripps. So Luis Capurro was really the visible head who took the challenge to the Senior Naval authorities, I would say, with a relatively not too high or important ranking in the navy. He was only a Lieutenant Commander at the time. I believe he then became a Commander a year after. But he was given by the Navy General staff the authority to outline in a local project the ideas that were given by this still unknown American person — Dr. Ewing — at the time. Of course when Maurice came to Buenos Aires, he was a respected World War II scientist, as you know, and also a very handsome looking gentleman. Tall, six feet plus, with a full head of gray hair. Very impressive scientist and mariner. Very hard working — full of stamina. Tough and just. Great ability with his hands — imaginative. Humble, and strong personality. Very inquisitive in his manner of asking questions and his determination for implementing them. Easy going, too, in the way of recognizing the people who were working hard. These people of the “inner circle” were, in one way, the ones who earned the right to speak to him and say things. No matter how foolish they might sound, he would listen to them. He was in that manner a very open-minded person; but very hard driving. He always made an attempt. So we never hesitated to proceed if we had to look to a level of example, excellence and tenacity — just look to the old gentleman. This criteria prevailed with Doc Ewing even in sickness, even on board in terrible weather — on Vema, a very floodable ship, not the biggest in the ocean research world, in the South Atlantic “roaring forties”, and in the stormy South Pacific, always hit by heavy waves. It happened in those days that we had coming as a replacement a very talented skipper for the Vema, a remarkable Canadian “blue-nose” gentleman, Captain Henry Kohler, from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Levin:So you first, that’s how you first got to know Bruce Heezen and Maurice Ewing?
Granelli:Yes. Yes. Very early, I was on the so-called Vema 12 cruise in 1957. In those days we started to discover sea extensions of the land basins — the sedimentary land oil basins of the Patagonia — oil basins under production in Argentina and the new, geologically defined marine oil basins that were sedimentary basins extending from the coastal plains well offshore through the shore and into the continental shelf. Actually, we also started discovering and learning about the first submarine canyons. We didn’t know about that underwater region of our study that so many [canyons] existed. It was a shelf visited by these many features of the seabed geomorphology, and nature’s phenomenal physiographic work over the Continental shelf and slope offshore Argentina’s Pampas.
Levin:And then, I know in 1957 there was sailing in the Vema for the canyons. And were you on that?
Granelli:Yes. I was on that expedition, on that job. I had the privilege of participating on board the Vema. To go out in that task was really the generosity of my American colleagues, to allow me to have my name involved with such basic research of discovery and to use pioneering deep water echo-sounding gear.
Levin:I have a copy right here of the report on the Congo Submarine Canyon.
Granelli:Yes, so you have!
Levin:Yes. It was people like Heezen, [Bob] Menzies, [ED.] Schneider and Ewing, and you, of course.
Granelli:Yes, indeed. Yes, it was. As you know there was even at the time a philosophical discussion about the presence and origins of submarine canyons. The nature of geological thinking in the minds of Professor [Francis P.] Shephard on the West Coast of the United States at Scripps and the thinking of Heezen and Ewing on the East Coast at Lamont were sometimes apart.
Levin:You recognized this difference between them.
Granelli:Oh, yes. Yes. There was no doubt. I thought their questioning attitude was right because it was just lacking a systematic research, say, pursuing of proof, about what was the real truth on the abyss realities: about how these features had been produced on the ocean bottom. We didn’t know then about continental drift or continental plates or plate tectonics on an expanding earth. The concept was undeveloped as of yet. So it became natural to complete an inventory on the floors of the oceans.
Levin:So you hadn’t earlier heard about continental drift really before this time?
Granelli:No. The separation of Africa and South America when you started to look at the coastal geometry matched pretty closely between the southern part of Africa and Argentina, all the way up to from Espiritu Santo [Brazil] to the Straits of Magellan. One time they appeared to have been together. Such conceptual ideas! Some of us didn’t even know what Gondwana was — a rarity which was just one more foreign name placed on the map of the South Atlantic. It was a field of science that was limited to a few, and sometimes the audience was not scientific. We were just ordinary navy men introduced into the scientific community by the presence of these very senior people from Columbia University. And then of course in later years, the Argentine Navy continued geophysical marine research. Sometimes hesitant of the full scientific value, but knowing of the military applications derivable from submarine warfare. A case is the calibration through submarine detonation of the Bermuda and Ascension Island SOFAR [Sound Fixing and Ranging] underwater range, done by the Argentine Navy training sailing ship, Libertad, from Bermuda to Gibraltar [Spain] in the North Atlantic in the summer of 1963.
Levin:Was it Ewing that picked you to go on the boat with him?
Granelli:Oh yes, yes. Actually, what happened, I replaced someone there who became sick and tired and I then went all the way to South Africa — continuing through the West coast of Namibia and Angola. Actually during that leg we discovered the Verna seamount offshore southwest of Cape Town [South Africa]. A short way around, say one hundred and fifty miles southwest of Cape Town, the seamount became a power light for a prosperous king crab fishery. Ships used to go fishing for king crabs all the way to the middle of the south Atlantic, to the Gough and Tristan da Cunha Islands. They had a seamount quite nearby but unknown in the middle of that route between Africa and South America. Now they had the opportunity to exploit these shoals, which were a natural habitat for bountiful crab fish closer to their ports.
Levin:Was it a problem for Ewing — you say that he was very able to listen to people and he wanted to listen to people a lot. But was there a language problem?
Granelli:Well, I don’t believe so, because I think that everybody made an effort, starting with the example of Professor Ewing, of trying harder to break that barrier. And so we were really in the same frequency of dialogues between persons who were looking to understand Nature and the art of seamanship. He was of course addressing people in the Navy, so most of them felt very much allied with him. They would recognize how small the R. V. Vema was, how uncomfortable its living quarters were, and how a senior person like himself, an Observatory Director, would take on the burden of traveling himself as Chief Scientist. He was not just directing and writing his agenda on a desk at lee side, he was on board the Vema. He was on the site on the vessel himself. In those days he was sailing. He was in situ on the site facing the rough cold seas. In those days the vessel was using its sails. She was just sailing on very restricted use of engines. These engines were proper to get into harbor and nothing reliable to be enduring a long exposed trip. Even its endurance — the whole capacity of the vessel was limited. So we really had to keep on our sails and use them.
Levin:So did enough people — well, you spoke English perfectly because of your training. Were there others that spoke as well?
Granelli:Spoken English was a bit limited on the Argentine crews. Their Spanish was even a bit more limited on Vema. Some came joining us early on the site — training language exercises — as did John Ewing, his younger brother. All would make a sincere effort to understand the Spanish, on a basic kind of Berlin school of language venue. But they were really gracious men, too, and a very hard working American staff. So, all respected that these scientists tried so hard. The development of the language barrier advanced every mile at sea. They dedicated their efforts strongly and everybody was aware that they were working towards attaining future good for many people, and the advantages were going to be for the benefit of the country itself.
Levin:And Ewing wanted to place some instruments on some of the Argentine naval vessels. Was that possible?
Granelli:Oh, yes. To the point that, I would add, sometimes we really moved Argentine naval goods and funds in a quasi-illegal manner to support some of the consumable supplies that the Vema and Lamont needed before she got the annual grant from the United States Office of Naval Research in order not to lose the good weather season in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Levin:Really? How did you do that? Fascinating.
Granelli:Well, I don’t know exactly the accounting procedures, but we did trick past a lot of the naval regulations, getting old stored TNT (dynamite) torpedo heads — sawing them to produce enough good sized explosives for the reflection/refraction seismic profiles. Well, this maybe rightly went into our books as spent exercise ammunition in the field, but they were really used for underwater detonations to support Ewing’s seismological work. And at the same time, also, much of the consumable oil that we could gather at ports for use on the Vema before Lamont got the money to pay and take, was given by the Argentine Hydrographic Office to the point of support that Argentina’s Admiralty, through the Chief of Naval Operations at the time, honored them with Distinguished Service medals — recognition naval awards obtained early in the joint program. So Ewing was very, very pleased and flattered to receive the scientific recognition of such a young country. He was later honored as the first winner of the Vetlesen Prize in Geophysics, of Nobel Prize prestige. So all became very excited about these credits and also that we were subjects of contemporary oceanographic history and members on these cruises which were so demanding. But in my case, I had the good fortune of being very close to him and sailing for long periods on the Vema rather than on the Navy ship. It was really a phenomenal education.
Levin:What was that like?
Granelli:Well, really a lot of fun.
Levin:How was it different — how did it compare to sailing on a navy ship.
Granelli:Well, I think there’s no comparison. It was another atmosphere and world. The dialogue and brain storming exchange of ideas was refreshing. Never a dull day on R. V. Vema!
Granelli:Yes. The common human facilities and comforts of the crew and staff were very humble on the Vema. We had continually wet accommodations because of our draft — we were just a couple of feet above sea level. The after deck laboratory was called the “wet lab.” With so much installed underway electronics, always, I would say the whole laboratory was ready to blow up in our faces. And the same happened by using explosives (dynamite) years before we were able to develop safer sources such as air guns and other energy elements. You must know that crude explosives logistically were very difficult to be shipped and moved around at harbor. It was only because of the involvement of navy ships in the area that this explosive cargo was made available on re-supplying ports. We used to carry explosives on deck and in the potatoes bin on the navy vessel that escorted the Vema — this was a two vessel program. Many of the special commercial regulations that should have supervised our fragility and the dangers of having explosives on board were overlooked for such very unsheltered places and unprotected lockers. Of course, dangerous, they were dangerous. But if you knew your trade, it was a controlled danger understood by the participants.
Levin:And I know in the scientific paper that was produced on the cruise, there is the map with Bruce and Marie [Tharp] — the famous map —
Granelli:Oh, Marie is a lovely — such a lovely — person.
Levin:— because you had been involved, of course, doing this kind of work as well.
Granelli:Well, such were the first drawings and visual impressions, I would say, of the kind of rugged physiography of the ocean bottom. Presenting the new maps of covered regions on a dimensional or scaled evaluation of the sea floor was highly better than the present obsolete system. It was a new way of looking at soundings. It enabled Marie Tharp to draw these features in a geologically educated manner and pinpoint events just discovered — it was a phenomenal improvement. Marie had a tremendous scientific instinct — to be able to pinpoint new unknown features, and then of course Professor Heezen would give the geological nature of them. Inquisitive minds, and how far-reaching were their thoughts — discovering and learning more continuously, with creative sound intuition at times about the ocean bottom. Worldwide grouping and defining of physiographic provinces.
Levin:What did you think about the mapping technique? Because, of course, that’s how you started.
Granelli:Oh yes. Well, they were very, very laborious and sometimes exhausting. Because we didn’t yet have the graphic computers to expedite and really process on line those submarine features under survey. And of course the most difficult point of concern was limited location precision obtained at sea. In those days you really had to go in with the sextants and shoot the stars and the sun. The South Atlantic was always very overcast and Vema was a very unstable platform, always hit by heavy swells and storms which are all there destroying a good visible reference horizon. You can have waves on top of you at times. So that was one of the main location limitations. And then also the control of the depths, you see. I had a tuning fork — so my former training in music helped — originally an apparatus of forking and tuning was a way of controlling our frequency to compute sounding depth and multiple reflections at sea.
Levin:Interesting. So you were able to use your music background.
Granelli:Well, yes. We used to count emitted sound pings and some educated ability to plain listening to these returned echoes from the sea floor — whether they were really reflected sound or not. But, a lot of that signal/noise identification during storms is what happened. And, of course, the proper solution came up in the systematic way when the continuous surveys were analyzed. Some of these canyons crossing all these areas of the Southern coast of South America were going on parallel tracks or were perpendicular to the coast. Later, we found them even parallel to the shelf contour depths. There was one particular canyon that — we lost surveying it a couple of times, so we started to coin a name for it — we named it Professor Ewing’s elbow because the manner that this creature of the ocean bottom turned [from perpendicular] to be parallel to the shelf. I remember very well that every night around two, three o’clock in the morning, Professor Ewing would get out of bed from his cabin to look what’s going on, and inspect the wet lab. Here on such an occasion he noticed we had lost Professor Ewing’s elbow. That was a big submarine canyon, quite narrow shaped and more than two hundred miles long. And, of course, Vema was a very slow moving vessel. So he sort of started with acoustics to look around, helping our watch to find it again. And so, “Well, now I can go to sleep. Don’t lose it.” He wasn’t bad to us, or very hard, I would say but at times a bit disappointed with our performance. He thought we still had to use more imagination and initiative and that things could technically improve. But, of course, everything was new underwater territory. We all felt as the Columbus’ of the New World ocean floors! The press at ports of call used to pep us up on that rather gratifying feeling of discovery and knowledge into adventure!
Levin:So after your work on this one project, did you go back to the navy?
Granelli:Oh yes. That particular year — 1957 — we went all the way to Africa and just ran out of fuel on the Vema off the Congo coast. We had a difficult transverse towards North Brazil.
Levin:You ran out of fuel?
Granelli:Yes. Yes. We had, as I mentioned — thank God — we had our sails on Vema. We had a very, very talented person who took over the ship as skipper from Buenos Aires on the Vema, Captain [Valvin R.] Sinclair of the U.S. Navy, Commander Sinclair in World War II. As the former skipper of the Vema died on its way at sea, Lamont sent Captain Sinclair as replacement. He was supporting in New York the marine operations ashore for that segment of the expedition. He was a very interesting and war-decorated gentleman. I always remember when I married in 1963 in New York — with my present wife of thirty-four years — he told me, “Nestor, the secret to marriage, among others, is never go to sleep without saying goodnight.” I always remember this sound fatherly advice and we still do that today. He took command of the Verna here and coming back from the Congo, there was a situation very close to a mutiny on the Vema. We had not recovered, really, and were suffering with our first Atlantic crossing at those high, stormy latitudes all the way from South America to South Africa. No land in sight for over 28 days. Plus all the intense work done in the latitudes offshore of Angola and Namibia, and then the impending trip going back all the way to Recife [Brazil]. Running out of fuel, very far from land, which means no decent warm water for showers, laundry and very little available for cooking. These situations were becoming relatively unsatisfactory to the crew. Dr. Robert Menzies was chief scientist. And so it was the real strong character of Captain Sinclair and his perseverance made it possible to keep us all together. Maintaining discipline on a heterogeneous civilian crew, under exhausting work conditions, severe seas, and out of sight of land is a demanding human task. Not easy.
Levin:Who did the people — they wanted to mutiny against the captain? Or it was just a general mutiny of dissatisfaction?
Granelli:I would say the feeling, the dissatisfaction factor — of course, differing within individuals depending on what jobs they were assigned generally or what was going on. Professor Ewing was not on board. But part of the pressure on people was that we were uncomfortably suffering sustained bad weather. And some of the people, after almost four weeks without seeing any shores, were concerned about the safety of others and our ship’s survival out of easy reach from land.
Levin:Was the feeling directed against Ewing?
Granelli:No. No. It was the general atmosphere. In those days Vema was a Panama registered and flagged ship. So that also put the crew in a very uncomfortable professional situation in connection to the stability of pursuing other work, other jobs or even some considerations for overtime pay, which was continually enforced — overtime was a fact of life. We were living and working always overtime. So that, plus inconveniences of the cold and stormy region, the lack of adequate logistics when in sight of Cape Town — I mean of the Cape of Good Hope — produced this unstable atmosphere. Note that it’s very contagious on a small ship. A situation quite unfortunate on long legs, but most common under similar circumstances as marine history narrates to us.
Levin:Who was it directed against?
Granelli:Well it was really directed to the chief scientist.
Levin:Who was that?
Granelli:At that time it was Professor Robert Menzies, who was a very demanding but talented gentleman. Our work on the Congo Canyon and offshore the Congo River was very involved and of long duration because we were really discovering something which was giving us more factual substance to support our assumptions and the theoretical work on how these submarine features originated and behaved. Not in what manner that they were produced, only, I would say, but in which way they proceeded on the sea floor abyssal plain. Particularly because the floor layers offshore the Congo River had been like the seabed off the Canadian Big Banks — traversed by communications submarine cables. There was the previous evidence of failures on the existing African submarine cables. These phenomena already Professor Heezen had detected in past research. So it was really an area which we had seen and scrutinized throughout, sampling and coring, finding all type of sediments. This extensive unknown deep water canyon was coming from the continental shelf towards the abyssal plain. The core samples were totally mixed up sediments. So this idea of heavy slumped avalanches of high mobility volume and speed on the sea floor was a suspected reality now from our coring evidence. Our capacity for sufficient, geophysical investigation of seismics was very limited at such depths of excess 2500 meters so coring was really an appropriate but patience consuming tool. And coring was a very human demanding, time-consuming on site task, particularly when you reached very deep waters in tough weather. You’re continually rolling and just have to, with a coring tube sampler hanging or bending several thousands of meters down below your keel. We had to know exactly when we were hitting sea bottom, which was also one of the big arts to be learned. We really had to be very alert before the bottom was hit on the canyon floor. If the whole lay of cable became entangled, the core sample and the piston corer apparatus and the actual corer itself were in jeopardy. So that kind of work — with some samples lasting about twelve hours duration — overly long stays at sea on a secluded vessel, under the stress concerning the results, afflicted by the sea waves, with little sleep and rest was very exhausting to everybody physically and especially on deck to the permanent coring crew. Then, I would add to the scientific crew, too, an understandable bad mood prevailed and also safety life concerns. We were, of course, not enjoying at full the beat of the Congo music. Without any big sort of drive results were not easy to obtain. I would say in Italian “avanti ma non tropo” — we were not that crazy about all that work. We were to balance out happy that we were doing new discoveries and were strongly involved in our own magic world attitude — but with the American scientists other people were also suffering because of the long duration of the cruise. Finally, they took all of the replaceable crew back home as soon as that was feasible but home for many was all the way across from Africa again to South America, and all the way back to Recife, which looking at our maps was not that close to New York City or to Torrey Cliff, New York.
Levin:Well, that’s interesting because I don’t know if you were aware that the general feeling towards Menzies in the first place was not that favorable. Biology wasn’t that strong of a component at Lamont. Did you sense that there was something more?
Granelli:No, I hadn’t. I knew he came from the field of biology. He was a very creative, imaginative man. A bit eccentric — he would drag behind him tied to a string a paper-mache figure of a wandering South Atlantic albatross. Funny! Indeed as a manager, a difficult man. He worked to the brink — something he expected from others. A very — at the time — classic oceanographic book which he gave me was The Oceans dedicated to me saying that we had found that events which are described here are not necessarily all true and we must keep investigating them. This demanding, driving attitude of his mind inspired his chief scientist position and it was not a common denominator to be shared by all of us. I certainly followed him with difficulty and of course tenacity. He also gained my respect by looking for the origins of life in the very deep valleys. We didn’t know much about life in the abyss. It took people like Menzies, Heezen, and Ewing in the early 60’s and Captain [Jacques] Cousteau to show the common person what being an oceanographer was. At that time, people didn’t know if you were selling insurance or if you were a physician. But of course Professor Ewing with his science and Captain Cousteau on the media were the ones very much responsible for alerting the common and general public that our professional trade is an honorable one, worthwhile enjoying, attending and supporting for the benefit of mankind. History will remember it took almost the mutiny on the Vema to discover the Congo deep canyon.
Levin:Did the International Geophysical Year give impetus to science in Argentina?
Granelli:Oh yes, yes. Absolutely.
Levin:In what way?
Granelli:In the way of, number one, having persons like Ewing visiting, who later became a well-known scientific personality as an inspiring teacher as well as the scientist who would join us during our summers on board the Vema when it came back after a year of visiting Lamont. To the point that the Navy made a cruise escorting Vema all the way from Buenos Aires up to New York Harbor shooting refraction through the East Coast of South America. An Argentine navy ship, the Bahia Blanca, went in 1957 all the way with the Vema, berthing at the Lamont pier on the Hudson River off Nyack, New York. The results confirmed the oil-bountiful Campos Basin offshore Brazil and other numerous sedimentary basins on the Atlantic Continental Margin of the Americas.
Levin:To help, to collaborate.
Granelli:Yes, the two vessels’ program during the International Geophysical Year expeditions. And one ship would listen to the underwater dynamite detonations and then the other recorded them. The crew would shoot explosives underway over the side, supplying the energy to investigate the bottom features of the ocean floor and what was underneath the sea bottom. In the 1959 summer season we were able to discover what is today called the Malvinas/Falkland basin. Again, out of serendipity, call it — the concept of serendipity defined as searching for something that you’re really trying to find but ignore, then finally discovering what you’re looking for by pure luck. We were shooting refraction profiles. The Argentine navy escort ship was a very sea-going vessel but not sea-worthy under full gale conditions. So the small-sized Navy ship was having difficulties due to heavy weather to keep on track and station. The Vema, being a three mast schooner, behaved as a superb sea-going, sea-worthy vessel. So Dr. Ewing decided just to have them stay almost at anchor at land’s lee side sheltered under the high cliffs on the Atlantic Ocean entrance to the Straits of Magellan at Point Dungeness. This location was discovered by [Ferdinand] Magellan and was named the Cape of the Thousand Virgins in 1520. And they listened with hydrophones to the explosions as Vema then started shooting underway TNT charges on a due East course with the heavy westerly winds of the rolling forties regions on Vema’s aft. The sea floor answered gallantly back until we discovered and found that there was full evidence of a huge sedimentary basin. And we kept on sailing due East and Professor Ewing told us, “Let’s see if we can hit the Moho discontinuity” — the rocks layers from the upper crust transition of the Earth. And of course, we remained there shooting up to three hundred pounds size depth antisubmarine charges. The results amounted to continuous profiles extended for more than 250 kilometers long. In that manner we were able to discover and outline the presence of this new geological province beneath the surface cover of the sea bed which is today a component of a still unknown potential oil/gas region of significant possibilities for commercial development. That kind of hydrocarbon production at sea off shore can be industry supportive in that remote marine area. Shooting went even all the way to the South Georgia Islands and then to the South Sandwich group of Islands. Continuation of Vema’s profiles reached on shooting and investigating the Scotia Sea depths and the very deep trench off the South Sandwich Islands discovered in 1775 by Captain Cook during his second voyage around the world. All the northern South Sandwich group of Islands was discovered by a Czar Peter I of Russia sponsored expedition in the eighteenth century. The sea bottom configuration of that deep physical trench is seismically well alive today.
Levin:Did the Argentine navy consider this might have potential for the oil industry?
Granelli:Well very few, in those early days, in Argentina — it was really a romantic sort of venture because it’s very interesting to note that all these island archipelagos being so relatively unknown by the populace but are historically very close to our hearts. Historically Argentines are told in our grammar school teachings that they belonged to Argentina. And so we all believed that. Of course, a lot of historical supportive events exist — I don’t want to get into the cruel war episode of 1982. So anything that had to do with that part of the Malvinas/Falkland world was welcome — was relieving an incognito, an unknown. No doubt that the islands are very close to South America. And of course our findings continued to enlarge the knowledge of the oceans surrounding them. But of course, we were more on the fold of our American friend’s initiative rather than that of our own scientists. Because the present knowledge then was land based and geologically scanty, and the geophysical understanding of the marine science approach was also non-existent. So for our interpretations we had knowledge still to be accrued — the factual field realities of what we were really looking at. But we were not that naive as to not to be able to suspect and understand that we were really at the edge of something to be discovered, some new submarine territory or new physiographic province. And that trip ended in what was a very heavy weather and exhausting event. Professor Ewing had had some health problems on board the Vema. And one night on my watch at sea — that two or three o’clock customary call when he used to come and look at the wet lab log and everybody’s work and would go wash his hands and come back — Ewing didn’t look or sound right. And so I asked him, “Are you feeling all right, Doc?” As customary, we were in a South Atlantic storm — the stormy summer weather conditions were a continual exposure — it was a continuous episode. And he said, “Well, I’m not feeling right.” And so I walk a couple of steps escorting him to his cabin. He had a test tube. “I have something on my table.” He shows me this test tube, containing his urine. And it was like orange juice. Of course he had an infection, and we were sailing between the South Georgias and the East Falklands, well offshore Port Stanley in the Malvinas [Islands]. And so out of reach that medical help was really very far from anywhere. No medical assistance at all on board. Radios in those days and latitudes were not the best gear in the world. Communications were not easy to complete. Thanks to God that we were close to a Naval Antarctic task force that was operating there in the summer — some from the Argentine Navy. So I called for Navy help. The Navy transport, Bahia Aguirre, was six hundred miles away and we had enough good communications. And I told them, you know, that Professor Ewing has a health emergency. He had an urinal infection. And we won’t be able to get close to the Georgias whaling station on iceberg infected waters until ten days later, and we were sailing towards the South Sandwich Islands which are another ten days off. So this situation on a small hull, unprotected for sea ice conditions, is really almost twenty or so days of navigation before we could get to any land. So the Argentine navy dispatched one of her Canadian-built Antarctic logistic support ships and it went all the way with the Vema to the South Sandwich Islands to Saunders Island, which is a volcano with a glacier hooked up on its summit, vaguely described in 1775 by Captain Cook when he discovered the South Sandwich Islands. And after that we went all the way via the River Plate to Columbia University, as you know. And there on the Bahia Aguirre he had medical help. He really had a very serious infection — dangerously close to get to his kidneys and that would have been the end of his health. But Doc Ewing — he never, never stopped. [Laughter] When there was a very heavy storm we just stopped the engines and put down the sails on Vema and took a long piston core. And so he really set a continuous work ethic example for us: always present during the data acquisition, immediately describing the core, dissecting and opening it, looking at how we were sampling and labeling. He would ask available hands on deck for participation upon core dredge/trawl retrieval from the deep ocean — saving every animal creature or rock coming on deck. All of us around would look at these abyssal samples obtained. We would suggest hypotheses, say things in surprise, and talk about them — discussing what we saw. We found and collected these big spherical rocks at depths over 2,500 meters, known today as manganese noodles. In the beginning we were puzzled when we saw them and we took some sea bottom pictures. We didn’t have a scale to measure or compare the physical dimensions. We didn’t have the proper tools to dredge or drag in and bring them to the ship’s deck — just pictures without scale of the surrounding sea floor. So we speculated if it was some kind of pebble field used by mammals for their digestion — a condition known to seals. Then of course we went back to the Challenger expedition records of the 1890’s and of course we found and read there that they were manganese noodles. The next Vema trip came with the adequate tools, so we had now developed enough capacity to take pictures with a reference scale and with a magnetic needle to show the orientation of the sample over the ocean bed. And that’s how we know today that the manganese noodles existed in the dark and stormy Drake passage between the tip of South America and Western Antarctica.
Levin:That’s interesting. So, at this time a lot of the science was being actually done by the navy.
Granelli:Yes. Well, the industry was not supportive yet of the oceanographic field because there was no funding — really there was no commercial substance, no business. There were not involved the big multinational companies that today support ocean academic research.
Levin:So there were civilian scientists?
Granelli:Yes, mainly in the field of biology and one or two persons from YPF as observers.
Levin:So the navy was giving a lot of materials, instruments, to Lamont?
Granelli:Oh yes, I would say. A lot of the material which we were buying for ourselves, we were sharing them with Lamont. Oh yes and if we did a cruise later or in-between trips of Vema. And we lost so many Nansen bottles in the South Atlantic on oceanographic profiles in the latitudes of the Gough Island — which is located at forty-eight degrees south in the middle of the mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic submarine ridge. And under this project the South African Air Force bravely supplied us at sea with about twenty something packaged parachutes with Nansen bottles and reversed thermometers in the middle of the ocean. And we were able to catch most of the parachuted materials — almost seventy percent of packages that were sent by our friends from South Africa to our gallant Argentine Captain Canepa research ship.
Levin:By South Africa.
Granelli:Yes, I remember it was about the same time of Sputnik in 1957, because we heard Sputnik passing on our radio.
Levin:You were — where did the navy buy most of its materials from?
Granelli:Oh they were bought from the United States, yes. Some reversed thermometers also made from Germany and from Japan, who was just starting fabrication. Of course, we picked them vis a vis the German-made ones which were the best quality type of prestige thermometers.
Levin:And then you would share this when Lamont came down?
Granelli:Oh yes. Yes. It was the physical oceanographic program of Lamont, I would say in the field of physical oceanography — the water mass itself, the physics, the biology, and chemistry. So we come to the times of a sound initiative when Professor Ewing brought Emeritus Professor George Wust from Germany. He started the oceanographic physical program at Lamont. That was in the sixties — ‘63 I believe. Projects later continued by my fellow student Dr. Arnold Gordon with distinguished results applicable to that oceanic region.
Levin:Was this mostly in the field of geophysics?
Yes. You see, the initial flux-gate magnetometer to start continuous tow sampling — revamped by Professor Fernando Vila — who is today, thank God, still alive and in his early eighties — an academic of geography, an authority on the sea in Argentina, a former senior scientist from YPF Laboratories. Also our research relations with YPF from the beginning were very close and supportive. The YPF technical people were very cooperative in the way of giving out their impressions to Dr. Ewing of how they sought — how what they were exploring ashore could potentially expand into the ocean. Actually, I remember the late Dr. Zunino who was the general manager of exploration from YPF. He told Ewing that he had the impression that particular basins such as San Jorge and others extended into the ocean. Because we have oil basins really close to shallow areas, we find the same habitat, the same environment. So maybe they are elongated — extending and protruding in ways other than parallel to the coast into the sea and we have to find the same type of hydrocarbons. Other refraction initial exercises were done in previous years off shore of New Jersey [United States], so marine underway continuous refraction profiling was a new marine technology. Very rudimentary, too. It was also an involved, demanding technique with dangerous and continuous use of high TNT explosives which detonated every three minutes, twenty-four hours a day, every day of the week and every day of the month. And we also had to record it with these kinds of black boxes with galvanometers — obtaining seismograms. And on analogue paper rolls that we were taking concurrently were photographic systems recorded on distorted scales. Even the recorder developed for land use had these types of sensitive electrical contacts which were not water proof and would produce false signals and spikes in the marine environment. So you would begin to feel sick, not just sea sick nausea, but sickness from the equipment fumes. With just a small porthole for ventilation in freezing temperatures on deck, it was sacrificial work. The Argentine Navy, in all fairness, made a tremendous material contribution.
When I recall today — having been retired from active duty for more than twenty seven years, in 1970, and having worked in the private and academic sectors — I am making a comparison and I have to recognize that really they did much more than their call of duty. They showed far reaching vision and for this I have to give credit and honor to the officials — people who then were the senior Navy people. Although they did not fully understand the science involved as they were not trained as scientists, they recognized that there was an oceanic territory, a component geological province that in one way or the other belonged to the future expanded by international law jurisdiction of Argentina: the continental shelf and slope. And what Ewing was doing was good for the future. And Lamont’s staff was also rightly inspiring the young officers, which was also a very important factor. This I had witnessed myself. The external motivation to all of us in our Naval generation was really quite significant. Ewing’s standards of excellence. His realism about nature and the sea. His unselfishness and non-committed questions — if he had to change his mind, he would change it. “If it works, keep it working. If it doesn’t work, change it, use your brains.” He was one of a kind. On our side we were poorly influenced by our Spanish social culture of not working with our hands. Ewing was a very inspiring person too. And of course, he was coming from a senior university with tradition — Columbia. Many of us, even being ignorant as we were of academia, knew that the former president of Columbia University was General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. So we could not ignore things like that. Military sides of questions and history were very present to our people’s minds.
Levin:You mentioned that you were on the ship when Sputnik went over. What was the reaction of people in Argentina to Sputnik?
Granelli:Well, the reactions, I think, were really static — we were spectators of world events — this emerging nation is still too young. I had the impression that this new space event that was happening was a new frontier. It was a welcome thing above us because aside from the sight on the cloudy skies of the solitary wandering albatross always following the Vema, or a navy ship on this venture around latitude forty-eight degrees south on the way to South Africa and back, we had another companion coming every so many hours. Something we could listen to. We didn’t know until we really hit land that it was really a satellite. Of course, very cruel days of the cold war. We were out looking at sea for the unknown areas of the universe, our origins. Now, in this day, Dr. Stephen [W.] Hawking at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom is talking about the influences of black holes, which is very creative thinking.
Levin:But what did you think when it was the Russians that put up Sputnik?
Granelli:It really wasn’t very special because we are a nation in which the Russian community here is well-integrated to Argentina. We even have people who came from German/Russian folk. The ones that Catherine the Great drove in as farmers and settled on the Volga [River] areas. They are blonde and blue eyed with German names, they speak Russian and there they keep their European traditions as well. They have built churches in the Orthodox Eastern rite and architectural style as they have in Russia today. So the only questions, of course, being a Navy man, that started to be asked in ‘57 and ‘59, was the detection and presence of unidentified submarines, and also once in a while we discovered some unknown sizable objects on the ocean shelf. And, of course, Russians were very aware that the Vema cruises were coming in a systematic way every summer. We would see the Soviet trawlers crossing our bow, without interfering, of course, but showing the flag. We had the opportunity of visiting, one time, the Zaria, a magnetic research wooden ship from the Oceanology Institute of Vladivostok [Soviet Union], when calling Buenos Aires. At the time my father was alive — he was a pilot in the Rio de Plata. He piloted the Russian ship into Buenos Aires. The Russians knew Ewing was aboard the Vema. And my father said, “My son is on the Vema too with Professor Ewing. Would you like to reach him?” “Yes.” So one of the first meetings of marine scientists between Soviets and Americans was with Ewing and the scientific gentleman who was on the other side here in Buenos Aires. I went with my car to meet the Russian — Soviet at the time — Naval Attaché. I assume he was not only a navy man but also covered a secret service function at the Embassy — a kind of KGB person. And the American scientists were very surprised to see that he was riding in a Cadillac. [Laughs.] He was using a capitalist car. I’m telling you this is about March 1960. “This is really to understand capitalism” was his comment. The Russian person was a charming individual. In those days and at my low rank in the Navy, we were not involved in politics. The scientific atmosphere was relaxed and I think this happened during the Kennedy administration as the United States started to have more dialogue through some of the very first Soviet oceanographers that came to visit Lamont. I think that chance meeting in Buenos Aires really helped trigger to break the ice. And the prestigious personality of Ewing and his humanity did the rest. But there was no doubt of which side of the line Doc was on. You know, not to anybody. [Laughs] From his old record to his own way of respecting freedom, no? Which is of course as a scientist, the freedom to look for truth again and again. And I think that his charisma helped a lot.
Levin:Do you remember who the Russian scientists were?
Granelli:No. No. I don’t remember because of my tour at being a navy man, in those days I did not dare to go visit a Russian ship, although my father was there, and he was invited with my mother. And I’m the only son. I thought it was prudent not to physically be around.
Levin:Because they were Russians?
Granelli:I think because they were Communists, not because they were Russians. I believe due to the politics involved. Definitely I sensed that the meeting was restricted to these two very senior science people, and it was not my business to be present. Of course, if I would have asked for entry — because Ewing was also driven by the Naval Attaché of the Soviet Embassy here to the meeting — it would have been acceptable. He would have immediately said “Of course” because he was really a father to me and I was very close to him. When we were sailing at sea and he was gracious, as I mentioned to you, he only gave credit to the hard working people aboard around him, and I was one of those people. [Laughs] I think I was really tempted out of curiosity. However, too much of a power leap for me to be around.
Levin:When did you — when did you attend Columbia University? How did that come about?
Granelli:I went there first as a kind of an exchange scientist. In that area, the very same question that you asked me about the language barrier. That Dr. Ewing was very open in connection with the exchange of data. Acquiring interpretive data for everyone to use and exchange. So we really had the opportunity of working closely with our American friends. It was just absolutely another black box for us without having the help of them. So my first venture there, I arrived around the early summer of 1959, I went to the Lamont Observatory as an exchange scientist just to look at the data collected, learn about the data interpretation, see if something of that data was valuable for everything, to us, to use. It was normal to think that something of value should be mailed back to Argentina’s Hydrographic Office in Buenos Aires. So the most significant and sorted out scientific reports and back-up raw data was mailed to Argentina.
Levin:But you had to go to Columbia to get the data?
Granelli:No, I went to Lamont Observatory first for one and a half years. I had to return to attend a kind of training back in Argentina to be promoted and make my naval ranking. Of course, I met the love of my life there, my present wife, who was also a student at the time at New York University. And upon coming back to the States after a year a half, separated by geography from my fiancée, we met again in the United States and we married. And, of course, Professor Ewing was a witness at my side, and our marriage license in New York is signed by him as a witness. So we were married in a lovely Catholic church which is on the Morningside Drive area of Columbia’s campus. We were married by my fellow senior student Father Sergio Su, SJ [Societas Jesu], a distinguished Chinese-Philipino geophysicist.
Levin:I just wanted to make sure that I get, what was it about the data that could not be exchanged, or –-
Granelli:No. No. No. What happened is as follows. The data was exchangeable, yes, oh definitely yes. This was Ewing’s policy — without us asking — it was open. The attitude of Ewing was always very open. Very open. Really, to the astonishment of many, I would say, suspicious people. The suspicion was that these were already censored data. But I couldn’t sense it. I never received instructions from my superiors in the Navy to look at what this American gentleman was doing in a manner of secrecy or espionage or anything like that — totally out of bounds situation. So when it was decided that someone would go there, Professor Vila went and he did a lot of work in the field of seismographs and gravity. Myself acquiring interpretative expertise, plus I’m taking graduate courses, too — initially in a very, I would say, supportive manner without the demands of a full curricula. Until, of course, I had a little more upbringing because my background was not science. So I really needed to put my act together to get the knowledge of more geophysics and much more in the field of mathematics. And then later, the Navy decided that I would go learn and take regular courses in the academic curriculum, at least to get as far as a master’s degree. Which you know, later, they were not given away — only Ph.D.s. The academic requirements were really, really hard.
Levin:What years were those?
Granelli:These were the years between ‘62, ‘63 and ‘64 which I attended regular courses and I was a student of Professor Wust on physical oceanography and of the curriculum. Professor Heezen of course. Professor [John] Nafe, Professor Strahler, Donath, Balloffet and others. It was a lot of fun because I had now two careers: I could enjoy academia, and I was just married. Then I came back and I organized and founded the first small geophysical, marine geophysical divisional chapter of the Navy, which is, of course, becoming more and more important with progress. That had also a very exciting start because there were no buildings or places for geophysics. So I took the punishable initiative, which many times I did [Laughs], of occupying an empty place which was back off the lights of the Naval Observatory in the basement cellar. And I just started to develop a magnetometer shop there. Just crates, tools, and a small desk or something useable as such to keep our equipment and spares and the standard data we were exchanging. And of course we were mainly exchanging with Lamont. Particularly, we were starting to develop an aerial magnetics capacity with an airborne squadron of the Naval Aviation branch. So some of the first, actually aeromagnetic flights down in Argentina were done with equipment brought from Lamont, given to us in a scientific manner of exchange, and flown using Navy aviation aircrafts. Big maggies, flux-gate type — at the time U.S. built — and revamped with the assistance of Professor Fernando Vila, an exchange senior scientist from YPF laboratories.
Granelli:It was the Navy’s Hydrographic Office initial air magnetic experience. The aerial survey was done in the Province of Entre Rios, a project started with the tremendous support of YPF. YPF used to pay for the fuel for our planes — the Navy didn’t have enough funds for such a demanding task as to survey air magnetics. And of course we flew all the way from the tropics of Argentina to Cape Horn, looking at the coast line. It was defining more and more areas of geophysical attraction that we had never seen before, on and off shore. This air work has been the pioneer survey work to support the laws of today’s hydrocarbon privatization, and really the recent affluence produced for exports of the oil industry in Argentina. Many of those field discoveries are related to the early magnetic sites and the potential for hydrocarbons — the pioneer work of Ewing and his colleagues from Lamont.
Levin:When you first went over to New York, of course, there are always cultural differences and difficulties. Was there anyone at Lamont that was able to help adjust you to this life?
Granelli:Well, yes. Yes, indeed. This is a very good question. Well, of course, I had the privilege of being a bit older among my peers. Five years older when you’re twenty-six, twenty-seven or twenty-eight makes a big difference, I would say, in those times in the early sixties. We didn’t have so much television to look at and knowledge access to acquire. We didn’t have the Internet, you know, to store so much information, enabling the gain of local knowledge. It was a venue of a very privileged few. And so, of course, being at sea with Lamont’s staff as I had been, I was not afraid of personalities such as the Director of the Observatory. Now I could notice that he needed all his full ranking at the University. Before I was seeing Dr. Ewing as another regular person with a senior position, but in reference to a very secluded space, wet motion, and the suffering of discomforts on our small research vessel the Vema, and sharing in common the same crude facilities, which were not the best. Plus other professors — devoted oceanographers like Bruce Heezen, and Professor Nafe and Professor [Joe Lamar] Worzel, who were so prominent, and Dr. Menzies and people of such stature. I was readily accustomed to all the City neighborhoods that today we see from Low Library’s imposing architecture to the premises on the Broadway streets so close to the rich heart of Harlem, which not everybody was enjoying, of course. So I was a big City person — the adjusting was done in an easy manner and in particular, Johnny Ewing really helped me a lot. His family — I was still single — was really a haven to call to. Of course, the same with Professor Ewing’s wife, and his home was very close to the Lamont Hall — only a couple of yards away. So I always felt in company. And I seldom went outside of New York City, so the cultural impact I think was more Manhattan than that lovely green forested area of the upstate New York region, the Hudson River hinterland around the Palisades.
Levin:Was it Harriet, Harriet Ewing?
Granelli:Yes. Well, before Harriet, his former wife was also around. I also had the privilege of meeting her. Harriet was a very supportive person of all of Ewing’s work. Harriet was his secretary and a person of his — she would be a confidante, because at sea Doc was continually recording. He was continually recording his findings and sending them back home to get self-advice. Very devoted lady. The long hours she was working was also definitely part of the atmosphere at Lamont, and of everybody close to Ewing. He was a man who had a sense of his own self because he does so much. He was such a patron for all of us; someone who has given so much to science, his nation, mankind, and to all of us. Lamont in the matter of adjusting was becoming more and more international. And that was again the prominence of Ewing. Knowledge and looking always forward, too, were the main motives. It was not race, nationality, or language — it was the common love for science and freedom of research that brought all of us together.
Levin:Of course, Columbia was becoming more international, but it was also becoming more tumultuous with the riots –
Levin:— and all the problems of the sixties. And, of course, there was some violence in the movement, and there was the revolt against secrecy, particularly navy funding and all that. How did you see that coming about?
Well, I didn’t pass through that experience because I was recalled back to Argentina around October, November of ‘64. And then I took my duties in the Navy, served in the Navy again. My promotional command was doing a special project tracking very deep currents in the stormy Drake Passage as a way to understand the heavy deep circulation of the Atlantic Ocean and in particular of the perimeter of the Western Antarctic. So my experience of Vietnam was through Time magazine really. And this revolt against the University was really a very unexpected event, something which I suffered for very dearly because it was my Alma Mater, of course — it’s the same statue that you have on your grounds. And some of my friends asked me the same question, most of them paralyzed in the United States. And most of them were saying, to my way of thinking, the wrong things, or some of them were closer to reality, as my dearest French friend Dr. [Xavier] LePichon. He was a Frenchman born in Vietnam. His father was a senior colonial officer of the French military. And early in those 1963 days, because of the Kennedy administration policies he told me, “Our friends in America are doing the wrong thing. This Southeast Asian culture is too deep. I was born there. My father fought in the colonial wars there. I know the Vietnamese culture and I think Americans are going through the wrong track.” And, of course, history, forty years later, can show the truth of his statement. It was in the early ‘60s, and I couldn’t understand him because this was so remote to me. But he came from a military family. He was very resourceful in the military. His father was in the colonial military in Southeast Asia.
So to come into your question, I never felt that pressure. The only question which I personally — in a political scenario — was a part of was one meeting which I was able to attend with Madame [Ngo Dinh] Nu at Columbia’s campus when she visited there. She resembled to me Evita Peron. I saw that lady’s energy and said, “She sounds like Eva “Evita” Peron speeches.” The same attitude, the same ability and — to some extent — the same presence of power. I attended that public session with her with my wife — we were just married or even dating, I believe — and I saw her, “What do you think?” “I don’t know.” To me she sounded like Evita — her speeches when I heard her on the radio and when I saw her later on the news reels. So that was one historic event in the field of contemporary international politics. And another one — the invasion of the Chinese to the areas of India up in the Himalayas in the Tibet region. I remember still I’m keeping my identification card, being a member of the so-called Indian club. There were many Indian students at Columbia. Several were Catholics. I would say ten or fifteen of them came from the southwestern state of Kerala, which was then — surprisingly — a Communist-run State in India. They had very long family names and whole traditional Christian first names; I understand that this is an area of Christianity where St. Francis of Xavier came to preach — bringing Christianity to the Subcontinent with Portuguese mariners. So my friend from India invited me to their gatherings. He had some friends too at Lamont.
Levin:Was Manik Talwani one of them? I know.
No. No. Manik was a distinguished marine scientist who — I believe — did not get involved with that kind of stuff. These Indian students were more the people in the field of journalism and philosophy, some of them learning Sanskrit — a language, as you know, that was the origin of tongues — they still teach it at Columbia. I used to attend my Russian language courses at the Slavic Department where all these young humanist boys and girls were also studying — learning so fast all of these several Slavic languages whilst I was just trying to pass my basic Russian exam, not really wanting to become a translator at the New York United Nations headquarters or listen to Sanskrit versions or whatever. My friend Ramesh — he was also a very talented student seismologist. He is presently, I think, still the Geophysical Director at Luska, or ready to be retired. He introduced me to some of his Indian friends and so I learned the world geography of this region. Everything to me looked very exotic, but it was so exciting because coming from a military background, my first real exposure to academia was this freedom I enjoyed at the university in the heart of New York’s Manhattan. Also I learned who was Enrico Fermi and about the Manhattan Project in its early days there. And the physics laboratory exercises and electronics freely given to me, without any selfishness — those electronic sets of lab exercises were brought to the ITBA Institute in Buenos Aires, that educational effort was supported by the Navy to start the academic training on electronics at our local university.
So I also had the opportunity of reading some absolutely forbidden history books in Argentina in those days. Our parochial attitude was in this country very elementary and obscure in anything related to Communism. Particularly people in the military were very adamant about these questions. We were at the whims of the winds of the cold war too. So the waves were coming this far. So just by chance, I met Che Guevara when I was a teenager, as he was born in Argentina and for me he was nothing unusual. Until he became a celebrity, or a powerful political person. So the first history book I remember buying was The Life of Trotsky at the University library. Learning that this man organized the red army, I assumed he must have something upstairs. He must be a brain. And he was a minority. He was Russian. He took haven in Mexico. He was protected by American students from Princeton University. I mean not too well protected — so much effort to his custody and support after shooting him. He must be someone worth reading, no? So I got that book and read it. And I found things that were to me totally out of reach. I remember I was packing my books and sending them to Argentina and a good friend said, “You’re not going to bring that book home.” I had a couple of other history books which were completely in the limits of acceptable censored politics in Argentina. I was myself really a special witness to part of local history. But I understand it now, mid-sixties, which was when it was natural. So we know that we were in the ripple effects of the Cold War reaching social turmoil as far south as Chile and Argentina.