Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
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Interview with Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
Gleb Udintsev; August 1, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; military service (1941-1945); Moscow University (1940-1941, 1946-1949); Moscow University graduate school (1949-1952); Institute of Oceanology (1946-1976); International Geophysical Year (IGY); Institute of the Physics of the Earth (1976-1986); Geological Institute (1986-1992); V. 1. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry (1992- ); life in Soviet Russia and after perestroika; funding sources for his research; problems with development of technology in Russia; political and ideological influences on research and publication; problems with his visa and travel restrictions; interaction with foreign colleagues, including W. Maurice Ewing, Roger Revelle, John Ewing, Bruce Heezen, Marie Tharp, Russell Raitt.
Interviews conducted in Russian and translated by Dr. Lynn Visson. All text is translated from the Russian unless otherwise indicated.
Visson:(in English) August 1, continuation of interview with Gleb Udintsev for the Lamont-Doherty oral history project, interview by Lynn Visson. (continues in Russian). We’re now continuing our talk of yesterday. You were talking about how you were working in the Institute of Physics of the Earth with Belousov, when you’d already moved to his institute with your laboratory. What was it like for all of you working there? What did you work on, and how did you continue the research you had previously begun?
Udintsev:Since I had moved together with my laboratory, and since I was on good terms with the Institute of Physics of the Earth and with Belousov, I was able to continue with the same work I had been doing in the Institute of Oceanology. My good relations with Belousov had been established still earlier, during the period of the IGY, when he was the chairman of the Soviet Geophysical Committee. I had been familiar with his work still earlier, as he was one of the first Russian geologists who in his work attached great importance to the study of the tectonics of the ocean floor through study of the topography of the ocean floor. That was in his textbooks, in his journal publications, so I was interested in contacts with him. And during the IGY he was a central figure. Officially, the chairman of the Soviet Committee for the IGY was Academician Bardin, but in fact he was an eminent metallurgist, quite far from earth sciences. In fact, all the work was run by Academician Belousov.
Visson:You just referred to the IGY. Did that year have an effect on the work of your institute?
Udintsev:Of course. The IGY had an impact on nearly all of the institutes connected to the earth sciences, i.e., broadly speaking, geology, geophysics, physics of the atmosphere, geography. It was a marvelous undertaking.
Visson:Did it provide funding?
Udintsev:Yes, yes. At that time the government allocated significant funds for new expeditions, for acquiring new equipment, so it was a big event in our lives. Sometimes now when I hear from my foreign colleagues that well, now, with democratization a golden age of Russian science is beginning, I always (laughs) smile bitterly. Because the real golden age was the post-war period. One could ask why things suddenly got better for science during that period, and I think there were two reasons. First, Russia at that time became a truly great power, and reasons of prestige and politics dictated the need to support science. That's the first reason.
Visson:Old that influence the Russian government’s decision to participate in the IGY?
Udintsev:Absolutely. The Russian government wanted to be on the level of international norms, including in its support of science. And in addition a role was played by the desire to support the development of the military complex, because basic science always has results both for the development of industry and on the military complex. Everyone knows that. So in that postwar period and until the middle of the so-called period of stagnation Russian science developed very well.
Visson:That decision to support the IGY — was that a decision which was unanimously supported, or where there scientists or government officials who opposed it?
Udintsev:(interrupts) It’s hard for me to answer that. I was an ordinary staff member at that time, who only saw the results of that. I had no contact with the leadership of the Academy, so I don’t know. But I saw the results. Very active work began. What was very important was that we not only got financial support. but that marked the beginning of a comprehensive approach to research. Before that there was geology, geophysics, oceanography, geography — all separate — and here through the creation of the Soviet Geophysical Committee they were all in fact united. Comprehensive (in Russian, "kompleksnyj," (complex; means cross-disciplinary: LV) problems were raised, and that was very important. To some extent the institute of Oceanology was already applying a comprehensive approach. I’m sometimes asked why it is called in Russian the Institute of Oceanology (Okeanologiia: LV), when abroad the term "oceanography" (okeanografiia: LV) is predominantly used. For example, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In Russia from the moment of founding of that institute it was decided to call it not "oceanography" but "oceanology," although before that there had been an and oceanographic institute within the system of Gidrometsluzhba (Hydrometeorological Agency: LV). There were institutes of fisheries and oceanography within the Fisheries Ministry.
Visson:So why was that decision taken?
Udintsev:(laughs) That was the view of a group of scientists, the founders of that institute, Bogorov, Zenkovich, Zenkevich, Shtokman, Dobrovsky, Usachev, Bruyevich and others, that we now have the capability to implement a comprehensive approach. That's the first reason. To make the distinction from "oceanography," which was a less "comprehensive" science. The most important thing was the distinction in the ending. "Okeanografia" — "grafiia" means description. "Okeangrafia" means study. We thus wanted to emphasize the institute wouldn't be describing, but rather studying the foundations, the core of phenomena. That was the approach.
Visson:How would you compare this approach — a more integrated, comprehensive one, with the approach in America and abroad?
Udintsev:Basically it's the same thing, though they don't use that term. But in essence the Scripps Institute, Lamont and Woods Hole of course use a comprehensive approach. In the Institute of Oceanology that approach was the core of all work, because we got a large vessel, the Vitiaz. And that ship, with what were called "comprehensive" expeditions, had the participation of scientists of all fields of specialization in those expeditions. That was very interesting. That approach has its minuses, which we later got rid of, when we had more specialized expeditions. But at the early stages that was very important, that on the ship's deck scientists of the most varied fields were meeting each other for discussions. There meteorologists, hydrophysicists, biologists studying plankton, benthos, fish, the chemistry of the water and sediments, geophysicists — that was the comprehensive approach. The problem was that when on one ship a lot of scientists from different fields are at work, each one needs time for his work. It's hard for them all to work simultaneously. Some types of work are conducted simultaneously, but most require that while they do their measurements or different types of sampling the others not interfere. Later they can compare results, since they’re doing them in the same place: first, geophysical measurements, then geological, etc., all in one place, and it’s very interesting when it’s possible to compare them right away, to discuss the results, come to conclusions as to which phenomena are impacting on each other. That’s very interesting. Because at first we needed these comprehensive overall studies of the ocean, and later we needed to specialize. But then we had to reject this approach, after we’d carried out our first studies on the ocean, because we needed more time for each individual type of work. I was fortunate to have been the chief of the first specialized geological-geophysical expedition, and could demonstrate the advantages of this method. That was in 1954. But live gotten off the subject. We were talking about Belousov.
Visson:Yes, but just to finish up — you mentioned the additional funding provided by the IGY. How did it impact on your contacts with foreign colleagues?
Udintsev:It had a great impact. We had an opportunity for a very extensive exchange of correspondence, offprints, materials themselves — even unpublished materials, and that’s very important.
Visson:Did you also provide such materials?
Udintsev:Yes, of course. There was a system of exchanges. The SGC (Soviet Geophysical Committee) had a center for the collection of geophysical data. The same thing was established in America, and these centers both gathered data and helped in their exchange. There were special funds for sending such materials, for their preservation and systematization, so great opportunities arose right away.
Visson:Do you think these were successful exchanges?
Udintsev:Very successful. If on the high levels of politics there was distrust between various political groups of various countries, the scientists were free from politics. They immediately sensed that all sides were perfectly open in their approach to this.
Visson:Can you cite some specific examples of such exchanges or data?
Udintsev:The fact that we started exchanging depth measurements, and that we started exchanging maps. It was very helpful to me that I could ask my partners Bill Menard or Tony Laughton or Bruce Heezen to send me various maps. I got them right away, with no delays. I also tried to send them everything possible. Even in those cases when the censors had doubts as to whether it was possible to freely send maps, the fact that our partners were sending the maps helped me convince our censors. After all, they're sending us their maps, so we’ve got to send them maps on the same level…That convinced them.
Visson:How was that system of censorship organized? In your institute, or at another level?
Udintsev:It was a rather complicated system, since on the one hand it took place at the institute, but also in the Academy. And there were also some higher bodies. What we were sending had to meet the requirements concerning state secrets. But we were able to exert a certain influence on that policy. Sometimes the censorship was excessively careful in trying to play it safe. It laid down excessively severe demands. And there were some grounds for that, since of course so-called "spymania" did exist in Russia, and there were cases when people suffered because they had been careless in handing-over materials which were considered classified. But the point was where to find that limit — what was harmful to the interests of the country, and what was not.
Visson:To what extent did the censors understand science?
Udintsev:Of course — uh – they didn’t understand it very well. The same thing happened in literature — they didn't understand it well. Since Pushkin's time the issue of the level of culture of the censors was very important. And here, too.
Visson:During expansion of your contacts during the IGY, did you have contacts with Chinese scientists?
Udintsev:Yes. During the IGY we had contacts with Chinese scientists, but I didn't have a chance to particularly develop relations with China. Because the Chinese specialists who participated in our expeditions were not in my field of specialization. I don't know why, the Chinese side decided that. They had a major oceanographic center in Qingdao, and is primarily sent to our ,expeditions scientists in other fields. During the IGY our geophysicists and geologists who worked on land had very active contacts with China, but not in the ocean. Then all of that broke off with the Cultural Revolution. I even heard that the Chinese scientists who had worked in our country were arrested and sent for. reeducation to the countryside. All of that was very similar to what happened in our country at the beginning of the 1920s.
Visson:After the IGY there was the second international Oceanographic congress in 1966 in Moscow, and there had been the first around 1959. How important were they for your international contacts?
Udintsev:Such congresses were very significant, but they were important at that time. Then there were so many of them that it was hard to really work at those congresses. I think the same thing happened with the Oceanographic Congresses as with many others. At first they attracted a great deal of attention, and then they became less significant. The first Oceanographic Congress was right after the IGY, in 1959, in New York. I didn't go to it. I was (laughs) being somewhat punished. After one of the expeditions on the Vitiaz, as we say, “my visa was closed.” I’d had a falling out with the assistant for political questions (pompolit: LV) on the Vitiaz — now they don't have them, but then they were required on all the ships. You could call that a commissar. Unfortunately most of these commissars on the ships were not very cultured people, very power hungry, they enjoyed exercising their power over people, and it was very important to stay on good terms with them. And I once had a falling out with one of them. He was a very bad person. He avenged himself on me, and for several years after that expedition — in 1957-58 — I didn't have the right to go abroad. That's why I didn't get to the First Oceanographic Congress.
Visson:What was your quarrel about?
Udintsev:(laughs) Quite a comic story. He was a great admirer of the female sex. Once one of our waitresses — right in front of me — started crying. I asked her what the matter was. She said, "I’m going to have to go have a rendezvous again with that pompolit. I was outraged and aid to her, "You can protest." She said, "Yes, but he can block my getting any further visas. One can't prove anything.” Then at the first opportunity I said to him, "I didn’t know that you were up to such vile things here. I think you should stop.” He was silent, but when the cruise was over I found out that my access to visas to go abroad had been cut off. (laughs). For several years I couldn't participate in expeditions or go abroad. The Second Oceanographic Congress., however, played an important role in my life, because, as I said, the results of my expedition to the Indian Ocean, and the rocks I obtained from the upper mantle, were of great interest to Academician Vinogradov. He then was responsible for the organization of the Second Oceanographic Conference in Moscow. I was entrusted with — and that was a great honor — giving a paper at the plenary. The paper was a success, and that served to enhance my authority and the support rendered me. And my work as a whole, on the expeditions and the publication of books and articles, had led to two state prizes and three medals.
Visson:Were there scientists from Lamont at these two Congresses?
Udintsev:Yes, absolutely. Bruce Heezen and others were there. I think Maurice and John Ewing were there. There were a lot of people, and a lot of people from Scripps. Of course, the paper I gave there was very helpful. But I seem to have trouble here getting back to Belousov.
Visson:Sure, let’s do that.
Udintsev:Belousov played a very large role in organizing the IGY, and he was also interested in our results. He supported me and we had a very good relationship. When I had to save myself and leave the Institute of Oceanology, he supported my wish to work in the Institute of Physics of the Earth, because he was in charge there of a department which was in keeping with my interests, the department of geophysics of the seas and continents. My very close colleagues also worked there, including Elena Petrovna Kosminskaya, Sergei Mitrofanovich Zverev, people with whom I had worked very closely during the IGY and the following expeditions.
Visson:What was your title in the Institute of Physics of the Earth?
Udintsev:I was the head of a laboratory, the laboratory with which I had transferred there.
Visson:Why did you leave that institute — of the Physics of the Earth?
Udintsev:Work there was fine, and there didn’t seem to be any reasons to leave. And the administration of the institute supported my desire to continue the marine expeditions, though that institute had no ships. But they supported my requests to the President of the Academy of Sciences regarding the allocation of funds — and considerable funds — to lease ships. We carried out several expeditions there on ships which — we leased from the Hydrographic Service of Glavsevmorputl. So everything was fine. But then the time came when the Academy of Sciences took a decision to build specialized ships for marine geological-geophysical work. Considerable funds were allocated for that purpose. Construction of the vessels began. Then the Academy President, Academician Alexandrov, who was very positive about our work, including my work — I twice had long conversations with him — he was interested in my work, supported it, and allocated funds for it — but here it became clear that if special ships were being built, then why lease ships? I was told that no more funds would be made available to lease ships. Work would have to be done on those new ships. At first, it was assumed that one of those ships would be given to the Institute of Physics of the Earth. But the Institute director, Academician Sadovsky, said to me, "You know, I have such headaches with the network of seismic stations on the territory of the USSR, that it’s just too much to take on another headache in the form of a ship." He refused to take the ship. The ships were taken by the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and by the Geological Institute. I had good relations with both institutes. But I was invited by the director of the Geological Institute to move to them. It was an amusing situation. A few years before that lid quarreled with him.
Visson:What year was that?
Udintsev:That was at the end of 1985 that he offered me to move. We had worked together on one expedition, and the director of the Geology Institute, Academician Peive, was a very strong-minded administrator, but he wasn’t the chief of the expedition; I was. Academician Peive had his own group, which found it a bit offensive that I was the Chief of the expedition. And they kept egging him on to throw his weight around. And there was friction on those grounds, because I kept insisting on my ideas; I had my own program; and I couldn’t change that at the whim of a person who was higher-ranking — an Academician. I was then just a doctor of science. So relations, were exacerbated, and after that expedition Academician Peive was very angry at me and said he didn't want anything to do with me. But here he suddenly invited me. I said to him, “Alexander Vladimirovich, how can I go work with you? You, after all, cursed me out.” “Well,” he said, “there's an old Russian proverb: 'Who recalls the past, may he lose an eye. Right now I need you. So I’m inviting you to move.” Here I needed to take a decision. It was a complicated decision, because Belousov, who had saved me at a difficult point in my life, when I left the Oceanology Institute, was on very bad terms with Peie. In fact, there were two camps. Unfortunately, human relations are always very complex. One group was headed by Belousov in the Institute of Physics of the Earth, and the other was headed by Peive, and my move looked like a shift from one of the warring camps to the other.
Visson:Was this hostility based on political or scientific reasons?
Udintsev:Purely scientific. My purely subjective opinion is that Belousov was a lot more talented, better educated, more productive, the author of Cilot of books and interesting ideas. I think there were less capable people -on the other side. That's always the case — less capable people are envious. Like Mozart and Salieri. At that point everything was aggravated by a very hated discussion about the tectonics of lithospheric plates. I'll return to that later. That move to the Geological institute from Belousov's institute was politically and ethically a very complicated decision for me. For Belousov it to some extent looked like betrayal and ingratitude for having saved me at a difficult time. He also didn't understand the real reason for my wish to move. He said, “Why, for your science, do you absolutely have to drag wet ropes around a deck?” I answered him that studying the ocean without work on a ship was impossible. I didn't see the point to it. "How come?" he said. "After all, I’m doing it.” But at that point he was working at a desk; in the past held worked a lot in the field and had organized primarily land expeditions, not only during the IGY, but later. He organized a wonderful expedition to study the East African rifts, and one in which I participated on Iceland and the mid-Atlantic ridge. But I think he didn't understand the importance for people of my mindset — to do the study yourself. For me that's very important, because if I have my own original material in my hands, I can react critically to the publications of other scientists; I know what they have that's correct, what are the hypotheses, what is just theorizing. That's very important. That's why I have a critical attitude to those people who work on the ocean and don't participate in marine expeditions. I tried to explain that to him. But I understood that there was also the element that I was going off into a camp· hostile to him. Frankly, I was a bit ashamed of what I had done. But it was a question of whether l’d be able to work on a ship or not. The institute of Physics of the Earth was no longer getting funds to lease ships, and no one was planning to invite us just like that to work on other ships. So a decision had to be taken. Perhaps I should have gone not· to the Geological Institute, but to the Institute of Geochemistry, which also had a ship, and where the director was friendly to Belousov. But there were already people who were actively working on a ship, and they were somewhat jealous regarding my possible move. Human relations have a very strong impact on all this...I understood that I would not be positively received there, at that time, and therefore went to the Geological Institute. But I was a bit upset, my conscience. (?) was bothering me because l’d left Belousov though — he's dead now — think he was one of the major geologists, a lot more important than those scientists who were in the group in the Institute of Geology. He was an outstanding scholar and a man of very strong character, very principled and unusually honest in his — views, which did him a lot of harm. In many cases, when people are diplomatic, it helps their careers, etc. He never gave in; he stood up for his beliefs, based on his own experience. And for that I had enormous respect for him.
Visson:"How long did you remain in the Geological Institute?
Udintsev:I worked there for a rather long time, and left — I went to the Geological Institute in 1986, and left in 1992. When I decided to go to the Geological Institute from the Institute of Physics of the Earth, Belousov — though he was offended by my move — was still nice to me. He said, “Gleb, where are you going? You’re going to a group of bandits. I can tell you what will happen to you. After a year or two they'll take away your laboratory. And then after a while they'll simply kick you out, because those people are hostile to everything that you and I have in common — that is, scientific honesty, decency, independence of thinking — they won't forgive you that there.” That's what happened. I had barely moved to the Geological Institute when the director of the institute who had invited me, Academician Peive, who in fact was honest when he said, “WeII, we quarreled but I’m not letting bygones be bygones, I’d barely moved when he died. There was a completely different administration when I came. At first the new director treated me quite well.
Visson:Who was he?
Udintsev:Petr Petrovich Tlmofeev. He was quite positive. But some time later, for reasons of age, he had to be replaced as director., And another person came in, who was in that group of Peive's which had quarreled with me. At that time I was a staunch supporter of the theory of the tectonics of lithospheric plates. They held to a different point of view, opposed to that. We had heated arguments, in which I perhaps sometimes too sharply — and that humiliated them — stated my views:... I didn't know how to do that... My tongue (laughs) is sometimes a bit too free…And the first thing the new director wanted to do was to replace me as head of the laboratory. The excuse was my age.
Visson:And who was the new one?
Udintsev:The new director was Academician Knipper. He had been on the expedition with me and Academician Peive. He wasn't an Academician then, but he had been a party to our conflict. While Peive decided to forget the past, he remembered it that time I was... quite getting on in years. My life went very fast, headlong ... but after all, l’d spent five years in the army. Therefore I was older than a lot of my colleagues in comparable posts. In 1983, I was already 60. That’s a critical age... lt's considered that it's not desirable to head a laboratory at that age. It’s considered that it’s not desirable to head a laboratory at that age. I was told, you know, you’re pretty old, time to make way for young people, so you'll be replaced. And I was replaced by a very young man — practically a boy — who’d practically never worked at sea — that was very insulting to me. Nevertheless I still hadn’t decided to leave. But the first of Belousov’s prophecy had come true. What kept me from leaving was that they kept giving me the ship for expedictions. In 1987 I had an expedition, and in 1990 and 1992 — all of that allowed me to stay on.
Visson:No problems getting visas?
Udintsev:No, no. Well, there were a few problems. In the Institute of Physics of the Earth I had problems with that all the time. And only thanks to Belousov’s and Papain’s efforts did I get permission. Here things changed a bit. The author of those denunciations about me, Professor Monin of the Institute of Oceanology, because of his dictatorial ways had outraged the people in the Institute. He was not reelected as director. Therefore, his denunciations — now that he was no longer director — were no longer so significant.
Visson:What were the contents of his denunciation?
Udintsev:That I was an American spy. Once he wrote that I was an Israeli spy. (Laughter). Then an American spy. Papanin told me — when he had gone to bat for me — that a KGB member had told him, “We all know that it’s nonsense. But it’s written down there — and we can’t just refute it. That is hard to refute.” And the director of an institute of the Academy of Sciences carried a lot of weight. For example, when I moved from the Institute of Oceanology to the Institute of Physics of the Earth, I had to get a visa (official stamp LV) from the legal department of the Academy. They said, “What are you saying – that the director of the Institute could lie?” I said “And why can’t he?” (laughter). But, hierarchy is very important in the Academy of Sciences. In 1990 the director said to me that he had to fire me because I was too old, and wasn’t needed. That was very difficult for me, because I’d been working for almost 50 years in the Academy of Sciences. I didn’t think I deserved to be fires. I decided it was best to leave, and talked to the Academy Secretary, Academician Sokolov, with whom I was on very good terms. He was very sympathetic, saying that he understood and that I should leave. In fact, however, he spoke to the director, sharply calling into question his decision. As a result later the same evening the director called me and said, “You know, I got very worked up about this; let’s forget it. Stay here.” So I stayed on working there. But a year later he got to it again. I was just presented with a piece of paper to sign, an order from the director of the institute to fire me. All that was left was to go to another institute. So I went there – again, with my laboratory, to the Institute of geochemistry. They also had a ship. Again, getting back to Belousov with accusations that he was trying to play the role of a dictator in science, to use the influence of the Party leadership for those purposes, and was compared to the Academician Lysenko. And that his negative role made itself felt in the discussion regarding the new theory of tectonics of lithospheric plates, and the previously held view that the development of the ocean was taking place in a different way, a view which was supported by Belousov. That point of view, which was reflected in a number of foreign publications, is totally incorrect. Belousov in fact did not share the views of the supporters of the theory of the tectonics of lithospheric plates.
Visson:Could you explain a bit what the dispute was all about?
Udintsev:The tectonics of the lithospheric plates is the notion that the tectonics of the earth is the result of the movement along the earth’s surface of large tectonic plates. It appeared around 1967-68 — no, earlier, in 1963-64. Prior to that all the geological-geophysical theories were based on the theory of geosynclines. It was assumed that the oceans either had existed from the very beginnings of the earth, or were formed as a result of the submersion of the continents - this was called oceanization. Belousov supported the concept of oceanization. That concept was also supported by many German geologists, including Stille, a major geologist, and by a number of American geologists. But back in the 1920s Alfred Wegener, an Austrian geologist, suggested the hypothesis that the development of the oceans took place as a result of the separation of continents. That was always a tempting way of explaining the origin of the Atlantic ocean, because the contours of the shores of Europe and Africa on the one hand, and North and South America on the other are very similar. So they could be separated and that would create the ocean. But these ideas emerged periodically, had their supporters, and then there was a loss of interest in them. These ideas were far from new. Ideas of the separation of the continents had been proposed a long time ago. That had been going on from the middle of the last century. Then that hypothesis was forgotten, but as a result of the intensive development of marine geophysical studies, the idea reemerged in the 1960s.
Visson:What was the attitude to that theory of the Lamont scientists?
Udintsev:The first who came out in support of the separation of the continents was Harry Hess, a major scientist from Princeton University. In 1961 at the tenth Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu, he gave a paper stating that the development of the ocean was a result of spreading of the ocean floor coming from the rift zone. Harry Hess is a very respected scholar, but most of the people in the room smiled. Right after him a paper was given on a similar — but slightly different subject — by Robert Dietz — also a major scholar. Robert Dietz was then either at Scripps or at the US Navy Electronics laboratory — I’m not sure. He stated the same ideas, and again people smiled — they didn’t have much confidence in that. But a year or two later ideas were formulated that the development of the of the oceans is the result of the separation of lithospheric plates. A large role here was played by the idea proposed by two British scientists, Vine and Matthews. They discussed the results of magnetic surveying, and concluded that linear magnetic anomalies —
Visson:(English) Tape III, August 1, 1997, continuation of interview with Gleb Udintsev by Lynn Visson.
Udintsev:(in Russian) They decided that the linear anomalies of the magnetic field in the oceans were the result of the fact that in the rift zones as a result of the separation of lithospheric plates there is a new formation of the basalt stratum of . the earth’s crust. These basalt outflows going through the cracks of the rift are magnetized, retain the magnetism of the magnetic field of that time, and as a result of this kind of conveyor movement to the side of the rift, there is a preservation of the anomaly of the magnetic field, and according to its age the age of the earth IS crust can be determined. These ideas were warmly welcomed, on the one hand, by many scientists all over. This coincided well with the measurements of the heat flow from the earth’s interior going through the ocean floor which had been done at Scripps by Dick von Herzen and Roger Revell, and with the ideas of Edward Bullard of Cambridge, who also worked on these measurements, and with the computer comparisons of the contours of the continents on both sides of the Atlantic also done by Bullard. It coincided with the ideas of seismologists at Lamont, such as Lynn Sykes, who proposed that under the island arcs and margins of the continents there occur down movements of subduction of oceanic lithospheric plates compensating for the spreading from the rift zone. At the same time there were some doubts, in particular those of my colleague and friend Bruce Heezen, who in those years supported the idea that the development of the rift zone was rather the result of a very moderate expansion of the earth's body. Bill Menard at Scripps also thought that the rift zone was rather a reaction to the development of the continents, of the continental blocks, and was not so much spreading as submersion along the ring around the continent. So originally the attitude towards this was rather cautious. But many were very enthusiastic. When I was preparing my expedition to the Indian Ocean in 1964, I learned that very interesting work in support of the theory of the tectonics of lithospheric plates was being done at Lamont by a French graduate student, Xavier LePichon, who was a graduate student of Maurice Ewing's. One of my colleagues, Dale Krause, from the University of Rhode Island, wrote me an enthusiastic letter and sent me a publication by Vine and Mathews on magnetic anomalies of which I was still unaware, and strongly suggested that we work on developing this concept during the expedition. I then was literally all fired up over that idea; I very much liked that concept. It had one very attractive feature, because it gave a unified explanation for this entire geological phenomena. It was like the philosophical stone of the alchemists, you know, like the mandragora root, something which explained everything. That ability to explain everything was terribly attractive. So I considered that one of the major objectives of the Indian Ocean expedition was to obtain data about the structures of the rift zone. That was successful and that was when we got the first samples of the rocks from the earth’s upper mantle which made up in the rift zone, and which we all — and I too — at that time considered as a result of the horizontal displacement and pulling apart of the lithospheric plates. I got very involved with all this, started publishing works on it. I had a paper at the Second Oceanographic Congress, and I tried to convince everyone I could in Russia of the justification for these ideas. But in Russia these ideas encountered a hostile reaction, because the majority of Russian geologists had not worked in the ocean. They had worked on land. The geological structures of the territory of Eurasia and the USSR don’t fit well into this concept at all. So the concept was adamantly opposed. I tried to persuade Academician Vinogradov of this, but he was also very cautious. He supported other views. I tried to convince Belousov, whom I considered one of the leading specialists in tectonics. He also was opposed to the idea. But I sensed a certain interest — though not an inclination to support the concept — among the geologists of the Geological Institute. The director of the Institute, Academician Peive, and the group of scientists around him, were wavering towards the idea of plate tectonics. That was why I invited Academician Peive and his group on the expedition; since I at this time believed in the idea, I wanted to get them to also back it. It was a very interesting expedition because we decided to organize on the ship a kind of scientific discussion club. We not only worked, but literally every day held meetings of that "scholarly council" and gave reports on various tectonic theories.
Visson:What year was that?
Udintsev:That was 1970-71. That was very interesting, and the group of geologists from the Geology Institute was strongly opposed to this new concept. And we had really bitter debates. (Laughs). As happens with scientific discussions — very heated. On that expedition I had my assistant, who shared my views, Oleg Sorokhtin. He's still working in the Institute of Oceanology and is doing a lot of work on the theory of the tectonics of lithospheric plates. He and I were very active there in speaking on this subject, and our opponents were the geologists from the Geological Institute. But I wasn't able to convince anyone (Laughs). But that was 1971. Then in 1972 a very important event took place. The General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics took place in Moscow. I was not at that Assembly, as at that time I was on another expedition to the region around Iceland. Here l’d like to add that the expedition in which Academician Peive participated ended rather sadly for me. At the end of our work, we were continuing seismic studies with explosions. After four months at sea, there had been so many explosions that the people who were carrying them out apparently had to some extent lost their sense of caution. Russell Raitt from Scripps was on that expedition, and Australian scientists — there were a lot of foreign scientists. We were working in part together with a ship from the University of Hawaii; Alex Malahoff was in charge of the work there. It was a kind of international expedition, but that had also been done earlier on the expedition to the Indian ocean. Anyhow, at the end of the expedition one of the people doing the explosions was careless, and the explosive charge went off in his hands, killing him. On my return from the expedition legal charges were brought against me. The accusation was that to some extent I was to blame for that explosion, because of violations of technical safety procedures. I was in an extremely difficult situation, because this was the first demonstration of a hostile attitude to me by the director of my institute — the Institute of Oceanology. He started to insist that I should be severely punished. And then suddenly the prosecutor in charge of the case — it was a criminal case — said to me that the director was insisting that I be sentenced to at least eight years in prison camp for my carelessness. But the prosecutor understood that I was not to blame, because the rules for technical safety procedures are very clearly spelled out — the rules for conducting work with explosives — and it turned out that the blame — if one can talk about blame — wasn't mine, but that of the man who was doing the explosion. There was yet another person on the ship, who was in fact responsible for the conduct of the work with explosives. But I had to stand up for him in every possible way, and that played into the problem. He was a good colleague of mine, an acquaintance, and a Jew. At that time the attitude towards the Jews of the Party organizations was rather critical, and I couldn’t justify myself by demonstrating that it was his fault. On the contrary, I had to defend him, because I understood that ethically all this would have been very bad if lid started dumping everything on him. So I did all I could to defend him. He had been sent to our institute by the Ministry of Geology, and the Ministry was also defending him. So it turned out that everything was being dumped on me. And the director was also dumping everything on me, even though the prosecutor said, “You’re not guilty of anything here.” She gave me some advice. She said, I’ll give you the list of questions you’ll have to answer, and that will help you clear yourself, and at some point will lower the tension level. But — most important — try to go abroad. Ask your bosses to send you on another expedition abroad. That will allow for putting a stop to the case.” Because in Russia at that time the leadership was terribly afraid of any cases of defections abroad. To leave a person who had gone abroad confronted with legal charges was tantamount to pushing him to defect. Therefore she said to me, “lf you now go off on an expedition abroad, the case will automatically be closed so as not to create the threat of a defector.” So I went to my adviser, Vinogradov, and said to him, “Alexander Pavlovich, help me. I’m not guilty. But I can't accuse another man. I can’t accuse the man who carried out the explosion” — and in fact he was to blame. The explosion of the charge took place by lighting a Bickford fuse, and the work was being done on the deck under a very bright sun. He lighted it, and didn’t see that the fuse was burning. He said to his colleague, “I think the fuse hasn't lit.” The colleague said, “Throw it overboard,” and he objected, “No, it's not burning.” But it was burning. Of course, that was carelessness, and a gross violation of the rules. But it was said that all of that should have been watched over by the person in charge of the explosions — my colleague from the Ministry of Geology — and by me — that was the chain of events. But since the prosecutor — a woman — understood that I was not at all to blame she gave me that advice, and Alexander Pavlovich immediately sent me off on an expedition to Iceland. And that closed the case. Although, after my return the Institute director tried to reopen the case. But that then didn't work.
Visson:You had said that you had been in Iceland during that conference of the International Union of Geodesy.
Udintsev:Yes, it was at that time. In 1972. In the summer of 1972 I went off on that expedition, and at that time the General Assembly of the IUGG (International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics) was meeting in Moscow. There were a lot of Russian and foreign scientists at that conference. The Russian geologists and geophysicists saw that the overwhelm ing majority of the foreign scientists had accepted the new concept of the tectonics of lithospheric plates. Since those scholars didn’t have their own data to judge what was good and what bad, they simply decided to take the side of the majority. Those people who only a year ago had been arguing with me suddenly turned around. But not all. Belousov and his students said that they could not accept that, because from their point of view that contradicted very strong data of land geology. And they held to their former point of view. Here, the group of scientists which had been for a long time hostile to Belousov, because he was so blunt, sometimes abrasive, and intransigent, — he sometimes could be very rude — they took advantage of that and started accusing him of being a reactionary, of holding to obsolete views, that he was impeding the development of Russian science. At the same time — and I’m afraid this may have been initiated and stimulated by a group of Russian scientists — they started saying to many of their partners in the West, “Look, a new Lysenko has appeared. He’ll slow down the development of positive science.” Some foreign author — I don’t remember whom — started publishing articles showing Belousov as a protégé of the Communist Party — he’d never been a Party member and had never been involved with the Party leadership. That, like Academician Lysenko, he was trying to crush the progressive movement in science. That was very unjust. I remember, my colleagues and I said that he ought to speak out to refute that. But he said, “No, I won’t condescend to descend to the level of such things.” And he didn’t speak out to refute these totally unjust accusations. But the whole matter was really exploited in Russia, and those foreign publications ,found a response. I was often asked by foreign colleagues whether Belousov was some kind of a dictator. I said that that was nonsense, and he wasn’t any kind of dictator. But fortunately, many foreign scientists, including American ones, understood all this. At that time Belousov was invited to give lectures at Lamont. He worked at Lamont for a whole month. The then director, Manik Talwani, had invited him. He had great respect for him. He was much respected because he stuck to his views. He didn’t change his views just because the majority held to different views. He carefully studied the data cited in favor of plate tectonics, and considered that in some cases they were applicable and in others were not; but his major argument was that this was not applicable to the enormous geology of the Eurasian continent, that it was not a universal theory, but rather the result of a very formal solution to the question. At that time to some extent I started to be swayed by his influence. I started taking more seriously the data we were obtaining. Here I came to the conclusion that plate tectonics was by no means an ideal solution to the question. In studying the materials obtained from the Indian, and then the Atlantic ocean, I came to the conclusion that spreading of the rifts is not responsible for the entire surface of the ocean floor, that we were encountering a phenomenon which was not homogeneous in its origin, a heterogeneous structure of the ocean floor. I was very attracted by the idea developed by several authors and in part supported by Bruce Heezen during the early period of these disputes, that the development of the ocean floor is the result of a very moderate expansion in the volume of the earth, accompanied by an upwelling of the mantle material in the rift zone. Corresponding to this there was a rise in the mid-Atlantic ridges, and a submersion of the ocean floor beyond the boundaries of the mid rifts. That idea started to attract me, and I here found support from Belousov and Vinogradov, and started thinking about how to develop that idea. I felt bad for Bruce Heezen, who seemed to have rejected this — well, he didn’t quite reject this, but in his publications he started leaning on the concept of plate tectonics. I even asked him why he was doing that — held put forward very interesting ideas. "Yes, he said," but right now the concept of plate tectonics is dominant. And I need funds for my work. If I’m not going to be guided by this idea, which is considered as the most progressive one, I won’t get funds for my work.” Some scientists simply stayed out of the arguments on this subject. I know that Frank Press, who was an eminent geophysicist and a student of Maurice Ewing, with an international reputation, — I’d talked to him on this subject — preferred to abstain from discussion, because there was a lot that was hypothetical. But others very actively supported it. I then was in a very difficult position, because I became an opponent of this most popular point of view. And I became a supporter of an idea which was considered as heretical. But in my talks with people I stressed that the development of science was a complex process, and that the development of heretical ideas was absolutely indispensable. Otherwise the development of science stops. Here Belousov supported me. He also felt that there was a need to find some new solutions. Perhaps this is like the way water moves along the surface of the earth. Some stream flows deep; another stops; it's a kind of process of wandering of that flow. Human ideas put forward to explain a phenomenon can develop successfully, then die out, become weaker…
Visson:During these disputes, particularly within Russia, was any kind of political or theoretical pressure exerted on you, on Russian scientists? From Marxism, or dialectical materialism?
No. It goes to the government's credit that it was quite calm about these disputes. They understood that this had no bearing on the solution to purely practical problems. At first, when these ideas were proposed, there were efforts to apply them to the solution of practical problems. There was a very amusing episode. During the expedition when I was with Academician Peive, we visited the Tonga Islands. Together with the leaders of the expedition I was invited by the king of the islands. He was a very educated person, who followed what was going on in science and politics, and he said to us that, he was having success in showing that the theory of lithospheric plates could be helpful in finding minerals. He called in a servant, who on a silver tray brought in a glass filled with oil. At first I didn't understand; I thought it was some kind of wine being offered. But it turned out that there was oil in that glass. The king said that they seemed to have been able to get oil on the Tonga islands by applying the idea of plate tectonics. The idea was that under the island arcs there was a subduction of oceanic lithospheric plates. The ocean sediments, which contained a great deal of organic substances, sink to the depths; there they are heated, and under great pressure are then transformed into oil. That oil can be raised up through the cracks of the basement of the island arcs. "So,” the king said, "we drilled a bore-hole, and really found oil.” Everyone was amazed by this discovery. I was also delighted, since during this expedition I had been trying to demonstrate how promising plate tectonics was. True, after our return from the expedition I wrote to the king asking what they had gotten, and he wrote sadly that they had landed in an old bore-hole that the Americans had dug in during World War II. So that was an unsuccessful attempt to obtain minerals using the theory of tectonic plates. In Russia, there were attempts at administrative interference, but not by the government, but rather by people who were fanatically devoted to this idea, and who held certain administrative posts. For example, in the Ministry of Geology there was a person who had the Minister of Geology sign an order which obliged all geologists conducted geological surveying on the territory of the USSR to interpret the results of their work only using the theory of plate tectonica. That was just comic, because the field geologists of the Ministry of Geology carry out very detailed surveys on a very small piece of territory, on a scale of 1:25,000. That kind of territory could be covered during a summer expedition. No kind of tectonics of lithospheric plates could be applied there. That was just comic. That was the only attempt at such administrative interference, and it was rather an attempt to impose the plate tectonics theory rather than to forbid it. Nobody was forbidding it; Belousov never "forbade" anything here. He simply spoke out against this concept. But usually in all these disputes the majority supported it, and during these years I again wound up in the minority, because I realized that the numerous data on the structure of the ocean floor do not fit this concept, and that is why I thought this concept was not correct.