Oral History Transcript — Dr. Taro Takahashi
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Interview with Dr. Taro Takahashi
Taro Takahashi; December 23, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; effects of World War II; University of Tokyo (1950- 1953); Columbia University (1953-1957); Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, post doctoral research (1957-1959); Vema research; carbon dioxide research; Strontium 90, Project Sunshine; environmental movement (circa 1960s); global warming; Scripps Institute of Oceanography (1959-1960); comparison of Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory work environment to Scripps Institute of Oceanography; work with J. Laurence Kulp, W. Maurice Ewing, Roger Revelle, Al Gore.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Taro Takahashi. Today's date is the twenty-third of December, 1997. Excuse me. We're making this recording at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. Off-tape you had told me a story about your uncle meeting Thomas Lamont. And I wanted to make sure that story got on the record.
Takahashi:Well, my sort of a family contact with Thomas Lamont has two aspects. First is that accidentally I bumped into this particular story. Several years ago, when Gordon Eaton was the director, he invited Lamont family members to Lamont Hall for a very nice lunch. And Corliss Lamont himself came along with many other family members. He's probably age 90 or so.
Doel:He would have been very old.
Takahashi:Yes. He was in a wheelchair. And all the other ladies and grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Lamont for lunch. And they had a great time. It was heartwarming to see some of the ladies showing their grandchildren the rooms where they themselves grew up. And then, I think it was the Edward Lamont, with whom I started chatting. And he asked me where I originally came from. I said I came from Japan. And he said, yes, he was there, when he was a young man. He visited Yokohama with his grandfather Thomas Lamont. And so I said what for? He said, well, at that time the city of Yokohama borrowed money from Morgan Bank and they went there to close financial transactions. And it suddenly occurred to me then that my uncle was talking to my father when I was, gee, twelve years old. That was immediately after the Pearl Harbor. Then what my uncle was telling my father was that when he was — I'm not a hundred percent sure whether he was the mayor of the city of Yokohama or the president of the city council, I'm not a hundred percent sure which — but he attended, he signed a piece of paper with an American banker and borrowed x million or billion dollars to reconstruct the harbor and city of Yokohama immediately after the 1923 earthquake which devastated Yokohama and Tokyo. And certainly the city of Yokohama that was at the time, the number one seaport in Japan and if they didn't reconstruct the port facilities fast enough then business would be taken away by the city of Tokyo which was next, only ten, twenty miles away. So that suddenly, the story of my uncle's story came back to me, and so I asked Edward Lamont if he went to the city of Yokohama for signing this contract. And he said, yes. And then I further recalled the story that my uncle at that time was telling my father how much he saved money — at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the city of Yokohama was still paying some of the interest to Morgan Bank. And he said, gee, because of the war, I don't have to pay that interest any more. So he was very happy that he saved money. So I told that story sort of sheepishly, to Edward. Do you remember the reaction of your grandfather Thomas? He said, yes, he clearly remembered. Thomas Lamont was sitting at this very place at Lamont Hall, present lecture hall, and listened to this Pearl Harbor attack. His comment was, "Well, I already made enough money out of that deal." So he wasn't too sorry [laughter] that the contract came to an end by the outbreak of the War. So both Edward and I had a big laugh that both of our respective ancestors were relatively happy with this deal in spite of such a calamity as the Pearl Harbor attack. Well, that is the one story. The second story was only about a month ago. Two Lamont persons gave a seminar on the personal history of Thomas Lamont. And I learned that Thomas Lamont was awarded some kind of a top honor distinguished service medal from the Emperor of Japan in recognition of Thomas Lamont's contribution to the reconstruction of Japan after the 1923 earthquake. And as a matter of fact, Thomas went to Japan for the second time or third time and received this honor from the Emperor. And the interpreter that time was the family friend of ours and a naval Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Yamamoto. Perhaps, you may recall his name.
Doel:Indeed I do.
Takahashi:You know, an architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. And it makes sense to me that Yamamoto was the interpreter to the Emperor because, in the presence of the Emperor only the certain people with high enough rank are allowed to be in the same room. Admiral Yamamoto was a friend of my father's. My father was working in a Texas oil field in 1919 to 1924. And there Yamamoto was a military attache’ in Washington. He wanted to see what's happening in Texas oil fields. And he traveled to oil fields in Texas. I still have a picture of Admiral Yamamoto and my father standing in the front of the oil derricks near Galveston, Texas. And he put up Yamamoto in his apartment for a couple of days and talked. All they talked about is gambling and military strategy. My father said to me that the oil supply for the Japanese Navy and a Pearl Harbor attack was already in Yamamoto's mind. So that is essentially a triangle involving Thomas Lamont and my family. It's a small world in many ways.
Doel:I remember you first telling me that in the Lamont cafeteria soon after the time of that one meeting. One thing that we didn't get to ask you in the first interview was your first time at sea. The first cruise that you took. That was during the time that you were here at Lamont, wasn't it? Early on. Prior to your going out to Scripps?
Takahashi:Yes, certainly. I was finishing up my graduate work at Columbia in 1957 and I wanted to go into the mining industries. And at that time, you know, Eisenhower administration's major recession and I couldn't get any job in the mining companies. And so I tried a few places, and then as I told you already about my encounter with [W.] Maurice Ewing in men's room in the Schermerhorn Hall. And he offered me a job here. That was four thousand dollars a year annual salary. And my assignment was to study carbon dioxide in the air and Atlantic Ocean. And the question is if the atmospheric CO2 is in equilibrium with the Atlantic surface water. And if it is so, no net transfer of CO2 occurs; if not in equilibrium, which way the carbon dioxide was moving. From the atmosphere to the ocean or the ocean to the atmosphere?
Doel:And of course you were acquainted by that time with the work of Hans Seuss and [Roger] Revelle, others who had begun to take up this question?
Takahashi:That's right. Right. Exactly. And Revelle has already questioned that the fate of the fossil fuel C02 and this was the first in 1957 that, you know, one of the major topics dealt with as a part of the International Geophysical Year. And I think National Research Council gave an equal amount of money, one to Scripps, one to Lamont and one to Woods Hole. And the Scripps program was headed by Charles David Keeling and the Lamont program was headed by me. And so that's the way I went out to research vessel Vema. And the first test cruise was disastrous and nothing worked. And I got seasick. That was about a three week long, agonizing cruise. But the second, a month later we came out for the real cruise, this was IGY [International Geophysical Year] around the world cruise of the research vessel Vema.
Doel:Was this the first round the world trip? Because IGY funding was very critical for allowing Vema to go more than, say through the Atlantic. Do you recall that this was the —?
Takahashi:I don't know. But it could be one of the first large scale, global programs. And the new captain was hired for the Vema and he is Henry Kohler.
Takahashi:That was his maiden voyage. And I guess Captain Kohler stayed with us for the next twenty-five years as the captain of the Vema. And I worked closely with him and I had a good time.
Doel:Did you get out on the ships at Scripps as well?
Takahashi:Yes. Not until ten or fifteen years later. I went to Scripps in 1959 and did instrumentation for [Charles] David Keeling, but I did not go out to sea with Scripps people.
Doel:Not at that time. So this was — it was later in your career in the 1970s that you began to sail again.
Takahashi:Yes. That's right.
Doel:How did the appointment in New York when you were at the State College of Ceramics in Alfred come about?
Takahashi:Oh this was after I finished the cruise from New York all the way down to South Georgia Island in the Southern Ocean, then to Cape Town. Then I left the Vema by the instruction of Professor Lawrence Kulp. And I don't remember whether I talked about Larry Kulp's project or not.
Doel:Indeed, you did talk about that. Project Sunshine.
Takahashi:[cross talk] Strontium 90. Okay. All right.
Doel:And the Strontium 90 project.
Takahashi:So after I finished that essentially two years of post doctoral work and papers published, then I thought I should get some sort of professorial position. And the next question was what sort of research am I going to do? And there Maurice Ewing's influence was very strong. On the research ship, the Vema, I had a great honor of working with Maurice Ewing very closely for a couple of months. And this seismic survey. You know, dropping the TNT in the ocean and studying propagation of the seismic waves. At that time was the most interesting thing was that regional mapping of so-called Moho [Mohorovicic] discontinuity. Which is where the seismic velocity for compressional waves changes rapidly from about six kilometers per second to eight kilometers per second. This essentially defined the Mohorovicic discontinuity and the base of the crust of the earth. And one day I was sitting on the Vema's dining room, and I asked Maurice Ewing, "Do you know, Doc, what causes this Mohorovicic discontinuity?" And he said there are two choices. May be chemical, may be physical. But we do not know. And that is the question I pursued for the next ten years when I went to New York State College of Ceramics, and I stayed there for two years and then moved onto University of Rochester in upstate New York.
Doel:One thing I was very curious about when Ewing had pointed out to you the limits of knowledge of the constitution and properties of rocks under high pressure, had you already come into contact with groups, say at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and at Carnegie Institution of Washington who were working on related sets of issues? I'm just curious in general which groups you dealt with outside of Lamont.
Takahashi:Well, I was rather an independent investigator in this case. I have to turn back the history a little bit. When I was an undergraduate student, I accidentally picked up a book written by Nobel Laureate Percy W. Bridgman, the Physics of High Pressure. And it was not a well-known textbook or anything. But the topic intrigued me. Essentially I told myself that someday I wanted to study the property of materials under extremely high pressures. And so that's probably more genetic than anything else, and stimuli, proper stimuli, came from Maurice Ewing. And there I said okay. This carbon dioxide problem, I'm going to set it aside because I'm going to teach in an inland university where no oceanographic facilities were available. So that, for the next ten, twelve years, I concentrated on the study of materials, particularly in this case crystal structures of minerals under very high pressure. So that's the major topic I tackled during my next career.
Doel:Did you have much contact, say, with Francis Birch and others who —?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Francis Birch. The contact was there but our approach was very different from his approach. Francis Birch's idea was how high pressures affect the speed of sound and the seismic waves. And mostly his emphasis was on the upper crust up to twenty thousand atmosphere or twenty kilobar range. Where I worked was three hundred kilobar range. Essentially lower crust, upper mantle that is the question I used. And I joined the force with William Bassett, also a graduate of Columbia. As a matter of fact, Bill Bassett's sister-in-law, the ex-wife of Bill's brother, was Mrs. Maurice Ewing, the second Mrs. Maurice Ewing. [Laughter] That's another closed circuit there.
Doel:Sometimes a lot of that.
Takahashi:And Bill Bassett and I had invented special high pressure cells made of two small crystals of diamond, and pushed the two diamond crystals together, and squashed the samples between, and then we passed an x-ray beam through and studied them. This apparatus showed the change of the crystal structure under high pressures.
Doel:That was a very important development in high pressure research. How supportive was Rochester of that kind of work? I am trying to remember if Robert Marshak was there at the time.
Takahashi:Oh Jesus, you know Bob Marshak, yes. As a matter of fact, University of Rochester's physics department was one of the pre-eminent physics departments.
Takahashi:And we made a very strong tie with the solid state physics group at University of Rochester. And so they had a wonderful intellectual background there. On the other hand, the negative side is that the department of geology which I belonged to was not a classic department of geology, so that I didn't have the good relationship with the geologists there, but I had a wonderful time with the physics department. [Laughter] So it came to the head and I was sort of accused that I'm selling the geology department to the physics department. And so I left University of Rochester and took a sabbatical year at Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology] to cool off things.
Doel:It sounds like that was a difficult time.
Takahashi:And in the hindsight it's nothing.
Doel:But it's interesting that that you were there through 1970 and that was a high point already in geophysical approaches.
Doel:To geology and I'm curious if you felt the department was resisting — I'm curious in a general way how department members were reacting to continental drift plate tectonics at the time and other forms of geophysical, geochemical work. Generally were they not very receptive to this?
Takahashi:Yes. Well, they were naturally, because they only looked at continental geology. I was looking at mainly the ocean basins. You know, that's where my scientific drive came from. That's Maurice Ewing's vision. But for geologists who were at that time, trained in more continental backgrounds it was very difficult to give up continents, replaced by the ocean basin for an emphasis. Now, the whole thing is swinging back a little bit more even footed. But as you said in the mid-1960s to 70s, that ocean-oriented geology was expanding very fast.
Doel:Were there other geochemists at Rochester or did you represent the area?
Takahashi:Well, Bill Bassett and I were two progressive sides of the ten-man department. I should add another geophysicist, that made the three versus seven, we could not win the votes in a democratic way.
Doel:Did you have much contact with Ewing or other members of Lamont during the time that you were at Rochester?
Takahashi:Oh yes. It was mainly through Wally Broecker. And I worked closely with him. He was the only contact to my previous research topic of CO2 in oceans. I kept that running at the same time when I was doing more physical solid earth problems. And Wally and I shared graduate students. Wally sent me some excellent graduate students like Teru Li(?), Jim Simpson and we worked together. Who else? I've forgotten.
Doel:We can always add this to the transcript later. That's interesting. How often did you get down to Lamont itself or was this mostly by phone or —?
Takahashi:Yes. Gee, telephone. Long distance telephone was expensive.
Doel:Yes it was.
Takahashi:And since Rochester was right on the New York Thruway I hopped on it and drove down. Yes, I would say I worked fairly closely with Wally, probably once a month or so I came down. And also, yes, Jim Simpson. Now he's a professor here. He was a graduate student at that time. And he used the infrared CO2 analyzer which I used for my postdoctoral work. And whenever his instrument went down, he gave me a call and I said, all right. I hopped in the car and drove down here to fix the instruments and go back. Wally Broecker, Jim Simpson, me and a few other graduate students studied a very interesting lake located near Syracuse, New York. And it was a state park. But the technical name of that kind of lake is called a meromictic lake, in which the upper about twenty meters of the water was very nicely clean, oxygenated water, and below that was deadly waters saturated with hydrogen sulphide. And we were interested in why such a stratification caused sudden changes in the chemistry. We figured out that probably the source of the sulphur was dissolved gypsum. Gypsum was in the surrounding sedimentary rocks. And calcium sulphate and that was bacterially reduced. Sulphate was reduced to hydrogen sulphide. And that was, that was, you know, one of the major components of the resultant gas in the bottom water of meromictic lake. And that lake is still there and the bottom water is highly toxic to humans. So that was the level of interaction I had with Lamont. Then I —
Doel:Was Wally Broecker interested or trying to bring you back to Lamont at that time?
Takahashi:Yes. There are a number of contacts, attempts there. But I, you know, wanted to finish whatever I started at Rochester.
Doel:The research program at Rochester.
Doel:Did you feel that was done in large part by the time that you left Rochester? Or did it feel unfinished?
Takahashi:Yes. I felt after twelve years I had enough with this particular technique. This is probably as far as I can go. But I was wrong. My graduate students whom I produced used the same technique and further expanded to study the deeper part of the earth. And one of them was David Mao. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences. And now is one of the leading figures in the high pressure physics area.
Doel:You went to CalTech [California Institute of Technology] after, for a year after you left Rochester as a visitor.
Takahashi:Yes. I was there twice. And, you know, one year and then I returned there for another four months or something like that.
Doel:What did you find particularly attractive about Cal Tech at that time? Claire Patterson was still there was he not?
Takahashi:Claire Patterson was there. Yes. That time Claire was studying lead isotopes in oceans and effect of the fallout from the gasoline lead. But at that time I was still very much interested in this deep earth problem. I didn't have much contact with Claire Patterson. Mostly I worked with Don Anderson and Tom Ahrens.
Doel:With the seismologists.
Takahashi:Seismology group. That was a wonderful time at Cal Tech. The seismology group was located off campus, a five minute drive by car. And in the residential area, you know, just like old Lamont Hall. And we had an office there and I was developing — running high pressure experiments using x-rays. And the topic that time was shortly after the lunar landing of the astronauts. Does the moon have a core like earth? And that is the kind of work I have done.
Doel:Of course Lamont was involved in that —
Doel:As well as Cal Tech through the seismograph that Frank Press had helped to —
Takahashi:Yes, that's right. Oh, you have a very good knowledge. [Laughter]
Doel:I'm very glad to hear the different things that you have been particularly involved in. When you got involved in the lunar work, did that bring you to Texas for any of the operations or did you deal with the data remotely?
Takahashi:I was not involved in the data analysis or actual operations The question I had and funded by NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] was whether iron sulphide may become heavy enough under pressure to be consistent with the moon's core. And there was a hypothesis that the moon's core may not be made of iron nickel like earth. And the hypothesis was maybe its iron sulphide. So, that is the hypothesis I was testing with my experiment. But later on I brought a contract to Lamont and I worked on that NASA contract for an additional two years at Lamont.
Doel:How was NASA as a patron compared to say the NSF or other agencies that you dealt with?
Takahashi:Well that time, 1960s, mid 60s to 70s, well, money was no object. And sure, the NASA contract was very lucrative. You know, I had a lot of technicians working for me. But it came to the point that, gee, it's probably the first year after I returned to Lamont, I brought in probably, pretty close to a million dollars a year research funding.
Doel:And we should say this is 1978 that we're talking about when you came back to.
Takahashi:Yes, '78 or maybe a little before. Essentially I became a research administrator, but not doing a science. I didn't have enough time to look at my own data. And I said, hey, this isn't my life. So I started cutting down by shedding topics. And the geophysics of the earth's interior is developing fast and the ocean is developing fast, and with my limited brain power, I couldn't catch up with both of them, so I dropped the one.
Doel:Which one did you —? You have maintained the atmospheric work.
Takahashi:Yes. That's right. Then I chose to do ocean-atmosphere CO2 work.
Doel:I'm curious how the opportunity at CUNY [City University of New York] came about, when you returned to the east coast as — at Queen's College as distinguished professor.
Takahashi:Well, I think it's mostly by a good friend of mine, David Krinsley. He did the postdoctoral work here at Lamont after receiving his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. And I first met David Krinsley here as a fellow post-doc. And by 1970, he became the Dean of the Arts and Sciences at Queen's College. And he invited me to do research and teaching with him. And as a dean, he had a little extra pull here and there, and he gave me a very attractive deal as a distinguished professor. So I joined the Queen's College, and developed a research program at Queen's.
Doel:Had Lamont seemed to have changed considerably from your early association with it, when you came back to the east coast at that point? Or did geochemistry seem to be operating somewhat the same way?
Takahashi:Well, by that time, certainly geochemistry became a group, with much broader base operations. And the group acquired a number of new professors, professorial positions in addition to Wally Broecker. As a matter of fact in 1960s when Wally took over the head of the geochemistry from Larry Kulp — Kulp left for industries — essentially that was a one man show. You know, it was AEC [American Engineering Council] at that time and gave a chunk of money to Wally and run some projects and a few post-docs. That's about it. But by 1970 it's a — there were two full professor lines added. So it was — geochemistry was taking shape as the unit, not the one man operation. And expanded. Topics expanded into the solid earth geochemistry as well as the ocean geochemistry. And so one of the major attractions of my coming to Queen's College was that I can work with my good friend David Krinsley, and on the other hand I'll be close to Wally Broecker. And so I thought I had the best of the two worlds. But later on, after, I stayed in the Queen's College for four or five years, and Krinsley left and then New York City financial situation became a little precarious after John Lindsay's expanding times, and so I decided to quit Queen's College and come here as a full time researcher.
Doel:You were also involved with the Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences for the last two years of your appointment at CUNY.
Takahashi:Yes. Well CUNY had at that time enough financial power. And Bob Marshak was the president of CCNY [City College of New York]. And he was one of the major forces to get the oceanographic institute started within CUNY system. And opportunity suddenly arrived when NYU [New York University] announced that they're going to dismiss the entire oceanographic and atmospheric group for totally the financial reasons. And so that Bob Marshak got the city convinced that the Wave Hills estate in the Bronx be donated to the City University system to house this oceanographic institution. And the NYU group, that's a really pre-eminent group, was summarily hired to become a member of the CUNY. And that was mainly the physics, and atmospheric physics, ocean physics group, and they needed chemistry to round it out.
Doel:To consolidate and complement.
Takahashi:That's right. So I spent one day a week or something like that at Wave Hills. I don't know whether you've been there or not. It's a very similar in a structure, maybe it's a little more plush than Lamont Hall here. And that's where the Toscaninis(?) lived. And I heard that, during the Second World War, the estate was reserved for the Queen Mother to come and stay, you know, if England became too dangerous. So, you know, nice, beautiful estate. And I enjoyed working there.
Doel:How important did you find being there for your own scientific work? The kind of contacts that arrangement allowed?
Takahashi:At Wave Hills at CUNY?
Takahashi:Oh, that really didn't have the coherent spirit, very different from Lamont. First they didn't have the ocean-going ship. They had a small coastal ship to take undergraduate students out. And they didn't have the coherent big ideas like Lamont had.
Doel:I'm very curious about what you found to be the heart of the differences. Of course, they couldn't collect the kinds of data that were available at Lamont. I'm curious too when you mention coherence.
Takahashi:Well, it is as you pointed out, there was no really serious sort of meetings of minds. No. Not at all. Everybody was on their own small projects.
Doel:All in individual.
Takahashi:But there were two important points. One is simply that Maurice Ewing has something to do and his vision and he has written a number of papers on it. You know, ice ages and—
Doel:The work with Bill [William L.] Donn.
Takahashi:Yes. And certainly oceanography, then the seismology, and deep earth interior. You know, his, Ewing's breadth, breadth of his scientific interest and knowledge, that is one unifying theme that everybody fit in somewhere in Ewing's big ideas. Number two is the research vessel Vema. We did not share the ship's time with any other institution. In other words, it belonged to Lamont, that meant we work on the Vema together. So that many of the senior members or some junior members, scientists spent many months together on the confined ship and that built the mutual trust, friendship, coherence. That's what I said.
Doel:I'm curious when you say that. How many, when you think back, how many of the friendships that you developed on that year-long cruise that you were on very early in your career stayed important to you?
Takahashi:Well, I don't. Some people died, some people drifted away. Yes.
Doel:I guess another way to put it was others have made that point and I think it's an important one. When you think about that first cruise, I'm just wondering how important those relationships were for you as you...?
Takahashi:Well certainly, you know, my conversation with Ewing set my course for next twelve years. [Laughter] Because of that direction, I earned the full professorship by age thirty-six.
Doel:It was a very fast rise that you had at Rochester.
Takahashi:Yes. But the entire field was expanding fast.
Takahashi:So I'm no exception. You know, I was riding on the wave. That's what an oceanographer's supposed to do. [Laughter]
Doel:I've heard that.
Doel:You know, what's interesting is that of all the different groups at Lamont, geochemistry was perhaps the most removed from, or at least some have commented that it was the most removed from Ewing. That it always operated semi-autonomously. Or did you find the integration to be pretty strong?
Takahashi:Oh, well, the separation is due to the personality clash between Maurice Ewing and Larry Kulp.
Takahashi:And in other words, Larry kept his graduate students away from Ewing so as Ewing — so that there were two distinct groups studying here. And I probably am one of the first ones to cross the line.
Doel:Who managed to maneuver through both groups.
Takahashi:I think this is just by a series of accidents. I guess this, you know, IGY, CO2 research grant was given to Maurice Ewing. So that Maurice felt, "this is my project." But the question is chemistry, so they sub-contracted to Larry Kulp and he was my immediate boss. And, of course, under Kulp, Wally was running a Carbon 14 project in which, you know, made a very nice compliment with what I was doing. And Kulp did not like his boys to go out to sea. He felt that was wasting time. And I was probably expendable in Kulp's eyes. [Laughter] So maybe as a sacrificial lamb that I was sent to Maurice Ewing and I had a great time with Ewing. I worked hard and I was interested in what Ewing was trying to do. And I had enough geophysics background to understand what he was doing. So at the end of three years at Lamont post-doc, Ewing offered me a job. And I said, Doc, I'm sorry.
Doel:You were telling me just as the tape went off that you had told Ewing that you thanked him for the offer, but you really wanted to be off to — on your own.
Takahashi:Yes. And so, that's the reason why I accepted the position at New York State College of Ceramics to pursue Ewing's question. [Laughter] That's what I told him, you know. Doc, I shall return. I have my life for a while.
Doel:So you did tell him that you'd come back?
Takahashi:Oh yes. And whenever I came back here and bumped into him in the parties or meetings, he received me always very warmly and to his death, I had a great time.
Doel:How much contact did you have with him once he went to Texas?
Takahashi:Oh, once he went to Texas, virtually none.
Doel:How well did you come to know Manik Talwani?
Takahashi:Well, my association with Manik goes back to our graduate school days. And both of us were post-docs. I guess 1960 or so. I traveled with him to International Geophysical meeting in Finland. And Manik and Allen Be, who was one of the Lamont postdocs, but he died ten years ago or so, and me. And three of us went in the car from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. And we traveled around together. So it's my association, the friendship goes way back to those days. And then I think the next major contact with Manik was after he became the director here and when I was returning as a full time researcher at Lamont. And interestingly enough, I felt Manik's regime was far more democratic than Maurice Ewing's regime. And when I came back here, I felt that this is a political atmosphere I can live with. And Manik was essentially building this building at the time.
Doel:Right, the geosciences building.
Takahashi:Yes and he promised me a space in this building. And that is one of the conditions I said I'll come back. So since then I have my office and my lab here.
Doel:I'm curious why you wanted space here, say as opposed to the geochemistry building.
Takahashi:Well, you know Wally Broecker is a brilliant man and is a very strong person. And I wanted to have a breathing distance. If I stayed in the Geochemistry building, it was too close to be comfortable for me, and I would lose my own identity.
Doel:Indeed he has a very strong personality, as did Ewing in that sense.
Takahashi:Yes. Very much so.
Doel:Of course, his relations with Manik Talwani were not very good, I think, by the time that you came back. Or at least —
Takahashi:Wally and —?
Doel:And Manik. I'm curious what your perceptions were.
Takahashi:I think it was not explosive. You know, he had some discontents, but nothing serious. Only after I arrived here and became a member of the executive committee, representing geochemistry, and there I realized that we have a problem.
Doel:Tell me what. I'm very curious what you mean by what you were perceiving as the problem when you joined the executive committee.
Takahashi:Well, I think the —
Doel:And this is I should say around 1981, a few years after you —
Takahashi:Yes. I think so. Somewhere there.
Doel:Right. You become associate director and head of the geochemistry group.
Takahashi:That was '78.
Takahashi:'81. No as I said, I was on the executive committee for probably only a year and a half before that.
Doel:Before that time. So late, very late '70s.
Takahashi:Yes. And I remember that five or six of us sat down with Manik and one of the questions was, "Manik, tell us how much money we have." And that was essentially the endowment money. Endowment earning and how that is spent. And Manik's understanding is that is an executive privilege and none of the scientists have to know that. So that is the director's duty to dispose the way he sees fit. And, in fact, he built this building.
Doel:That's still not an answer that would necessarily satisfy groups within.
Takahashi:That's right. So, you know, meeting after meeting until we bashed the head of Manik to give us more information, open up your administration. And essentially that led to the explosive stage. And I think nine of us marched to the Columbia Low Library, and, you know, appealed for removal of the director.
Doel:You had felt that there simply were no other options that were available to address this issue with Talwani?
Takahashi:Right. The major factor was that, you know, Manik spent time on the Vema with everybody else and they're buddy-buddies. However, year after year Manik sort of retreated and isolated his — and isolated from his friends. And so that he lost all the grass roots support by his own choice. And therefore I think that was the main cause for his downfall.
Doel:His advisory group had become rather restricted.
Takahashi:Well, he lost all the advisory group.
Doel:He lost it.
Takahashi:Yes. If he had surrounded himself with five or six of his buddies, I think he would have been fine. But he alienated all those five or six senior scientists who used to go out to sea with him.
Doel:Yes. You're thinking of Walter [C.] Pitman and friends of his?
Takahashi:Yes, Pitman and, I think, oh, the one that recently died.
Doel:Marc [Marcus] Langseth.
Takahashi:Yes, Marc Langseth was very close. And then the one that went to Florida.
Takahashi:Neil Opdyke. Gee, you know those things. Yes. And Lynn Sykes. They were graduate school buddies. And Wally was not very close to Manik, but at least, well, we all went to the same graduate school. And that's where Manik lost his support.
Doel:Did you feel that Columbia had an understanding of the problem, or had they been far enough removed from it that it came as a surprise to them?
Takahashi:I don't think Columbia had any, too much pre-warning. And this palace revolt took place rather rapidly. But at the beginning of this revolution, I was asked to come to Lynn Sykes' house one evening. And so I went there. There were six, seven of the senior staff, you know, Wally Broecker, Langseth, Sykes, Opdyke, I've forgotten who else. And said, hey, we got to throw the director out and this is a secret group. I said, oh my gosh [laughter].
Doel:You didn't know before the meeting that this was going on?
Takahashi:No, something is happening, but it's essentially a conspiracy there. And all those guys, many of the guys, had Columbia appointments. Langseth, me, Opdyke were Lamont appointments at the pleasure of Manik Talwani. So that evening I went back to my home and told my wife that, hey, dear, pack your suitcase so that we can leave the town any time.
Doel:Were you worried about your — that possibly this could backfire and —
Doel:— and really influence your —?
Takahashi:Yes. And Columbia professors are immune to that. But four of us were in a precarious position. I'm not going to tell you that one who backed out from that meeting, who said, I cannot take the risk and he said, count me out. So, really a serious matter. We knew that a high stake game was started.
Doel:Did you have in mind who you thought you might be a good director?
Takahashi:Well, in that meeting at Sykes' house, we decided that Neil Opdyke will be interim director.
Doel:Neil had not attended that meeting? Am I right? Or had he, was he there?
Takahashi:He was there.
Doel:He was there?
Takahashi:Yes. Pitman was out of town and he did not — But yes, Neil was there and so then strategy is, okay, Neil, you're going to take over things. And then I became his associate director. That's where the thing went. And Neil was at that time, it's already known that he was negotiating a job with Florida.
Doel:University of Florida.
Takahashi:So that we knew that Neil going to stay for one year, then during that time we're going to find a replacement director. So that much was planned.
Doel:Yes. It clearly was an extraordinary transition that would have to, that was occurring. I'm wondering when you became the associate director what you saw as the highest priority, what you needed to do?
Takahashi:Well, the highest priority was, of course, stability. You know, we're not going to take anything drastic actions as to the research staff. As much as possible status quo and give a peace of mind to all the staff.
Doel:How did you actually do that in practice? What sort of things come back to mind with those?
Takahashi:Well, I guess those first two, three months just I didn't do any science, just, you know, go out and talk to as many people possible and listen to them. And I'm not the eloquent or exciting speaker, but I think I'm a good listener. And maybe my service to the Observatory was to provide good listening ears. That's the way I formulated my role.
Doel:What sort of issues did you find that Talwani's removal fixed? And I'm phrasing that perhaps in a poor way. What sort of, in addition to listening to try and bring closure to the community, what other major issues and directions for Lamont did you want to see?
Takahashi:Well, I think at that time the entire Lamont structure became far more open and more democratic. Another way of saying is that the power of the director was curbed.
Takahashi:However, then it's essentially the executive committee consisted of several of us set up how the earnings from the endowment going to be used. Which was done by Manik alone.
Doel:How did you actually do that decision making as a group, as an executive committee? How did you negotiate between the claims of each of the divisions of Lamont, for instance?
Takahashi:Well, there's — went into several stages. For example, the x amount of the dollars were going to be used for improving divisional sciences. And then, you know, that much money is isolated. We essentially told that boys, we have five hundred thousand dollars available for competition and let's talk about it.
Takahashi:And the whole thing was not necessarily smooth. We went for the first-come first- serve basis, and then at the end of the year a big request came and we didn't know what to do. Just bumbled along. But I think the good will was there all around.
Doel:That's an important point.
Takahashi:And I think the next improvement we made was that the salary increase, you know, the merit increase in salaries each year. That was handed down from the director's hands to each head of the groups. So that we were making decisions, promotions much closer, on the basis of more direct knowledge between me and my, you know, post-docs or junior scientists, rather than a director who may know the faces or the names, you know, may not know this. So in that way, I think the evaluation systems became much more fair I would say.
Doel:Did you feel you had a pretty free hand from Mike Sovern and others at Columbia once the executive committee in essence took charge?
Takahashi:Yes. In some ways, a totally free hands because we had, we didn't owe Columbia too much. We were self-sufficient. The major conflict was Columbia's demand for a lion's share of the overhead money.
Doel:And that, of course, had been an issue with Bill [William] McGill's. The conflict between McGill and Ewing over that.
Takahashi:Yes. That was carried over. And Talwani has made very good progress. Talwani is a hard-nosed, brilliant man. So that essentially Columbia paid the due respect. And I had a taste of how Columbia ran at that time. I was summoned, essentially, to Low Library and given an edict that Lamont shall give us five million dollars for the next year for overhead.
Doel:Who was making that demand?
Takahashi:I think it's not really high up, no. Not the vice presidents or anything.
Doel:Not on the provost's level?
Takahashi:No, no, no. It's by a second rank accountant in that comptroller's department, a young man. And so I said, may I ask what, you know, how you break up and what service we can get out of Columbia. Essentially he said, that this sum is non-negotiable, bring this money. And then he had this little calculator and says, this is it. And so second meeting, I was well prepared. I brought in my own scientific calculator. Okay, you're going to push the calculator. I'm ready to compete with you. [Laughter] Entering numbers, I think I can do better than you accountants. And essentially it was rather confrontational. But gradually it became better.
Doel:Were you on the committee that helped, that made the decision to appoint Barry [C. Baring] Raleigh as the next director?
Takahashi:Yes. I was on that search committee. And I knew Barry for some time. Because when I was at the University of Rochester, I looked around and said to the Rochester administration, there's a guy called Barry Raleigh in the west and let's hire him as a professor —
Doel:What part of his work had you found particularly interesting?
Takahashi:Oh, he is a rock mechanics person. And he worked under Professor, gee. I forgot his name. He came from Harvard, studied under [Percy W.] Bridgman.
Takahashi:Griggs. Yes, David. How did you know that? Amazing. Yes. And I had a very great relationship with David Griggs.
Doel:Well, he was out at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] at that time, wasn't he?
Takahashi:Yes. That's right. And he liked my work. As a matter of fact. And so I asked David, our department at University of Rochester was interested in bringing in a rock mechanics, tectonics guy. And Griggs suggested Barry. And he was at the time in Australia. But obviously that negotiation did not materialize. So, I knew Barry. So I thought that was a very good choice. However, I didn't know how good Barry’s administrative side talents were. I had a very good time with Barry.
Doel:What sort of things did, as a group or personally, you wanted the new director to do? Say, what was different? Had, did the job qualifications look different to you by the time that you were searching for Talwani's replacement than before?
Takahashi:Well, obviously we wanted to have a democratic director. And number two, we waited to have a director who would be a full-time director. Manik was eighty percent scientist and twenty percent director. That was one of the sources of the discontents. And toward the end of Manik's directorship, the economy was in such a state that inflation was in double digits and Manik didn't do too much with our endowment. So that we wanted to have a director to be full-time who pays a little more attention to financial matters, management of our endowments.
Doel:Of the investment. Did you want him to do fundraising as well?
Doel:Did you see that as a major job?
Takahashi:Oh yes. That was a major job. And yes, that was, I can say number one requirement was a good fundraiser. Of all expectations that we had on Barry, the fundraising was the only one he did not accomplish.
Doel:Yes. That one area that Raleigh didn't succeed in, was that caused by Columbia's restrictions on what patrons he could go after or was it other factors?
Takahashi:That is beyond something I know directly. It's hearsay and I really don't know.
Doel:I was just wondering how close you were to those sorts of matters as his directorship developed.
Takahashi:The general impression I had of Barry was that he was not really accepted by Low Library people as one of the inner circles. And essentially Lamont sat outside of Columbia hierarchy. And Barry tried hard to get inside, but never made it. I don't know why. The next director was real different in that way.
Doel:That's Gordon Eaton.
Takahashi:Gordon Eaton. Yes. And Gordy made good inroads. Essentially one of the most trusted members of the inner circle. Gordy's credential as president of Iowa State indicated that he knew how to handle university level affairs. And what I heard was that Gordon was a chairman of the budget committee of the Columbia and made a major contribution of how to reorganize the fringe benefits and other aspects of the university finances. So, on the other hand, Gordy spent so much time at Columbia, and he started falling behind and neglect Lamont issues.
Doel:On the Lamont side of it.
Takahashi:And in order to prop up that side, he appointed Dennis Kent as a director of research to handle nitty gritty decisions. I gather you had meetings with Dennis, Dennis Kent? Dennis resigned from that post, the director of research, after three or four months. He said he could not handle it.
Doel:What was the problem that he felt that made it so intolerable?
Takahashi:That was the money. Gordy did not — he gave Kent responsibilities but never released the necessary funds. So essentially Dennis had to fight the war without a penny of his own budget. And Gordy told him he couldn't give money to Kent because Gordy himself probably didn't know how much money Lamont had.
Doel:Was that becoming a problem for Lamont, understanding how much resources were actually available?
Takahashi:Yes, that's right.
Doel:How did that become such a problem? It sounds as if from what you were telling me that Talwani knew roughly what was there, but had autocratically distributed it. But later became a problem of understanding what.
Takahashi:Well, of course, the federal funding situation is changing at the same time. In Manik's time, I think that projects were well funded without Lamont contributions.
Doel:This is about the end of the block grant time.
Takahashi:Yes. Still some block funding available. So that extra money he gathered from oil industries, like Industrial Associate programs. It's, I think, it's about one or two million dollars, somewhere in that range, given to Lamont. So that oil companies in return can get at Lamont's seismic data bank. So that Manik put all this money into the bank, and sat there for seven, eight years and then built this building.
Doel:And literally in a bank so that it was earning bank rates.
Takahashi:Yes, that's right. And every year somewhere between one and two million comes in so that seven years, okay, here's fifteen million. But that's why this came up. And Manik wanted to fund and build a major, multi-channel seismic facility. It was done essentially without consulting anybody. Okay, here's a half million dollars. We're going to do that. That's one of the ways of running the show. And now, by the time of Raleigh's directorship, money from NSF, for example, quite often required matching funds. Fifty percent from the institution, fifty percent from NSF. So where does the matching money come from? From endowment earnings. And at the same time, some scientists start having a short fall of the salaries. And NSF negotiates, pretty hard game. So you ask for five hundred thousand dollars, but NSF gives you four hundred thousand dollars. So we have to come up with extra hundred to run a show, and so we look for the director's coffer. And that's the reason why more and more money was needed to support scientific projects. And that trend continues and is getting worse and worse.
Doel:If I recall correctly, didn't Barry Raleigh eliminate the executive committee structure, or did that continue through the time of his directorship?
Takahashi:Oh, in Barry's regime the executive committee members were far better selected. Half of us were by appointments, like me, associate directors. Also three others were elected from at large, from the Observatory staff. So it was a very democratically constituted system.
Doel:How often would you meet, as executive committee?
Takahashi:Oh basically once a month. And major topics were, of course, finance and promotion of the scientists. Only thing I can fault would be we didn't have the time to, you know, think about the future. How to organize, how to take this organization into the later half of the twentieth century.
Doel:I'm curious particularly given the work, the research that you were doing, whether you felt that Lamont needed to devote more energy into environmental science type problems? Or whether you had other ideas planned that you wanted to see at Lamont?
Takahashi:Well, I think it's the direction presently strongly encouraged to go into more socially relevant areas. That's the present direction, present directive. Also our interests on societal economic importance have been with us for many, many years, since the inception of the Observatory, never been officially, never been stated or emphasized as an official policy. But now, my personal view is that too much emphasis, if it could degrade basic science.
Doel:That is overemphasis on what is a contemporary issue. Societally determined.
Takahashi:I mean, if you look back, say, Strontium 90 Sunshine Project. My gosh, that's first-order societal importance, the Strontium 90 in the milk and babies born. To me we were after the top priority topic without directives from the Columbia administration.
Doel:Do you feel that's there less of that being done now that projects are now being chosen as much on their scientific merits?
Takahashi:Some of the scientists are now going after that sort of thing including urban lead pollution and things like that.
Doel:Because there's funding available for it and because there's —
Takahashi:Yes. That's right. And scientists have nose — and administration doesn't have to overemphasize some things.
Doel:Is that something that you've been arguing now that Lamont needs to guard against?
Takahashi:Yes. I think those political winds blow from different directions, changes the directions. One of the administrators in Low Library said disapprovingly that Lamont is a monastery on the hill. My view is that we should remain so.
Doel:Just recently that someone said that.
Takahashi:Yes. And it has been written. [Laughter] That was a criticism, meant to be criticism. But I would say, let monastery be monastery. Kings fall; queens commit suicide. Monastery will remain standing there trying to tell the truth to the people. And that is probably the wiser way of channeling our future. But that kind of view is considered to be reactionary and old-fashioned by our present administration.
Doel:You mean by Peter Eisenberger and the others?
Doel:I'm curious how you feel about the Earth Institute?
Takahashi:Well, I think that as a concept, that everybody likes that. However, the present problem is its execution. And funny emphasis put on the short term return. Not on the long term return by seeking the truth, emphasizing the basic research. And that is, if you have good scientific understanding, you can automatically sell our ideas to the press who will come to you. And you don't have to really go out trying to sell half-baked ideas. And so I am a bit uncomfortable with the present sort of great emphasis on selling ideas. Having — calling press conferences, distributing glossy pamphlets, etc. That's not my taste.
Doel:And I should note, as you may well already know, that any part of the interview can be kept closed should you so wish.
Takahashi:I would be happy if you quote this openly.
Doel:I was curious when you said that how projects like Lynn Sykes' work was considered when he doing research that straddled fundamental science and also policy issues. Whether you felt that that was an appropriate activity to be done?
Takahashi:Oh I think that's up to the individual scientist. I have great admiration to what Lynn Sykes has done. Locally as well as global politics.
Doel:Locally, do you mean in terms of say, the Indian Point reactor.
Takahashi:Yes. And the new Lamont director comes in and tells us that we are not societally conscious. I said, come on, look at what we have done.
Doel:Did that argument win points, do you think? Or did it pass by?
Takahashi:Yes it passed by. In other words, the Lamont director has to take a little more time to understand us and history. And that's what you're doing.
Doel:I'm curious when you say that, are you thinking on Peter Eisenberger's level or further to Jonathan Cole's level and George Rupp in terms of understanding Lamont's place. The comment you made a moment ago.
Takahashi:Well, I don't expect Jonathan Cole or George Rupp to really understand nitty-gritty things of the Earth Sciences. That's a job for a Lamont director to explain to them.
Doel:Although this isn't necessarily nitty-gritty as much as broader philosophical issues of what Lamont can or ought to do as an institute within Columbia's broader.
Takahashi:But I think it's Eisenberger or whoever, who can explain the significance or the lack of significance of Lamont's scientific contribution to the president. One of the most discouraging things I have heard was that administration was not impressed by the recent discovery by Paul Richards that the rotation of the inner core is faster than the rest of the body of the earth. And George Rupp himself was told that it is typical of that monastery's contribution which has no scientific, you know, no immediate societal benefits.
Doel:Who would have told him that?
Takahashi:This is not first-hand information. But I wasn't there. To me it's — Richards' discovery has such a far-reaching significance which you can sense by the level of reactions of the press. The press is very astute, but not dumb. They know what is interesting to the public. And that Paul's discovery of the rotating core has little effect on the stock market or the United Nations policies. But if you look at the future. You know, just like Galileo's discovery. This is something the scientist can influence the long term philosophy of the humanity and society on the century basis. And if I may choose major scientific discoveries made in the latter half of the twentieth century, for Christ's sake I would say, along with the landing on the moon and analysis of the lunar rocks, Richards' discovery goes right up there.
Doel:And you feel that Peter Eisenberger hasn't also sufficiently appreciated —?
Takahashi:He made rather derogatory statements about that in public.
Doel:Do you have confidence in Peter Eisenberger's understanding of Lamont?
Takahashi:[Laughter] No. Very little. It's a big disappointment. You know, we thought as a physicist he should have good understanding of our science. But I was rather disappointed by some of public statements he made. Scientific reactions in response to Paul's discovery are very high and positive. One session in the recent American Geophysical Union annual meeting is totally devoted to discussing implications of Paul's discovery.
Doel:The San Francisco meeting it was. The fall meeting. How different do you feel the direction of Lamont is now from say Scripps or Woods Hole or other places that are like Lamont that you know very well?
Takahashi:Well, all the three institutions have different financial structure and emphasis. That's very interesting to see that. That's the strength of the U.S. Our nation is wealthy enough to be able to afford three or four or five different types of these institutions. And, you know, we are certainly unique in many senses.
Doel:In the sense of having so large a proportion of grant-funded research compared to state or endowed funding.
Takahashi:Right. And also the emphasis that we have. For example, Woods Hole doesn't have a seismology group working. Whereas we don't have an extensive biological, marine biological program as Woods Hole has. Woods Hole's relationship to MIT is unique. They pay money to MIT to become a part of MIT's educational system. We are an integral part of Columbia. And Scripps is, of course, a state-supported institution.
Doel:Do you think that they are, in fact, the closest kinds of institutions to compare with Lamont or have others, or has Lamont changed enough that they're no longer the principal competitors in a way?
Takahashi:I think it's — If you ask any Lamont persons, we consider three institutions, Woods Hole, Scripps and Lamont are the competing three major institutions in the U.S. We are hanging in there for our dear life to remain to be one of the three.
Doel:John Mutter had once commented to me that he felt a more appropriate comparison was to places like Cal Tech or to MIT, given the new direction of some of Lamont's research.
Takahashi:To take us to that direction, is that what he meant?
Doel:I think he meant in terms of comparative research programs or what the institution is seeking to achieve.
Takahashi:Oh, I don't know. Out of a context I cannot really judge. However, a major difference between us is that, for example, MIT or Harvard or Cal Tech does not have so called soft money career scientists as we have here.
Doel:I believe John meant it in terms of diversity of research effort and the kind of broad focus in study that he felt distinguished Lamont from the other oceanographic institutions.
Takahashi:Yes maybe, if you combine MIT and Woods Hole, sort of that covers the entire spectrum of which we are covering. But then the MIT, Woods Hole combination is twice, three times as big, bigger than ours in the number of scientists. So. I don't know. Yes, on the other hand, we can count other associated institutions like Jim Hansen's group, Goddard Space Institute, and the Museum of Natural History. Then we are certainly comparable to MIT and Woods Hole.
Doel:I was going to ask you about Jim Hansen, because 1984 you had worked with him in producing the volume Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity. How well did you come, how much contact did you have with Goddard in those years through the Institute?
Takahashi:Oh, I think, during that period putting the book together, I essentially had a meeting or telephone conversation with him once, twice a week. And also time three month period leading up to the symposium we had, I had very close contact with him. Main separation of the responsibilities of that Ewing symposium was that I was trying to raise money and Jim was arranging the scientific speakers. That's the way we had shared our responsibilities.
Doel:Did you come to know Hansen, do you know him fairly well?
Takahashi:Not recently, but during that time I got to know him fairly well and our friendship continues. But both of us have been terrible busy and only once a year or twice a year I bump into him.
Doel:I was very curious given your concern about Lamont and certain ways of public relation, Hansen decided to move climate change in a very public way in his announcements at Congressional inquiries and since —
Doel:I'm wondering how you felt about the way in which he treated the public aspects of climate study?
Takahashi:I don't know exactly the politics going on in the NASA circle. Certainly a major chunk of that, you know, Hansen's GISS is a unit of NASA. So that he has to make, compete with other lunar projects or Martian projects, anything else, to make public announcements. And so that I think peer pressure for him is to speak out.
Doel:To do something of that sort. Yes.
Takahashi:But, I think, I guess in early 1980s, Hansen made a very strong statement at Congress and I guess one of the statements was that global warming is here, not an imagination anymore. And there was a lot of reactions within scientific community saying that Jim went too far. And one of the main criticisms was that Jim went too far because he was publicity-hungry. And so that his analysis is not trustworthy. Then one of the newspapers called me since they spotted that our joint book. They asked me what is my perception of Jim's integrity and honesty. And I gave him an A+. And yes, he's a top notch scientist. And, you know, he is stating exactly what the data and analysis are telling him. His intention is honorable and honest, scientifically straightforward. And that was publicly quoted by the newspaper. And Jim read about it and he called me and thanked me. [Laughter] So I have very high regards of Jim. On the other hand, outside of NASA circle, he's very publicity shy.
Doel:One other major part of your scientific career that we haven't spoken about yet is your work on GEOSECS [Geochemical Ocean Sections Study].
Takahashi:Oh the GEOSECS, yes. That was partly financed by National Science Foundation as a part of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration. That was Hubert Humphrey's brainchild or whatever it was. The program was headed by Wally Broecker and Ham [Harmon] Craig. And because of that contribution that both Wally and Ham received the Vetlesen Award. And I was one of the lieutenants under them. Essentially they were scientific leaders.
Doel:You'd known Ham Craig from the time that you were out at Scripps the first time.
Takahashi:Oh yes I did. As a matter of fact, Craig is the one who invited me to come to Scripps as a post-doc. And that was 1957. I did honest work with GEOSECS and enjoyed. And it was a great ten years we had.
Doel:Did you feel the program accomplished what you hoped it would?
Takahashi:Oh yes, yes. I think so. In a way one of the major contributions of that program was that the measurements were made the same techniques, the same calibration, all those techniques applied in three oceans in a short span of the time. So that the differences between those among those three oceans became clear. Up to that point, Scripps uses certain techniques to study Pacific, and Wood Hole used others to studies Atlantic. Are the differences observed between these oceans real or artifacts? The difference driven by the scientists' egos. GEOSECS first unified scientific approaches to study south and north and east and west in the global oceans.
Doel:Has it proven difficult to maintain the samples that were taken on the GEOSECS project?
Takahashi:What do you mean by maintain?
Doel:The actual water samples. Some, as I recall, wasn't there an attempt to actually preserve...
Takahashi:Store. But that's a secondary problem. The primary measurements were done on ship. And only some special properties, like radium and things had to be done in land based laboratories. While we archived some samples, I don't think that's paid off.
Doel:It hasn't been worth the investment to try to maintain those.
Doel:You also became involved in the National Academy of Sciences committee on the ocean studies board.
Doel:In the 1980s Commission on Ocean CO2 that you chaired. Please go ahead. I wonder what you're recalling as you think about that.
Takahashi:Well, at least one of the accomplishments we made was to institute standards. To make any precise measurements of the CO2 in atmosphere and oceans for the study of long term changes, we need stable standard materials to pass around the various investigators. And there was a very serious controversy. Even atmospheric CO2 concentrations weren't certain. At that time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was 330 parts per million [PPM] nominally, but whether it 331 or 329 PPM was not certain. And one of the major problems was that the measurements made by the National Bureau of Standards did not agree with the numbers made by Charles David Keeling at Scripps.
Doel:The famous curve.
Takahashi:Yes. The famous curve. That nothing is straight. Keeling had gone through the several hurdles. For a standard gas he mixed CO2 and nitrogen. Whereas atmosphere is made of nitrogen, oxygen, and CO2. And he thought that difference is not important. But it turned out to be the nitrogen plus oxygen plus CO2 gave a different signal from nitrogen plus CO2 to the infrared analyzer operated at different altitudes. And there is a subtle difference between oxygen molecules, nitrogen molecules, hence CO2 molecule vibrations were different from those in air and pure nitrogen. And this discovery came from Keeling's own laboratories, one that he had stationed at the top of the Mauna Loa, that is the Mauna Loa station. He made measurements of the mountain at four thousand meters, twelve thousand feet above sea level. And he took flask samples at the same time. Brought the flask samples down to Scripps at the sea level and analyzed them and the numbers did not agree. And essentially this effect of the oxygen, subtle effect of the oxygen on the CO2 absorption spectrum changed from one pressure to another.
Doel:How did that change the shape or the slope of the curve?
Takahashi:Well, that is, he did his best to correct those things to come up with his unified curve. And still there are some little ambiguities remain, and particularly, you know, the National Bureau of Standard numbers did not exactly agree.
Doel:What methods were they using?
Doel:What methods was the National Bureau of Standards using to make its own?
Takahashi:I think that they had the essentially weighted with the balance, they weighted CO2 and nitrogen. They are difficult experiments. If you store compressed gas of CO2, nitrogen, oxygen mixture in a stainless steel tank trace gases like CO2 may be absorbed into the steel or steel may give off the CO2 later.
Doel:At those levels of concentration, these factors are clearly demonstrated?
Takahashi:Yes. They are talking about one half of one part of a million.
Doel:You were mentioning the National Bureau of Standards.
Takahashi:Oh yes. That's right. So that the Academy's committee has to judge which is the better measurements and encourage both sides to publish their technologies into open journals so that entire scientific communities can evaluate who is right and who is wrong. And I don't think we still know the answer, either. But Keeling's curve has been accepted as the WMO, World Meteorological Organization, standards and things like that.
Doel:But you felt that that was one of the principal tasks of your Academy committee to make this judgment of the different results of the methodologies and to raise the issue of instrumentation and measurement?
Takahashi:Right. And then it started a new project doing the same thing with ocean water measurements. So that without that kind of reliable standards, we cannot tell whether ocean water is taking up fossil fuel C02 or not. And we have persuaded NSF, DOE [Department of Energy] to put the money together. NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency] was also involved. And NSF to set up the so-called world standard for ocean C02 measurements. And that program is being run by Scripps, Andrew Dickson and Charles Keeling jointly.
Doel:Are you playing a role in that program at all?
Takahashi:No. No. Once I set it up and Keeling was on the committee. But now that program is in danger of being partially eliminated by DOE pulling out from ocean CO2 business. And now, you know, as a result of the Kyoto International accords, now CO2 in atmosphere and ocean becomes more and more important in the international arena. But at this critical time, the DOE cuts out the project. So that's my disappointment.
Doel:And you think that's a reasonable possibility now that they may leave, that they may stop funding in this area.
Takahashi:Yes. I think more than that.
Doel:It's a real worry.
Takahashi:Indeed they pulled out. Last year even the White House intervened but couldn't reverse the tide.
Doel:I'm mindful of the fact that we're approaching the time when we need to end this interview. It's already past twelve o'clock for today. But I did want to ask, first, is there any major development regarding Lamont during the years that you've been here that we haven't touched on so far that you wanted to mention at least briefly?
Takahashi:Major scientific —?
Doel:Either scientific work or anything that you felt was significant to you during your time at Lamont that we haven't mentioned.
Takahashi:Oh, the important progress that we made was probably parallel to and consistent with world history that we started out with a monarch, Maurice Ewing, as the king. Then step by step, we became more and more of a democratic organization, reflecting the participating scientists' ideas and taste. And now this is, last one year, is a very critical time. For the first time in the Observatory's history, the Columbia central administration represented by Eisenberger is leading us to the direction of stronger interactions with social sciences. The Observatory has been guided by grass roots, bottom up ideas. This tradition has suddenly encountered to a top-down ideas. That's where we are struggling.
Doel:It's an important point. You were clenching a fist as you pointed out Columbia's action, I should say a moment ago.
Takahashi:They may be right. You know, but that's our societal conscience has been with us, you know, from the beginning.
Doel:That's inherently part of Lamont's —
Doel:— activities and traditions.
Takahashi:Yes. And particularly in the geochemistry that sort of tradition continues and we don't have to be told from the top. We don't have to be reorganized in that way.
Doel:Let me close with one last question. You have touched on this in numerous ways so far. But is there any particular religious or other strong conviction that you feel has been very important throughout your life?
Doel:Or other strong convictions that you feel have been important in your life or in your career?
Takahashi:Yes. I have, you know, looking back and when I first came to the United States in 1953 as a penniless graduate student. And the country where I came from was just recovering from the Second World War, even it didn't have enough food to eat. And I felt very grateful to the people at Lamont who nurtured me, gave me opportunity to grow and expand and gave me a chance to exercise my own ideas. And one of the reasons why I liked to do a good job as associate director is that, look, this is a system I owe for my good life, I put something back into it in order to prevent the system from getting depleted. So that, I wouldn't say religious, but I have a very strong conviction of my own that I wanted to return something to Lamont through science or through administration to make the next generation's life better and durable. That is, I guess, my closing statement.
Well, I want to thank you very, very much for this long interview. And none of what we have said on the tape, of course, will be released until you have access to it. And you will be getting a copy of the transcript of this recording. Thank you again, so much.
Session I | Session II