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Interview of Charles Drake by Ronald Doel on 1996 May 22,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Recollections of his childhood, early introduction to geology, his education at Princeton, and Columbia, the development of geophysics and seismology as a field of research, his work at Lamont, the development of the geochemical lab at Lamont, the offshoot companies that grew out of Lamont, the politics and processes of gaining federal funding in the 1960s, the political ramifications of earth science, geochemistry, global warming and environmental concerns, working on the research vessels (Verma), his work in velocities, the development of plate tectonics. Among those prominently mentioned include: V. V. Belousov, Wallace Broecker, Walter Bucher, E. C. Bullard, Maurice Ewing, Burce Heezen, Harry Hess, Laurence Kulp, Angelo Ludas, John Nave, Jack Oliver, George Wollard, J. Lamar Worzel.
This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Chuck Drake. I should say Charles L. Drake. We’re recording this on the 22nd of May, 1996 in Hanover, New Hampshire. One of the things we were just talking about off tape was the further development of the geochemical lab at Lamont. One of the things you had mentioned that at times mail actually arrived at that facility addressed to the Theo-chemical?
Well, Larry [J. Lawrence] Kulp was a fundamentalist himself and he used to recruit from Wheaton College, which is a fundamentalist school out in the Midwest. So a lot of the people who were his students or on his staff were fundamentalists. So we used to jokingly sometimes refer to them as the Theo chemists rather than the geochemists. But it’s true. Once in a while the mail would come into the Theo Chemistry Laboratory at Lamont.
Meant as a joke?
I suspect not. I suspect it may have come from some of the fundamentalists who thought the geochemists — and some of them were working on establishing the chronology of the earth so that it fit with biblical perceptions. So I suspect it was real.
You mentioned one of the chemists who was in the laboratory for a time, who was attempting to demonstrate the literal accuracy of the biblical chronology?
Wayne Alt did his thesis on sulpha isotopes and I was out in the machine shop one day working on something and I got talking with Wayne and Wayne was telling me how he got into geochemistry and his purpose for getting into geochemistry was to prove the literal chronology of the Bible. Now what he worked on actually didn’t deal with the chronology. It dealt with using the isotopes as indicators of whether bacterial action or something else was important in the formation of native sulphur in salt domes.
Did Kulp talk openly to others at Lamont about his religious beliefs? Was that something that people discussed with him?
When you say others at Lamont, there would be the geochemistry group, and then there would be the other groups there. Perhaps with the geochemistry group — and I wouldn’t know about that. You would have to talk to Wally [Wallace S. Broecker] or Carl Turekian or Paul Damon or some of those other people. Not so much with the people that were in the other groups, like me. But we all knew.
When did you become aware that Larry Kulp was setting up Isotopes Incorporated?
It must have been late fifties sometime. And it was sensible. We established a little company, too, called Alpine Geophysical.
Right. I do want to talk to you about that.
And for more or less the same reason. You are finding some new techniques, new ideas and there was a demand for these things outside. Larry had a nice geochemistry lab set up and there were people outside who wanted numbers from the laboratory. Well, they had their own work to do and they couldn’t get into the business of just turning out numbers for other people. So he had the thought, “Well, this is something that there’s a demand for. Why can’t we set up a company to exploit this?” And he did. Late fifties sometime. I can’t remember the exact year.
Was this one of the first offshoot companies that came from Lamont?
I suspect so. I’m not sure whether it came before or after Alpine. They were roughly the same time. Late fifties.
Were there conflicts that arose as these separate places like Isotopes, Inc. developed in the way that work was allocated, or equipment?
Well, there were conflicts. I’d be hard put to say whether the conflicts actually began because Isotopes was created, or whether the existence of Isotopes exacerbated conflicts that were already there, if you follow me.
Larry and Maurice Ewing didn’t get along very well. You know, they’re both strong people, both strong-willed, both independent, both professors, which presumably gives you certain independence. And this jurisdictional business where Maurice is the head of the lab and Larry didn’t quite consider Maurice to be head of the geochemistry lab, you see. He thought of that as almost an independent entity. So there were frictions that grew there. And Maurice would have some ideas relative to the oceans which involved geochemistry and he put forth these ideas and some of them Larry would pursue. And Larry may have had the same ideas too, mind you. But in any way Larry would get some data and publish a paper without Maurice’s name on it and Maurice felt possessive about that, and not unreasonably and Larry didn’t feel that Ewing should be an author, not unreasonably. [Laughs] So there were frictions in that regard. And then, back early in the game, when you’re struggling for existence, you played all kinds of games in order to build up your laboratory. And in the machine shop, for example, Angelo was gifted at scrounging machinery and finding things. But to build up the stock of metals and things like that he needed to work with, early in the game, why if you needed some stock to do a certain job, you’d always ordered twice as much as was required so that you’d have some left over in the storage bins to work on something new. It’s more or less the same principle as today when people who send in a research proposal on the research they just finished, so that they can use it to start something new. We all played that game and without that game there wouldn’t have been a lab in the first place, because Columbia didn’t have any money to put into it. So there were some frictions when Larry started getting new equipment in the geochemistry lab and the old equipment was salvaged and he’d sell it to Isotopes for a low price and they’d work on it and fix it up and use it to run numbers. And it wasn’t quite an arms-length transaction so Ewing got upset about this. His unsettledness was amplified by this. [Laughs] So there were frictions that developed because of that. Wally one time complained that Larry Kulp was spending too much time down in Isotopes and not running the geochemistry lab and leaving it up the Wally. So Wally didn’t feel that he should do this. So he complained and then Ewing wanted him to file a complaint against Kulp with the university. So Wally went home that night and was talking to Grace about this and Grace said, “Well, you know, our next door neighbor is an English professor at Columbia.” And she says, “I always see him out here puttering in his garden and mowing his lawn and what have you, and it seems to me that Larry spends as much time at Lamont as he does at Columbia.” And Wally thought about that for a while. He said, “Well, if that’s what Columbia expects, I have no complaint against Larry.” [Laughs] So he wouldn’t bring up a complaint. But there were definite frictions there.
Yes. This is about the early 1960s?
Yes. That would be about right.
How many people who had been at Lamont ended up working in Isotopes? Did it tend to be people moonlighting?
No, there were people — it’s sort of like Alpine, and I’ll come back to that but there were at least two people; Herb [Herbert L.] Volchok and Don [Donald] Carr. Herb died. I don’t know what happened to Don. Maybe he died, too. But at least the two of them went down full time with Isotopes, and you had to do the kind of things they were doing. You had to have somebody there who loved the machinery and would make it work and so forth. So they had to take a risk to get down and do that. But it worked out. And Larry was a part- timer at first. But then he eventually left Columbia and worked full-time with Isotopes. Arid then sold it to Teledyne, I guess.
Right. That was in the later 1960s.
Now with Alpine, if you want to get into that —
This is probably a good time. You became a member of the board of directors at Alpine beginning in 1958?
That’s about right. Yes. There were a number of us who had been working on various geophysical things. And we were interested in applying some of the techniques we had to civil engineering projects. And the engineers are generally very conservative, but we thought there was an opportunity to use some of these new techniques to do a better and cheaper job than they’d been doing with their classical techniques. So we set up this little company called Alpine. And I was actually the first president of it. And we each put in a thousand dollars which was scraping in those days. And my brother, who was a lawyer across the river, he wrote up the articles of incorporation for fifty bucks. So we set up in business first to use the sparker, which was a device that used a high-voltage spark in the water as a noise source to get reflections from the bottom and from beneath the bottom. So we got it going and then the first job we did was on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that went across from Cape Charles to Cape Ann between the peninsula and the mainland. And we were fortunate there because the engineering firm in that case was a firm called Sverdrup and Parcel and the Sverdrup in this case was the brother of the director of Scripps. So he had a better appreciation, I think, for some of the things that were being done in the ocean business than somebody else might. And this bridge is, what, 30 miles long or something like that. And they were going to drill holes every quarter mile for the length of that. Well, that means setting up a platform and putting a drill rig on it, and drilling your hole and moving the platform, and so forth. Terribly expensive. So we said, “We can run across this with a sparker and determine where there are anomalous places you ought to drill and the places where you can see continuous reflections between. You don’t have to drill there at all.” So it cut the number of bore holes that they had to drill down from one every quarter mile to less than one every mile, which is an enormous savings. And I think we charged them the huge sum of $25,000 for the whole job. And not only that, but in our innocence we said, “If we don’t get good results you don’t have to pay us.” [Laughs]
This was an early contract?
It was. Yes. And they furnished the boat to put the gear on and they also furnished the navigation system which was the system called Raydist.
R-a-y-d-i-s-t. And this was a system that used shore stations and you worked relative to the shore stations. So the navigation was very accurate.
How did you get this contract in the first place? Was it through contacts via Sverdrup?
You know, I was brooding about that as I talking and I really can’t remember. Isn’t that strange. I might be able to find out. We wrote a paper about this. You know, one of the deals we said was we wanted to be able to publish because we were all still working for Lamont and this was weekends and part-time venture.
I was going to ask too, how much time this was.
Well, everybody was part-time at that time. Because of that and because we were still with an academic institution we said, you know, whatever we do we want to be able to publish it, which they had no objections to at all. So that’s what happened. After a while, as business picked up, it became obvious that we couldn’t do this on a part-time basis anymore. So we had a big emotional meeting and people tried to figure out what they wanted to do. Some of us wanted to remain in academia and some wanted to go commercial. So what we did then was we rearranged the ownership of the company, which was even at that point. And given that those who were going to go in as full-time were taking greater risks, they ought to get greater benefits from it, too. So we shifted the balance of ownership to reflect that at that time. Walter [C.] Beckmann and Archie Roberts and Bernie [Bernard] Luskin, they all decided they wanted to do it full-time. And John [LI Ewing and George Sutton and I decided we would rather do it part-time and stay in academia.
I imagine that must have been an emotional meeting if that —
Oh, yes. You’re talking about your future, you know, and what you wanted to do. So it went on that way. I stayed on as president for a little while.
President from ‘58 to ‘60.
Yes. So this must have been early ‘60, I think. But then I had a problem. I had a problem because I was on various NSF and NAS [National Academy of Science] committees which dealt with things that were relevant to the business of Alpine. So I said I really didn’t think I should be president of this thing and, at the same time, sit on committees which make recommendations which are relevant. So I stepped down as president and Walter became president. And then that got worse and so I decided I shouldn’t even be on the board of this thing if I’m going on these other committees. So I got off the board of directors, too.
But you remained within Alpine as one of the —?
Well, I guess you could call me a consultant. I did some things for them but as a consultant, not as one who had any legal responsibility for the —
No responsibility for policy?
That’s correct. Yes. That’s delicate.
How did Columbia feel about applied projects like this?
Well, Columbia’s history was one of — professors had gotten into this sort of thing. Walter Beckmann’s father, you know, he had invented the what? The Beckmann Thermometer, I guess. He’s a chemist at Columbia. And so he’d been involved with commercial activities and [Edwin G.] Armstrong who invented FM, he was a Columbia electrical engineering professor, and got involved in the commercial applications of that, too. So I don’t think Columbia had any aversion to it. They did, as most schools, have some limits on how much time you could spend doing that, you know, outside consulting and so forth. But they didn’t have any objections to consulting as such.
So you felt that under Grayson Kirk’s administration that there really were no barriers?
Well, let’s see. Was it still Kirk? It was [Dwight D.] Eisenhower at first.
It was Eisenhower then as I recall.
Then Grayson came in.
Poor Grayson, you know. Grayson got in there — Nicholas Murray Butler used to run Columbia. When Nicholas needed money, he’d walk down Park Avenue with his hand out and come back with a bushel of money and they’d go from there. So there were no efforts to organize the alumni or to fund raise in a systemic way or what have you. And Grayson brought in a guy named Tyson, Leverett Tyson, I think because Eisenhower hadn’t raised any money, either. Let’s see. Wait a minute I should back up. Butler died during the war and Frank Fackenthal, who was the Chairman of the Board, became acting president until they got Eisenhower. And Eisenhower was there for a short while and then became president. So Grayson came in and the place was going broke and they had no organization whatsoever. My grandfather was a classmate or next class to Butler and, over the dead body of Columbia he organized a Columbia Alumni Association of Northern New Jersey.
In other words, there wasn’t just apathy. There was opposition.
Just nothing. There was no connection to that at all. So Tyson was trying to organize this thing and Grayson found that for the survival of the institution he was going to have to spend his time out on road raising money. So Grayson was sort of invisible inside the university because for the survival of the place he had to get out and scratch. And he left a lot of the internal workings to Jacques Barzun who was the provost. Jacques was a brilliant scholar with a basic contempt for the human race. He had no warmth or what have you that was needed to make the place work. So the place was ripe for the problems that occurred in the late sixties because nobody knew Grayson and they didn’t like Jacques. [Laughs]
Wasn’t it about ‘63-’62 that Barzun had published the book that was essentially an attack on science?
Yes. That’s right. So anyway, it’s too bad.
Yes, I particularly want to talk to you about that as we get a little bit further into the 1960s and the end of Grayson Kirk’s reign and the problems between Lamont and [Andrew W.] Cordier.
Oh yes. [Laughs] Andy Cordier. He was great. But we’ll come to that.
You were saying that you were particularly interested in getting the new geophysical techniques into civil engineering. What particularly did you feel would be helpful, and what was it you most wanted to see done?
Well, my undergraduate degree was in engineering so I was sort of tuned that way anyway. But it just seemed to us that with things like the sparker, for example, rather than drilling hundreds of holes to find out what was going on, if you could do this by making a survey which gave you the overall picture and found the anomalies and then you drilled holes there, you could save a lot of money. But the engineering profession is conservative and after all, if the bridge falls down, they’re the ones who get blamed, not the people who drilled the bore holes, or what have you. So there was a problem with convincing them that some of these techniques were indeed useful, and finding somebody who would make them acceptable. And that was the advantage of having Sverdrup involved right at the beginning because that set the tone. And Sverdrup and Parcel was a big engineering firm. So that led to other things.
The visibility of the Chesapeake Bay project, in other words, helped to —
That, plus the visibility of the engineering firm itself. And we published it, too. And when you publish it, why it gets out in the — it was published in Civil Engineering, I think. So then the engineers can look at say, “Hey that looks like a good idea.” So then they begin to call up, too.
When you look back on it were there any scientific results that simultaneously came out from the Chesapeake Bay study? Or did it really seem to you a much more of an applied development?
Well, it depends on what you mean by scientific? The scale of the scientific — you know, we did the same thing for the Tappan Zee Bridge, but as part of Lamont. Arid that was a case where they knew they weren’t going to get to bedrock but they wanted to know where the bedrock was. So we did a seismic refraction survey across there that showed that the bedrock on the western side was far too deep for the footings to go all the way to bedrock. But that was a little bit different from the Chesapeake Bay thing. And we published that as a paper as well. That was in the New York Academy of Sciences Proceedings.
I meant it in the sense that did the possibility of doing that kind of work give you data that you would not otherwise have been able to get, that aided in the development of your estuary structure studies, things of that sort? Or did it not really make that kind of contribution?
Well, it told us something about that estuary. And it told us something about where you could get good reflections and where you couldn’t. In that sense, it was quite useful because when we made these traverses across the bay there were some areas you just couldn’t get any penetration. Well, those are areas you want to drill holes in. And in those areas you generally had a lot of organic material or peat that sort of stuff, which is gassy and it tends to absorb the energy coming in. And then Chuck [Charles B.] Officer, who you’ve also talked to, see he’d started a similar company which eventually merged with Alpine called Marine Geophysical Services. He was doing the same sort of thing for the oil companies. Now the oil companies, when they do their exploration, they’re looking deep and there you want to find the traps and so forth, where the oil is. But then if they find something that looks promising they have to set up a platform. Well, when you set up this platform, what you’re interested in are what are the foundation conditions like and are there any shallows pockets of gas. Because there have been a number of incidents where somebody set up a rig and started drilling and hit a shallow gas pocket — there was a Redding and Bates catamaran that actually went end over end. The gas came up and destroyed the buoyancy at one end of the thing and it toppled. And there was one south of Galveston that hit a shallow gas pocket and the whole rig went straight down to the bottom. In fact, Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel — have you talked to him yet?
He may have passed over that.
So this is in the early 1970s then, after the time —
That was later. Yes.
It was after the time that Ewing and Joe Worzel had gone off to Galveston.
That’s correct. Yes. Anyway, so any time you fool around with these things, you learn something and that something may be of scientific significance at the moment, or it’s something you file away as being significant enough that you won’t forget it next time you go out because you may find something similar that’s useful.
What other contracts were significant that you had at Alpine in the early years?
Oh, we did a lot of work for the Port of New York Authority on various things. They were best-known for their slowness in paying. If you’re a new company you can get destroyed by success as easily as by failure because, if people don’t pay their bills quick enough, you run out of working capital. Then you got to the bank and then the bank makes the profit instead of you. And the Port of New York Authority was terrible that way. The only way you could get them to pay was to write them a letter and say, “We know you’re hard up and can’t afford to pay this right now, so I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you give us one of your toll booths on the George Washington Bridge on the 4th of July and we’ll call it square.” And your check would come back in the next mail. [Laughs]
Were you writing those letters?
Yes. [Laughs] So poor New York Authority. We got into the instrument making business and this was one of the conflicts that I had. When the Eltanin was equipped to go to the Antarctic, the Eltanin asked Lamont to outfit the marine geophysical and geological parts of the ship. So Lamont did that. But then Lamont contracted with Alpine, you know, and again I felt a little tense about this, to build the winches and that sort of stuff, which Alpine did. And then Alpine also provided the crew, the core crew to operate this thing while it was going. And that led to another one, the Williamsburg, the old presidential yacht. That became a biological ship that worked in the Indian Ocean expedition. And Alpine operated that as well.
This was the 1960s, wasn’t it?
Yes, that’s right. That became known as the Anton Brun.
I think Bill [William] Layton may have been on that. You could ask him when you talk to him.
How many people heard of Alpine say by 1960 or the early sixties?
You know I’ve forgotten exactly when we merged with Chuck Officer’s crowd.
It was later in the 1960s.
Yes. But then you’re talking a half a dozen people. There’s the six of us, Arch Roberts, Bernie Luskin, Walter Beckmann, George Sutton, John Ewing and me. And then some others from Lamont came over. Julie [Julius] Hirshman, Clyde Buchanan. What was the name of that de-frocked priest? [Laughs] I can’t remember now. Anyway, but you weren’t talking a lot of people. There are some service helpers in addition to these people. And it was operating in a converted barn over in Norwood, New Jersey.
Did the income that you received from Alpine, was it a significant part of your total income compared to what you were getting from Columbia? How important was it?
No. No. No, the only — well, to begin with, we didn’t pay any dividends, of course. So the only income you actually got was if you were working on a job. And then you’d get compensated for your time there. The only potential income you had was if the value of the stock that you owned increased. And that didn’t increase much until we merged with Chuck’s company and made a public offering, which we had to do because the banks were making the money. We weren’t making any money. But then, once we made a public offering, why then we had some working capital and could do other things, some of which worked out and some of which didn’t. One that didn’t work out was marine protein concentrate. We got in that business. Had a plant down in New Bedford and had two problems. One problem is that we couldn’t get the fluorine content of the stuff down low enough. And the second problem was to make this stuff economically; you have to use the whole fish. Because we’d go out and we’d buy what were then called “trash fish.” That’s hake. Hake is now, what, $5 a pound if you can get it. Hake we bought for $20 a ton. But just fish, you know, thrown into the hold. And they used a chemical process to extract the protein. We bought a spaghetti plant and were going to make high protein spaghetti by putting the additive into the spaghetti. But the Department of Agriculture wouldn’t let us. We were competing with the things they were supporting. So they said “Well, using the whole fish is not something that’s suitable for the American taste.” Well, Jesus, you’re just getting a powder out of this, you know? So actually the only real market we had was AID and AID bought a lot of it for sending elsewhere.
So it never became in the domestic marketplace.
No, you couldn’t get it through the regulators. But then the price of fish started going up as the foreign fleets came in the sixties. And you couldn’t get hake for $20 a ton anymore and there’s no way you could make this stuff economically unless the raw materials were cheap. So that folded. On the other hand if you want a winner, we got into the shipping business, and had bulk carriers. And one of your bulk carriers was in the great Bitter Lakes, in the Suez Canal. You know, it’s in the middle of the Canal. One convoy comes up from the south and the other comes down from the north and the southern convoy anchors and lets the other one go by. Well, while it was anchored there, the Arabs and the Israelis started having at it. The Arabs sunk a bunch of ships in the Canal so that it was stuck there. So he had a ship and there was nothing wrong with. Had a cargo, but you couldn’t move it. So we went to the insurance company and said we declare that ship a total constructive loss, which means that economically it’s zero. And they looked at it and agreed that “Yes, it is.” So they paid us for it. Then we said, “How much do you want for it?” And we bought it back from them for $50,000 and we used the money that was left over to lighter the cargo off and sell it and then hire some Arabs to keep the thing painted and oiled and what have you, and waited. And after a couple of years, why, there was a ship free and clear. [Laughs] So that worked out pretty well.
I was curious, whose idea it was to use the hake in terms of protein concentrate?
Well, that’s a good question. I wasn’t really involved in the intimacies of the company by the time and Walter Beckmann was the president. You probably ought to talk to Walter if you haven’t. He’s down in Rhode Island, you know, at Point Judith, and runs a shipyard and builds steam engines down there. It would be interesting to go down and see what he’s up to.
You mentioned already a number of challenges. I’m wondering if there are any others that come to mind that you had in balancing between Columbia and the work that you were doing with Alpine.
Well, I was frankly more interested in the academic side of things. And I became a full-time faculty member, and that reduced the amount of time you could fiddle around. And I got really interested in some of the opportunities that were opening up for doing research in the oceans. And that was really the greatest period of ocean exploration once you got the money to be able to do it. So my interest in Alpine became less.
This might actually be a good time to turn to some of the other professional associations that you became active including the National Academy, the working groups on ocean surveys. You became active also in the earth sciences advisory panel.
Yes. That really started because of Ewing. Ewing spent a lot of time in Washington, and he hated it. He would much rather be out on a ship or working on his data or what have you. But he also considered it necessary. And he used to take me down to Washington and he’d tell me, “Look,” he says, “I hate it down here but I’m down here spreading the fertilizer so the plants will grow for you younger guys and it’s going to be your turn to do the same thing before long.” So he’d drag me down there and we’d go sit in on the first committee on oceanography, the old one that came out with that big report. He dragged me in and sat me down and other people would look at me. You know, “What’s he doing here. He’s not a member of this committee.” He would say, “That’s all right. He’s with me.” And so I’d sit there and listen. We’d go see Admiral [H. Arnold] Karo. Karo was the head of the Coastal Geodetic Survey. And Ewing got wind of the fact that somebody was claiming that the Coast and Geodetic Survey had invented seismic refraction work in the oceans. And actually, what they had done is they developed a navigation system called RSR, which uses — it’s a radio sonic ranging system where they use a combination of the sound buoys or hydrophones and radio signals to locate a ship precisely. Anyway, he got in there. Boy, that’s the first time I’d really seen him mean.
Yes. He really gave Karo a hard time about his people claiming that they’d invented seismic refraction offshore. Because he felt that that was his, which I think it was.
Was this privately with Karo or in a group?
Just the three of us. Karo, me and him. I was listening, not talking. Karo took it. I think he knew that basically Ewing was right. And Ewing must have been — came through rather stronger than he would have liked, perhaps. But I think he knew he was right.
Did you sense there was anything deliberate in Ewing’s anger or was it simply a reflection of very deep emotions that Ewing had about propriety?
Well, Ewing was a complicated person. He grew up in the panhandle of Texas by the Canadian River and he got a scholarship to Rice, and Rice in those days was free, you know. There was no tuition, if you could get in. And then he rode his motorcycle halfway to Houston and rode freight the rest of the way because his motorcycle broke down, and worked his way through. Smart guy, but a guy who did not feel socially comfortable in the eastern establishment, so to speak. He was very sensitive to slights of any kind, perceived slights. They didn’t have to be real. They just had to be perceived. And very anxious that any accomplishments that were really his were recognized as his. It’s understandable. That’s true with all of us. You tend to get paid more with credit than you do with actual money. You used to. So that was important to people like Ewing. He and Harry [H.] Hess had a lot of friction between them. And that was a perceived slight, too. I’m going to go back a little ways now. Did I speak of Dickie [Richard] Field before?
I think I did. Well, anyway, Dickie Field persuaded [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz to bring his pendulum apparatus over and he looked around for two bright young men that work with Vening-Meinesz and he chose Harry Hess and Maurice Ewing. So they did work together on the early submarine cruises. And Harry thought that Maurice would be a great addition to the Princeton faculty. Maurice was then at Leheigh. So he went to [Arthur F.] Buddington. Oh, he asked Maurice whether he’d be interested in coming to Princeton and Maurice leapt at the chance because Princeton was more widely recognized than Lehigh; more prestigious. So Harry went to Buddington and said, “You know, we ought to try to get Maurice Ewing here.” Buddington’s view of what geophysics was what they did in the geophysics lab in Washington. And he viewed what Maurice did as exploration. That’s commercial, petroleum, that sort of thing. And so he refused to even consider that that had any scholarship associated with it. So Harry didn’t fight him. Buddington was a strong person.
Did you know Buddington by the way?
Yes, I knew Buddington. I was an undergraduate at Princeton. He was still there. That’s where I first met Ewing. Harry brought Ewing over to talk. So he went back to Ewing and said, “No, Buddington turned you down.” Ewing thought that Harry should have fought for this if he believed in it. And he thought that he’d given in too quickly and that Buddington hadn’t turned him down because he was not a scholar — he turned him down because he was unacceptable in the social scene and all that sort of stuff.
Well, that’s interesting that he didn’t fit into Princeton.
In fact, when you talk to Joe Worzel, poke into him a little bit about Princeton. He used to play tennis at Lehigh and he knew that Maurice and Harry didn’t get along. And he came over to play tennis and they’d —
— tennis club.
Yes, so Joe played tennis at Lehigh and when the tennis team came over they put him up at the clubs. So Joe was put up at the Cottage Club and Cottage is one of the clubs where they have candles on the table and that sort of thing, in those days. And Joey delighted in being a complete slob. [Laughs] So he got even with him. Anyway, where are we?
We’re talking about —
Oh, the credit thing.
The credit and generally —
That was a source of friction between Maurice and others for a long time. I mentioned before about Larry Kulp. And it’s very difficult to sort these things out. And if you’re anxious to get the credit it’s a guarantee that there will be frictions. It was the source of the friction between Maurice and Bruce [C.] Heezen. And Bruce was very much like Maurice. He came from Iowa and his father raised turkeys out there and he was a little uncomfortable, I think, in the eastern establishment, too, and worried about making his own niche. All of his early papers were done with Maurice. Then Bruce got to worrying about whether people would recognize that he was making any contribution or whether this was all Maurice’s. And if he’d been somebody other than Bruce he probably would have gone to Maurice and said, “You know, I’m a little concerned about building my own career here and I think I ought to do a little publishing on my own just to show that I can.” And that probably would have happened and that would have been the end of it. But instead, he didn’t do that. He published a paper without putting Maurice’s name on it, you see. Well, Maurice got upset about that because he felt he had some legitimate input into this thing. So it started there and it just built, mostly because they were so much alike. In fact, I asked Bruce once, I said, “You’re always complaining about how Maurice runs Lamont. How would you run it if you were director?” And he said, “Oh, the same way except I’d been director.”
So he recognized this dynamic.
That’s very interesting. I do want to talk to you particularly about how that controversy over Heezen’s place in Lamont developed in the mid-and late 1960s and the committee. Perhaps we should stay just with that immediate question, of your going and getting involved in Washington committees. Do you feel that one of the reasons that Ewing asked you to go down was his perception that you would feel more comfortable in this milieu?
Oh, I never thought of that. But that’s a possibility. I went to Princeton. I know Harry. Harry was my professor at Princeton. In fact, Harry got me involved in a lot of stuff down there, too. I had what we call ass power. That means if you’re on a committee, if you can sit there long enough you can get what you want. [Laughs]
Otherwise known as staying power.
That’s right. That’s right. Two things about committee things. One is you have to know what you want before you get there. And secondly, you have to have the staying power to do it. And I think he felt that I qualified on both counts. The sad thing is, he did this and Harry would get people to come down and do their time in Washington, too. But then it didn’t get passed along. The next generation didn’t want to do that. They wanted to do their own thing, which is fine. So the situation deteriorated somewhat in terms of being able to push for things that you thought were important because there were fewer people willing to go do the pushing. And in fairness the whole academic picture changed, so they had to work harder at survival, I guess. Getting a grant and getting tenure and all those things which we just accepted as the natural course of events.
You’re thinking of the late 1960s and early seventies or later?
I would say up through about the middle sixties things were so relaxed that — I don’t remember getting tenure at all. It just sort of happened. And I asked Jack Oliver that same question, and he doesn’t remember it being any sort of a big thing. It just happened. But now a days, the day you arrive you start campaigning for tenureship. And the same with grants, you know. We’d go down to ONR [Office of Naval Research]. I’d go down with Joe [Worzel] and we’d have three pieces of paper. Two pieces were a list of the publications that had arisen from the work we did the previous year and the third was a rough idea of what we wanted to do the next year. And we’d come back with a check for a million dollars. Well, you couldn’t do that anymore. For a variety of reasons: Money got tighter, more people got in the field. The system changed because people felt it wasn’t “fair,” because having a big block grant like that gave too much power to the director of the institution. So they began to evolve the system. And they said oh, okay, within NSF, instead of a big block grant where the director is the principle scientist, each scientist should write his own proposal and then put in the number of days of ship time required. And then you gather all these proposals together and you try to plan ship time. It was impossible. There’s no way you could get three days of ship time here and two days of ship time here and try to have continuity in the operation of a ship. So then they realized that wouldn’t work. And so they separated the ship time from the science. So you wrote a science proposal and when the director signed it that meant that he was guaranteeing you that he’d have the ship time to do it. But the ships were contracted for separately. Well, that didn’t work, either. That didn’t work because you had a ship and it’s full of fuel and it had a crew and food and if all you had was a bunch of lousy proposals, what did you do? Did you fund the lousy proposals and let the ship go out and do something? Or turn the proposals down and have it stay at the dock? So that didn’t function very well, either.
What actually ended up happening during the period when those policies were in effect? Did it mean that more mediocre proposals did get through?
Luckily, during that transition period the ONR was still pretty strong. And we also used to get some money from BuShips [US Navy Bureau of Ships] and from AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] as well. So you could cover by spreading it around. And you have to cheat a little bit, of course, but that was standard for operating in those days.
It was NSF that you were talking about particularly.
Well, with NSF they tried to become more democratic and the process of becoming more democratic was difficult. Then, eventually what they set up was this UNOL system which they have now. It’s the University National Oceanographic Laboratory. And all the ships fell under UNOLS and if you were at the University of Wyoming and you had a nice project you could write in and you could get time on a UNOL ship. Everybody didn’t have to be at one of these institutions in order to get some ship time. And that worked better but it still evolved more and it evolved now to where ships are specialty ships, like the Maurice Ewing Error! Bookmark not defined, at Columbia that’s set up for geophysics. So if you’re at Rhode Island or Washington or Scripps or somewhere, and you want to do some geophysics, why you get time on the Maurice Ewing. Or if you want to use the Alvin, you get time on Atlantis Two. And that’s more efficient than each laboratory that ran its own ships to do all its own thing.
To do everything?
Yes. And you had to take stuff off and put back.
How does that policy come about? Was it an evolution or was it someone’s idea?
Evolution. It took maybe 20 years.
Was it resisted at Lamont as it did evolve?
Well, the major deep sea laboratories were always very competitive, so there was resistance to losing control of your ships. And at Lamont in particular, our pattern of operation was the ship only came in once a year, and then it went off and did a global cruise for the course of that year. And to have to deal with a bunch of little proposals from all over — and the course of that was difficult. It was much easier to work with other institutions that put up their own ship and did refraction work, or ships from other countries, than it was to try to patch together something out of a bunch of little bits and pieces. The real price was paid by these junior people you’re trying to help because now they had to spend a great deal of their time writing proposals. Whereas before, all they needed was to be able to sell an idea to the director to make it part of the cruise.
And again, you think that the late 1960s, or seventies?
Yes. Yes. I left there in ‘69. So the seventies, everything I have is hearsay. Almost everything.
But in this case I’m particularly interested in how things were already changing in the 1960s.
Oh, yes. Well, it was beginning to happen then. The biggest change, I think, in the time that I was there came with the IGY [International Geophysical Year] because prior to that, if you look at the patterns of exploration, you know, look at [George] Wust’s article on research ships, you look at the patterns of exploration and up to the IGY, which would be the end of the fifties, there wasn’t enough money to send your ship very far away. So there was a lot of work in the North Atlantic between Woods Hole and Colombia and Bermuda and Puerto Rico and what have you, and not much in the rest of the ocean because there wasn’t very much money. We went over to the Mediterranean in ‘54, I guess. But we went over there by cheating, basically. We had some BuShips money, which was supposed to be used on the East coast of North America. Ewing thought it was more important to go to the Mediterranean. So we went to the Mediterranean. He figured he could somehow sell that to BuShips. Well, it turns out that almost before we got back they were desperate for some geophysical information on the Mediterranean, which had it. So they didn’t complain very much. But with the IGY, you could send a ship around the world. So that’s when we began going down to Argentina and going into the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and elsewhere, just because you had enough money on hand to know you could get your ship back if you sent it out there.
I’m curious whether this was simply a result of the money that became available to — [Interruption for telephone call] we’re resuming after a brief telephone interruption. What I was curious about was whether it was not only the money from the IGY that enabled ships to go to all places, but was it also the way that contracts were being written for the IGY that aided Lamont’s growth? Was it the amount of funding or was it in the way that those IGY contracts were written that particularly aided Lamont?
Well, it’s probably a little of each. For an IGY cruise — things were different back then. Like I said, with ONR we’d get a big grant once a year which was not very specific. It was to work on some things in some areas that were of interest. And with the IGY — NSF was very young — and with the IGY there was a respectable amount of funding and you get a chunk of money to operate the ship for a major cruise, rather than again, writing hundreds of little contracts to all the specific things that were going to be done, which is the case today. But in fairness, that was still the era of exploration of the ocean. You’re trying to figure out what was out there and what it all looked like. And as we explored more, the need to explore became less. And when you eventually came up with a model of how the ocean developed, you began to develop a totally new philosophy. Instead of saying we want to go out and explore, you’d say “We want to go out and examine this problem in the context of this model.” So it was partly just because of advances and knowledge that the pattern of funding changed.
That’s a very interesting point, that indeed, the development of the competing models also aided the way in which one could get funding.
A lot of the problems today are because of success. If you want to go out and explore the oceans now, why do you need to? And it took a while for the ocean community to kind of re-establish itself after the plate model became accepted, because there were some cruises to demonstrate that it was working and they all worked out. Pretty soon the acceptance of the model became general. Then you had to back off and ask yourself a totally different set of questions, given that we understand the basic framework in which the ocean developed. What do we need to know about it?
Yes. When do you date that transition to?
It was not an abrupt transition. It was gradual. It’s interesting. My mother-in-law collects clippings. And I was looking through —
You’re pointing to?
A notebook up there. Anyway, I was looking at one back in the late fifties where Ewing was talking about how the ridge was opening up; the rift in the center of the ridge was opening up. He said he wouldn’t quite accept that the continents move, but there was no question that the thing was coming apart. And Bruce at that time, he said the same thing. Bruce was all for an expanding earth, like Sam [Samuel] Carey and Aggie Edden and various others. And Maurice hadn’t committed himself but he, in the newspapers, said that it was coming apart and in a symposium they had at the American Museum of Natural History around the same time, he clearly demonstrated from gravity work that this idea of land bridges that once extended between the continents just wouldn’t work at all. So that was starting, you know, in the late fifties. About 1963 was the breakthrough year when two things happened. One, [A.] Cox, [R.R.] Doell and [G.B.] Darymple identified the magnetic reversal time scale for the last three and a half million years or so and at the same time Drum [Drummond] Matthews and Fred [J.] Vine came up with their model for the sea floor spreading. And if it spread the continents had to move.
Right. Of course, Hess had already published his geo-poetry — or not published per se, but it was circulated.
His ONR progress report. Yes. That was about the same time. Yes.
Do you remember seeing the progress reports?
I have it somewhere.
Yes, but do you remember when you first encountered it?
Well, probably not too long after it came out because I was always pretty close to Harry Hess and Maurice was always scientifically close, although they stood apart on a personal basis. So we would be aware of that very early in the game. But bear in mind that Harry was saying “Yes, spreading was occurring.” But Harry’s model was based on the crust of the oceans being hydrated or de-hydrated, ultra basic rocks, you know, serpentine or what have you. And he was trying to explain the uniformity of it, because all the seismic refraction work indicated that it was just about the same thickness and the same character and so forth. So his model was based on spreading to be sure, but with a crust that’s quite different from the crust as we know it now.
That’s a good point and quite so. I very much want to get into this, and again it might be better to hold it off for just a little bit longer to raise some of those points. Or at least let me just wrap up on the NSF committee work. Was Bill — was [William] Benson the director of the Earth Sciences section during this period you’re referring to, the policy changes in the 1960s?
That’s correct. Back then, again, things were small and all of the earth sciences used to meet in one group, that’s geochemistry, geophysics, oceanography, geology. Four parts. And we had all the proposals that came in and we’d go meet someplace and go through all of these proposals and vote on them.
And would everyone read all the proposals or were they already sorted out?
Everyone would read them all. But then you would split into two groups one day and you’d have, say ,the geologists and the geochemists together and the oceanographers and the geophysicists and then the next day you’d switch off so the different — and then you’d take pieces of them at that time. But you’d look at them all. But there weren’t that many. Now the sheer numbers are such that it’s appalling.
Roughly how many? Do you remember from the early sixties?
Well, you’d get a box —
You’re holding your hands about three to four foot.
Yes, that’s about right. With all these proposals. And you’d read them all and give them a rating and you’d vote on them. And in those days — difference from now — in those days the ones that you spent the most time on were those that got mixed reviews. Because usually when you got a mixed review it meant somebody’s ox is being gored. So they were the ones that most likely had something interesting in them. There were the ones that were all good you vote yes. And the ones that were bad, you vote no. Nowadays the mixed ones wouldn’t even be considered, a result of internal and external politics. [Senator William] Proxmire started this Golden Fleece Award, so his staffers would just look for titles of proposals that sounded silly and they’d award them the Golden Fleece. Well, no program director wanted to get a Golden Fleece, you know. Make them look bad. And also NSF began to become politicized and the program directors would worry that if somebody’s proposal got all excellent reviews was turned down and somebody else who got mixed reviews was not turned down, they’d get repercussions from congressmen. So that meant that the interesting ones, the ones that got mixed reviews, eventually never made it to the finals. Because if you didn’t have excellent reviews with so many reviews coming in. Well, that sort of kills the review process because you realize, if you give somebody just a good say or a fair, why they’re not even going to be considered. You’re effectively vetoing him right at the start. So it’s a corrupting influence on the way the peer review process works.
And I think you’re raising a very interesting point in that those contested ones might also be the ones that are addressing fundamental questions of which there’s major controversy.
Oh, yes. Bob [Robert L.] Reynolds had a proposal turned down last year. Bob, I think, you’ve met him. Bob’s proposal was turned down because there are two schools of thought about the origin of some of the clay minerals that Bob studies. One school of thought, which is particularly significant among the soil scientists, is that they’re orthogenic. They’re made up by chemical actions on the spot. And the other, which Bob favors, is that they’re volcanic, volcanic dust that settles down from the atmosphere. And there are arguments in favor of both. Well, Bob sent a paper in and he got excellent reviews except from this one guy who said, “Reynolds does really fantastic work and this proposal indicates that he’s keeping it up, but he’s wrong on this business of where the clays come from”. So he gave it a good. Well, that’s enough to get it shot down. And that’s ridiculous because Bob was going to try to demonstrate which of these two things was correct. So as I say, it’s a corrupting process.
Again, is this something that you felt was happening in the 1960s? Could you see it? Or was it later than that?
No, no later than that. It was when the pressures built. You know, we started turning out more and more people and all of them went to NSF and the other sources of support tended to peter out, particularly in the Vietnam era when there was protest against taking any funding from the Department of Defense.
Particularly at Columbia where the student demonstrations were so — [crosstalk]
Oh, yes. Or the SOFAR lab, which we had in Bermuda, which we used to use as a supply base basically, that had to be severed from the connection with Lamont, was operated outside of that. And the Draper Lab up at MIT, they had to separate that from MIT. But then ONR — I’ve forgotten, [Mike] Mansfield, I think, put in a bill which said that the military could only fund research which is of direct importance to the military. Well, once you’ve done that, you see, then everybody is vulnerable because if you take some ONR money the students could say, “Well, they can only fund things that are of direct importance to them, therefore this must be military research, therefore we shouldn’t be doing it.” And so there was a general nose drive in the funding.
— eliminates military patrons irregardless of what —
Oh, yes. And you had a few geniuses like Ned [Edward] Ostensow down in Washington. Ned was at ONR at that time. Ned had a real gift of being able to fund research which the Navy really couldn’t claim was of direct immediate importance to it, but which Ned knew in the long run would have some significance to Stef. And to sort of launder this in such a way that it was possible to keep using some of those funds. But the general level of support went down and NSF support went up, but not as rapidly as the others went down. And more people were coming in. It’s the baby-boomer phenomena. When you retire you’re in deep trouble. Same principle.
Yes. Yes. I take your point. When you think back to your committee work, say on the NSF in the 1960s, clearly as you say, some of the proposals that are in the mixed review piles are going to be reflecting conflicts over one school of thought or another. What seemed to you to be the major sets of conflicts that you would discover by going through the reviews? What were the — [Crosstalk]
Well, the less you know about something the more ideas can be bandied around about it. And as you learn more about it, some of these ideas are going to fall by the wayside, just because they aren’t viable as new knowledge comes in. And this was in a period when you’re still in the exploration period in the oceans, a period when you’re struggling to try to figure out how the whole thing works. And so there are opportunities for differences of interpretation here. And people were not reluctant to outline this. But if you read the proposal carefully, you’d recognize that what was the source of the controversy was a difference in interpretation, a difference of opinion, which was legitimate. So here’s an opportunity to resolve that difference of opinion if you let the guy do the research and figure out how it goes.
I was wondering if, in addition to the clearly growing debate over sea floor spreading, certainly adherents were clearly coming in to considering this in the early 1960s. Were there other major geophysical conflicts, interpretive issues that you could detect from reading through the proposals?
Oh, yes. There are all sorts of things. Take the magnetic business, which contributed so much to the sea floor spreading.
[Neil D.] Opdyke’s work, for instance.
Well, go back before Opdyke. You can go back to Teddy [Edward C.] Bullard and Percy [M.S.] Blackett. They had an argument about the magnetic field of the earth. And Teddy Bullard thought it was created by the dynamo inside the earth and Blackett thought it was other things. And Blackett developed a very sensitive magnetometer in order to demonstrate how his model worked. But before he actually got to use it, why the problem was resolved and he had to abandon it. So then he had this magnetometer and had to find something to do with it. So they started looking at rocks. And when they started looking at rocks they found that some of the rocks, like in Iceland, were reversely magnetized. That phenomenon had been noted earlier by people like Matiama and Bruhnes, but not much attention had been paid to it. And there were big arguments when these new things came up that well, it was due to the fact that if you had a lava flow here it cooled and then another one came in on top of it and reheated it, you were going to reverse the magnetism and all this sort of stuff. So a big reluctance to accept this. And on an IGY cruise in ‘58 coming into the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the Vema went across a sea mound and sea mounds have a very distinctive magnetic anomaly associated with it. So it had a very distinctive magnetic anomaly, like that associated with it. But the magnetic anomaly, the polarity of it was such that it should have been in the southern hemisphere rather than in the northern hemisphere. And bear in mind that the original idea about magnetism was that the magnetic anomalies you measure are induced, and there’s a whole GSA memoir on magnetic data, which is devoted to this idea that you’re dealing with induced magnetism. You have a body down there and the magnetic field of the earth and so it produces an anomaly. And the idea that permanent magnetization was a major contributor was not generally accepted. So here’s this sea mound that appears to be magnetically reversed. And you’ll never find the paper on that, I don’t think. George Peder and Ron [Ronald] Girdler wrote it up. And Ron was a believer in magnetic reversals, and he took it into Maurice Ewing. And Ewing just rejected that out of hand. He didn’t buy that fact at all.
Did that happen often, where an idea of that sort or observation would be reported to Ewing and because it didn’t fit into his concepts it didn’t appear?
Well, it’s happened more than once. You say didn’t appear. That’s the only one time I think it didn’t appear. There’s a paper by George Sutton and Ewing and John Ewing I think, which was on the seismic refraction work between Bermuda and Puerto Rico. And Ewing had done some refraction work then and come up with a model for the crust and he’d done a little more and the same model fit and he thought, if you do seismic refraction work in the ocean, this is the model you get. And so George worked up the data and George got a different interpretation from what Ewing wanted. It didn’t match. So Ewing tried to squeeze it so it would fit and George didn’t feel that was quite right. So what they did publish was alternate interpretations of the same thing.
Was it Ewing and Ewing paper followed by?
I think George Sutton was the first author on the paper. Sutton, Ewing, Ewing, something like that. Anyway, so they published both interpretations. And that was a problem, really, in the game. See there were three groups working on seismic refraction early in the game. There was Maurice Hill and his group at Cambridge; Russ [Russell] Raitt and his group out at Scripps — four groups — [J.] Brackett Hersey and his group at Woods Hole and Maurice and his group at Columbia. And each was influenced by their territory and their techniques. Maurice went out and did some early refraction in deep water just off the edge of the shelf in the English Channel. And he got a model. Well, he said that’s the model of the ocean crust. But the problem was he was too close to the continental margin and things begin to change when you get close to the continental margin. Russ Raitt worked out in the Pacific and the combination of water depth, sediment, thickness was such that he missed a layer. He couldn’t see it. Ewing worked in the Atlantic and he had some good places out in the Abyssal Hills where you could see the various layers that existed. But he didn’t get it quite right. The guy that got it right it right first was Chuck Officer. And that was on a profile that was done between Bermuda and Puerto Rico, which Chuck worked up. Eventually people came around and they got the same kind of things but Russ Raitt’s things were also compromised because when you shoot a reverse profile, you shoot it in both directions so as to take out effects of dip. Well, Russ only had one ship so he’d use a sonabuoy and he’d shoot into the sonabuoy and then beyond it. Then he’d reverse those pieces. But they really weren’t in the same piece of geography. So if there’s any dip at all, it changed at all, then he built in some errors. So that complicated life, too. And of course Maurice didn’t believe that because he really didn’t reverse it.
All those are critical points. Were there also conflicts in the geochemical interpretations? Did that fall in through the NSF at the same time?
No, because we didn’t get into geochemistry that much in the oceans early in the game. Most of what they were doing was age digging of rocks on land and some isotope studies of things like sulfur isotopes and what have you. The ocean work really began with the carbon 14 studies. Carbon 14 and tritium. Bruno Giletti, is he on your list?
Oh, Bruno is one of the — he’s at Brown. But he was an early geochemist. I forgot about him. Bruno tried making studies of tritium and I think deuterium and the problems there were the amounts that were available were so small that you needed an enormous amount of water to get the tritium until they started nuclear testing. Nuclear tests brought tritium in, which is what got him in there, and for short term variations up to 20 years or so, you could trace tritium from that. But then the carbon 14, because of the half-life of the Carbon 14, that looked like an opportunity to study the water circulation in the oceans and the rates of movement of the water by just collecting a fifty gallon sample and getting the carbon 14 out of it.
Would you go back a little while? Of course, your own work, particularly with Jack [John F.] Nafe in the early 1960s was aimed at resolving the structure of the sediments and the nature of the sediments.
Well, we got interested in a couple of things. I started out in the gravity business on submarines and the first problem you have when you make a gravity model is you have to assign some densities to the rock so you make a reputable model. So what we needed was some way to relate the seismic refraction numbers, which did tell us something about what was down there to two densities. And that’s how Jack and I got into the velocity density curve, which is still in use, actually. It’s a handy device. So we got into that through that. But actually, my interests early in the game were in the continental margins. What happened to and how did these things get created and what’s your history and if they have any relevance in the past. What does an old continental margin look like? It took a while to get the data because I had some data but I needed some more and basically you get one chance a year to get it because you could get it either when the ship was leaving or when it was coming back. The scheduling of the ship was such that you didn’t have the opportunity to go out and have it for a period of time where you could do all the stuff you needed and bring it in.
Were you also getting the data from the other opposing continental margins when the ships approached? [Crosstalk]
Yes, in ‘54 we worked with Vema, we used a whale boat there as a shooting boat and did some refraction off the coast of Africa and off the coast of Spain. And then we worked with a lot of other countries. In ‘56 we did a lot of work with the Spanish, a patrol vessel off the coast of Spain and the mouth of the Mediterranean. And then we worked with the Argentines down on their coast. Worked a lot, a couple of years, with the Canadians up in the Labrador Sea and the Gulf St. Lawrence, that area. So you know, you gradually gather the data but it took a while.
Was that the principle difficulty as you think back to it, being able to get to the appropriate places to do the measurements? Or were there also instrumental limitations that were particularly frustrating?
Well, I was looking through some of these log books the other day and it seems like we were spending most of our time fixing gear. [Laughs] The gear was fairly primitive. Most of it you built by yourself and you had to be able to make it work. No hardware stores or electronic shops out in the middle of the ocean.
Which gear are you thinking about in particular?
All of it. Even the engine and the ship. We had to fix our own winches. We had to fix our own electronics. Make the echo sounder go. I even found a reference to going over to a Danish ship up in Greenland and helping them to fix their radar. [Laughs] Ships radios, you work on them. A constant battle to keep stuff going.
I’m going to try to keep just a little thematic order here. I want to get back to certain parts of the research program in just a bit. I’m curious, thinking particularly to your comments a little while ago about Ewing’s feeling — his feeling that he was not comfortable in the East Coast environment. Do you remember any of the discussions that began to emerge in the early 1960s of possible appointments for Ewing and the Texas A&M University, the push of the Texans to bring Ewing back?
Yes, I went down there with Ewing in the 60s. We went down to Texas A&M.
This was around ‘64?
That sounds about right.
How did that all happen?
And we talked to the presidents and the vice-presidents and all those people. They really wanted Ewing to come down and settle there. Nothing seemed to come of that. But he at least went down and talked with them. Brought me along. I guess Joe was along, too. Joe could probably tell you something about that. That’s Joe Worzel. But then when he finally did go, he went to [University of Texas] Austin.
Right. When he made the decision in 1972.
I have a vague recollection, and you should check this with Joe, too, that the same guy that tried to bring him to A&M was then in Austin.
That’s in fact what Joe Worzel recalls.
Yes. So that’s why I was there rather than the other.
But I’m wondering what you recall from the trip itself, when you went to Texas A&M, what Ewing felt about the offer, and what you recall about how it came about.
The thing I remember most about that trip was that Texas A&M had just given up obligatory ROTC. You didn’t have to be in the ROTC to go to Texas A&M. So I asked Earl, “Earl, what was the major of this?” And he says, “Oh”, he says; “Now the liberals are the guys in ROTC.” [Laughs] I don’t remember too much about it because I didn’t think people were serious about it. And bear in mind, too, there’s big geography problems there because Texas A&M is located at Tyler — College Station — and the ocean part of it was located down at Galveston. So it’s much further than the Lamont — Columbia connection with various problems that arise from such distances. And in fact, it was a big problem at Austin too. The big problem in that Ewing wanted to be based in Galveston. So everything was down in Galveston. Well, basically that meant that you didn’t have any students around because the students were all a hundred miles away, up at Austin. I thought that was a mistake but that was the way he wanted it.
Did Ewing say much about who he was in contact with in the Texas A&M possibility? Was Morgan [J.] Davis, for instance, interested in bringing Ewing out to Texas?
It’s funny. I knew Morgan but I never really talked to him about that. I suspect Wallace Pratt might have had more influence than Morgan Davis. But he knew most of the people in the petroleum industry very well, and was pretty close to them. Guys like [Everette] de Golyer and Wallace Pratt, Morgan Davis. I could think of others if I worked at it for a while.
Right. Those are certainly some of the key people in the industry at that time. What you mentioned about the difficulties of the distance from the ocean, lack of students in Galveston as opposed to further north, Tyler or Austin. Was that something that Ewing shared or were those, did you feel your points of view that he didn’t necessarily share?
Well, bear in mind that first of all that he came from Columbia and the Columbia geology department had decided right after World War II, I guess, maybe even before, that they were never going to attract very many undergraduate majors to Columbia, so they wouldn’t even try. And they would concentrate their efforts on graduate students. So, if you wanted to be an undergraduate major at Columbia, you really had to work at it. A guy like Neil Opdyke was an undergraduate at Columbia; he had to really fight to get through. So he came from a school where you’re populated mostly with graduate students and I think that’s who he was looking to associate with at Galveston. And I think his feeling about graduate students was more or less the same as at Columbia. They’ll quickly take the coursework they need and then they’ll abandon the campus and come down and spend all their time at Galveston working on research. You try not to let them graduate too fast, so you have them around for a while. But by the time they’ve graduated, they’ve got their PhDs; they probably published a half dozen or a dozen papers. So they’re immediately employable. He sort of believed that you should do a post-doc before you get your Ph.D.
Yes. And it’s not all stupid because it did mean that by the time you got your degree, which took longer than normal, you had published half a dozen or a dozen papers and people had a pretty good idea of what you were capable of. So you were more employable than what otherwise might have been the case. Now, they come out and basically all they have is their Ph.D. thesis, which they make a paper out of. But then they have to have a post-doc to build up some kind of a record.
Before I turn back to other developments at Columbia and Lamont, I wanted to just ask a few more questions about the professional obligations and committee work, and related things that you took on in the early 1960s. I don’t think I’d asked you in the last interview on your selection of 1961 to give the AAPG [American Association of Petroleum Geologists] distinguished lecturer. How did that come about?
Well, that was on the basis of my thesis. I had done a comprehensive study of the Eastern Seaboard of North America, which was a virgin territory as far as the petroleum industry was going. So it basically gave them a framework in which to — it wasn’t all correct, but it was a basic framework that they could work from and they were very interested in that. So I got to do this AAPG distinguished lecture tour mainly because of that. And it was split. Sometimes it was at universities; lots of times it was at petroleum club somewhere or a petroleum association somewhere. I did 31 lectures in 36 days in a different town every day.
Sounds exhausting. I guess there were rewards?
The biggest problem was hospitality because you go to someplace like Midland, Texas, say, and of course they’d want you to sit up and consume booze with them. The problem was that the plane left at 5 o’clock in the morning from Midland to go up to some bigger town to go somewhere else. And when you’re talking at places like Durango and Lafayette, Louisiana and Midland and places like that, you always had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. If you got a hangover, it took you three or four days to get rid of it. You never got any sleep. But that was the only major difficulty, was just hospitality. I had only one plane failure. There was a strike on one aircraft. I was in Billings and supposed to go to Missoula and Stet Northwest, I guess it was, went on strike. But the guy started the meeting by saying “Here’s Professor Drake and after the meeting he needs a ride to Billings. Anybody going there?” And one guy said, “Well, I’m driving to Butte and he can get a train from there to Missoula”. So that’s what I did. And then they got me a train out to somewhere so that I could go onto my next stop. That worked pretty well.
And your thesis as I recall was actually finished in 1959. So this was coming within just a few years —
Was it ‘58 or ‘59? I’ve forgotten. Maybe it was ‘59.
I’m probably going to stand corrected here. You’re quite right. It’s 1958. So it’s three years. Given that the work on the continental margins was relatively new, not as much as certain research fields, what kind of reaction did you get from the communities that you were speaking with?
Well, it depended on where you were. You’re talking of a variety of people. The oil people were mostly interested in what kind of a sedimentary pile did you have out there and what did the basement structure look like and you get up to places like Toronto where [J.] Tuzo Wilson is and Tuzo’s worried about how the whole thing formed in the first place. And in those days he was still on his ideas which he tried to scuff under the rug about continental accretion. If you remember them, the continents added to themselves.
I was wondering if you recall discussing that with him?
Oh, yes. I asked him once for a copy of that paper he did on continental accretion. I got a letter back from him saying, gee, he’s sorry. He’s all out of them. He wasn’t out of them. He was trying to hide it. [Laughs] I hit him on that later on once. He admitted that he’d abandoned those ideas and was not anxious to have it quoted. [Laughs]
What are your impressions of Wilson’s overall operations in the department?
Well, it was a happy ship. He ran a good department. Tuzo was a big thinker type. And you’ve got to bear in mind that all of these people were pretty close together. Teddy Bullard, Maurice Ewing, Harry Hess, George Woolard, Tuzo, J. Brackett Hersey, all those guys were thicker than thieves. They didn’t all agree with each other, mind you, but they all had very close contact with each other. And they all ran good shows in their own way. Each one had a slightly different style from the other. Tuzo’s was a relaxed style. He liked to think big picture sort of stuff. Ewing liked data. Ewing was always out there getting more data. Tuzo was more one to try to synthesize data that already existed and to draw a picture of it that seemed reasonable.
Did you feel he was relatively alone in Toronto, or was this the view of others who were at Toronto at the same time?
It was not a big department.
George Garland was there?
Yes, George Garland was there. The department, which is not surprising as a Canadian department, was very big on economic geology and they had some very distinguished economic people there. And you could almost argue that Tuzo was the only —
Of course, he’d been interested early in his career in things like aerial photography and its application to exploration.
Yes. That’s right. Oh, yes. He fit. And George Garland was a big thinker, too. He’s a seismologist. They started on the global scale and worked their way down. But all influenced by Dicky [Richard M.] Field.
An important part. [Laughter] We’ve mentioned already the NSF committee that you served on. I’m wondering, as you think back to the early 1960s, what seemed to be the most important committee work that you were called on to do?
I note that you were working in the National Academy, on the working groups on the ocean survey, [inaudible].
Well, the biggest committee back in those days was the early Committee on Oceanography. And that was an important committee because it really established the ground rules for what happened in oceanography after that time.
I have a copy of your CV right here, by the way.
Oh, do you?
[Laughs] I figured you might have been going to look for one.
Because that has a list of — I’ve forgotten what committees I was on. Can I just run down these?
Okay, there’s the Working Group on Geology and Geophysics for the International Indian Ocean expedition. The Indian Ocean got neglected through time. As Scripps and Woods Hole and the British and the French and so forth worked in the Atlantic — excuse me, Lamont, Woods Hole — and as Scripps and the Japanese and Washington and the others worked in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean was sort of left out in left field. So it was decided that it would be useful to have something to work at this. And this was a follow-up to the IGY. So it was sold and it was successful and we learned a great deal about the Indian Ocean.
I don’t want to interrupt the flow. I’m wondering if you remember any of the discussions about the broader politics of including the Indian subcontinent in geophysical explorations in the 1960s. Clearly that was emerging as one of the areas of concern as the Cold War progressed in the 1960s. Did that come into any of the discussions that you had?
Well, you know, the IEIOE involved Soviets just like it involved us.
And they were intimately involved in the planning. And like the IGY, this sort of thing is done under ICSU [International Council of Scientific Unions], not under UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization] or governmental organizations. ICSU is the International Council of Scientific Unions, but it has always maintained that it does not pay any attention to politics at all. It’s sometimes hard to maintain that, but that’s the basic principle. So the name of the game as established in IGY is all data are freely circulatable and scientists can move back and forth and all that sort of thing. So the planning for IAOE was done under the same principles, which would suggest that the Cold War was ignored, rather than a part of the action on my part. Let’s see. The working Group on Solid Earth problems, GRB. That was something that was put together by Merle Tuve. Merle put together two groups, actually, the Young Turks and the Old Farts. And they met separately and then met jointly and produced a report which is around here somewhere, on what we should be doing in studies of the solid earth. And Merle felt this way because there’d been a lot of effort put into looking at the oceans but not much on what should be done with the continents and the solid part of the earth. So that came out with a report which was reasonably acceptable. Ocean Surveys Panel, Committee on Oceanography. That was basically to decide what we needed to do in order to figure out what was there. It’s the last gasp of the exploration aspects of ocean activity. Upper Mantle Committee was designed to take advantage of the IGY. And this project extended for a decade rather than just a year or so. It was an effective communication mechanism for getting people to work together and getting people to be permitted to work in various places. Committee on Oceanography — by this time it was ‘67, and that became the Ocean Sciences Board. By this time it began to lose its sense of direction somewhat because basically it solved the basic problem that people were after when they had the earlier committee on oceanography. And so it fumbled a little bit. It didn’t do very much. Committee advisory to ESSA [US Environmental Science Service Administration] — that was sort of interesting. In Noah. This was a committee to advise Bob [Robert M.] White.
Yes, who was the director of ESSA.
That’s correct. And an interesting group of people on it. Guys like [Charles] Draper, who ran Draper Labs. And what’s his name? The guy who’s the head of Hughes Aircraft. His name slipped. Anyway, Vern [Vernon] Suomi from Wisconsin. Basically it was a science and technology committee designed to help Bob do his job as head of ESSA.
Do you remember discussions particularly from those panel meetings? Was there mostly consensus on the sorts of things that ESSA should be doing? Or were there disagreements?
Oh, there are always disagreements. For example, Vern Suomi was big on satellites. So he and his crew up at Wisconsin had figured out a way to make temperature soundings of the atmosphere from satellites. And if you compared them with balloon measurements they were just about as good. So he’d turn to Bob and say, “Well, Bob now you don’t need all those hundreds of balloon stations out there.” And he’d say, “Well, they can’t do winds.” So then they figured out a way to do winds, too. So he’d come back and say, “Well, now Bob, you can do temperature and the wind as well. Now you can get rid of a lot of those stations there.” “Oh, I can’t do that.” “Why not?” He says, “There’s one in every congressional district in the country.” [Laughs] It’s just practical politics. They eventually did — they merged with FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] stations, or the FAA stations merged with them to come back. And they used that data. But they still have some balloon stations. We used to have them everywhere here. But now — let’s see, there’s one in Concord and one in Burlington, I guess. And there used to be one at Logan Airport. That’s gone. And one at Springfield Airport. That’s gone. They really cut back. US Geodynamics Committee — Well, the Geodynamics project I got into because of Harry Hess. And Harry was concerned about where we were going in the solid earth studies. So he got me involved in looking into this and we had a meeting in Paris about 19 — late 60s sometime, ‘67, ‘66, somewhere in there, which [John] Coulomb set up. And Coulomb was the head of the IUGG [International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics] at the time. John Coulomb. And a half a dozen of us, Dan McKenzy from Cambridge, Xavier Le Pichon, Brian Baker from Kenya, [Ernst] Naggli from Switzerland, Lubimova from the Soviet Union. Seems to me there was somebody else. I could find that out, too. But anyway, our franchise was to figure out what we should be doing in solid earth for the next decade because the Upper Mantle Project was going to come to an end. So we sat around — this was right after plate tectonics had become established, or sea floor spreading, so we decided what we should be doing is developing this model and showing how it operates in terms of global geology. So we came up with the name Geodynamics Project and I served as president of that for five years.
This was early at the time you were here at Dartmouth?
It began before I was at Dartmouth. Then from ‘68 — let’s see, from ‘68 till about ‘73 or 4 — ‘73 for the international project, and I was chairman of the US committee for ten years, up to ‘78. And that was a fruitful exercise. And what else?
How did you decide at that point what were the principle questions that you felt needed to be asked?
What you had basically was a kinematic model which explained how the ocean crust was formed and explained how the continents were originally together and gradually moving apart. It barely needed development because early in the game we had a model and some verification but we hadn’t mapped all the stripes and all the oceans so you didn’t know anything about small plates. You know, they were all huge plates in the beginning. And you didn’t know the relative motions of these smaller plates. And we really hadn’t yet figured out how the geology of things like mountain systems was explicitly related to this model. They were just beginning to look at the implications of the model for ore deposits and for petroleum. In fact, the petroleum industry at that time was generally fairly negative about the model.
When you say to the model to mean to the plate tectonics model generally?
Yes. Art [Arthur E.] Meyerhoff who had a big influence in the AAPG [American Association of Petroleum Geologists] used to get up at meetings and come up with alternate explanations for these phenomena based on non-plate tectonics and he always got big cheers from the crowd because they didn’t like the idea of having to think about new things, I guess.
I was going to ask why you think this was so? You feel that one could notice a definite difference going to say an AAPG professional meeting versus AGU or versus GSA [Geological Society of America]?
Oh, yes. Back in the sixties that was the case. The AAPG — Art had a very strong influence there. He was editor of the magazine for one thing and he’s a prodigious worker and the guy who knew geology on the global scale better than almost anybody I can think of, and he didn’t believe in it. Well, these other guys who are working in the oil patch, you know, and they’re thinking about their local areas but not necessarily thinking about global geology. What Art was basically saying to them, “Don’t worry about it fellows. What you’ve been doing all along is great.”
That broader tectonic systems are simply irrelevant, in other words, to the work that was going on in the field.
Well, they were irrelevant to lots of people. If you’re working in Oklahoma or Kansas or someplace like that, what does plate tectonics mean to you? It didn’t mean anything until Pete [Peter R.] Vail began to show it was related to sea level changes. Well, that did make a difference out there in Kansas and Oklahoma.
When was that work done?
Pete’s work? Probably ‘70, ‘71, ‘72, somewhere in there.
You were going through the list of the major —
Yes. The whole driving mechanism, given that you have this, what made it happen? And what’s the source of energy and how did it behave. So you had the basic problem of sorting everything out and then you had the corresponding problem of what made it happen. How’s it going? We still fiddle with that problem. We realize its internal heat and some kind of convection but there’s a lot of modeling going on and it’s not firmly established yet, exactly what it is.
I think you had only gone through so far the first page or maybe page and a half of your committee assignments for that period. I was curious just how much time this took you because you did seem to be involved in a great many committee activities.
Well, I was, and that was deliberate for a period there. It was deliberate because I discovered like with AAPG that, if you wanted to influence what the society did, or what organizations did, it was much easier to influence them if you were on the inside than on the outside. So I got involved with the research committee of the AAPG and I got involved with the GSA and I got involved with AGU and these other organizations as well as the, National Academy and the EXU, and it just made it much easier to make things happen if you did it that way rather than trying to come in from outside and telling them this is what they ought to be doing.
I suspect, at least, it’s in that context that your piece circa 1962 or ‘63 on the uses of geophysics came out following the recommendation of Nelson Steenland. I have a copy —
Did I write something I don’t know about? [Laughter]
Let’s see if I can pull that out right away. I noticed that it was in — it was the piece that you had written — geophysics and quoted engineering which was calling for a better integration of the new geophysical techniques into the practice of caring.
Yes. That’s right.
That was 1962.
Yes. This was an issue which had a number of articles in it and I was the editor for that issue. Nelson, he’d been a graduate student at Columbia, too and he was editor at the time and he suggested I do this. He wrote a letter, I think, protesting it.
I think he did. He felt we were doing more than I gave him credit for. But anyway, the idea here, when it says geophysics and engineering, that’s the sort of thing we were interested in, and got involved in Alpine to do, was to apply some of these new techniques to civil engineering projects.
Do you remember what kind of reaction you got to this?
I got some correspondence and it tended to be of two types. One type was, “Well, gee, we’re involved in this already. How come you didn’t give us more credit?” And there were some firms like Western Geophysical, who was involved in that, but I couldn’t really credit Western Geophysical because L. [Lewis] Don Beet was there, you see and he and Ewing were not good friends.
As we discussed in our first interview. I had heard from the interview yesterday with John Ewing that Don beet actually showed up at a meeting that was held at Lamont in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s.
That surprised me.
He did? That surprises me, too. Did John tell you about him taking Leet’s course at Harvard?
He mentioned that — he recalled it as being within someone else’s seminar. Leet was actually giving a presentation, spending his time.
Did he tell you his reaction? Did I tell you my reaction?
I believe you did. But let’s make sure we have it in.
No, he wrote to Maurice, after that, and sent him a letter. We used to have our salami and swiss sandwiches there in the main room at Schermerhorn, and so he read this to us and said, “What should I do?” And my question was, “Why does he hate you so much?” Well, he gave an answer about credit for research and what have you, which never seemed quite satisfactory. We did talk about that.
Yes, but it’s an important matter and I’m glad to make sure that we had covered that because you did mention it earlier. I’m just curious, how close did you become to Nelson Steenland during —
How did I?
How well did you know Nelson Steenland? Of course, he had moved out from Lamont’s orbit.
I knew him as a graduate student when he was there at Columbia.
Did you have much contact with him?
Oh, once in a while, but not too often. He went with Louie [Louis L.] Nettleton into the exploration business doing gravity and magnetic work and we were in some contact because of that. I visited his house down in Texas a couple of times, but not all that close. Joe was closer. But Joe was more of an age — Nelson was a little older than I was and I think Nelson had worked with Maurice. I can’t be sure of that. He may have worked with Maurice on some of that early refraction. Yes, I’m pretty sure he did. Yes. That’s right. Nelson Steenland and Will [William?] Rutherford. Willie was the other one. I don’t know whatever happened to Willie. Joe would know. And Alan Vine, who you missed.
One development that I’m fairly sure we didn’t’ cover in the first interview was the emergence of the biology programs, small as they were, at Lamont. Do you recall discussions with Ewing about implementing a biology program? How did they come about?
Oh, I suspect they came about because Ewing as a member of the National Academy, knew [Paul R.] Burkholder.
This is Paul.
Paul Burkholder. And Burkholder expressed some interest in looking for drugs from the sea and Ewing said, “Well, we work in the sea.” And so that’s how it started. But we weren’t in the biology business at all before that.
Did it seem to be a matter of opportunity that Burkholder had this interest? Or was there a sense — was Ewing getting interested in expanding the domain of Lamont to be more inclusive, of the biological as well as the physical?
Well, I think Ewing was basically interested in any kind of data that could be extracted from the ocean. He was a data type. And if Burkholder was interested in looking at marine critters, well, that’s another source of data that might turn out to be useful, somehow. Also, if you got a ship that’s out there, it’s like getting into the magnetometer business. The ship has to steam to get to the next place to take a core or do a seismic station. It costs you nothing to tow a magnetometer. So why not tow it because that’s more data that you can get. And the same with the surface ship grameter. They worked hard to develop one that would work on a surface vessel. Again, you’re getting more data per buck by measuring everything you can. So essentially that was what he was after. The ship was expensive. It took time to get out there and the more things you could do on it while it’s out there, the less your unit cost of data and the more you learned about the ocean. So here’s Burkholder saying, “Well, we can learn something else and why not?”
What sort of man was Burkholder?
I never knew him very well but he was pleasant enough. We had by that time a separate building, which he was housed in. I just really don’t remember all that much about him. That’s curious.
How did it work? Burkholder brought in his own funds for the research that he wanted to do and he was provided space?
Oh yes. He was provided space. That’s right.
Do you remember him coming to any of the relevant colloquia series? Did he play an active role in the community?
My impression is not all that active. But that’s an impression and I wouldn’t trust it.
How long was he at Lamont?
Seems like he was still there when [Ostwald A.] Roels came. And then it was shortly after that he must have retired. Those days you know 65 was retirement age in universities. And they didn’t have any real exceptions to that. You could be a temporary type like Sidney Paige. He taught till he was — P-a-i-g-e — he taught till he was 82 or 83, somewhere in there. Then his eyes got so bad he couldn’t recognize the students. He retired.
And this is what happened with Burkholder? He was approaching retirement?
Yes. I think he was older than Ewing and I think he decided to retire. I think. But my recollection on that is poor.
I’m curious if you do recall discussions with Ewing about how he felt the biology program was coming along under Burkholder? As we spoke a little bit off tape about that.
I don’t remember ever discussing with Ewing anything about the biology program. That’s curious. Ask Bill [William] Layton about Burkholder, because I’m sure he would know him.
What were your impressions of the program and of Ostwald Roels? He came to be the person who was doing this work at Lamont [Crosstalk]
Yes, he came in, as I said, because of George Sutton and he came in with some ideas about what he wanted to do.
And this was the fish concentrate program?
Well, it was nutrition from the sea basically. Got involved with that and then Sam [Robert D.] Gerard came up with this idea about artificial upwelling down in St. Croix. Sam’s idea actually arose from the fact that places like St. Thomas have a chronic water shortage and Sam took note of the fact that you’ve got these trade winds blowing water saturated air by the island every day. And if you could condense some of that water you’d have a good fresh water supply. Sam also knew that when you go down deeper in the ocean the water was cold. So he said just put a pipe down deep and run it through a big radiator and put it up on a hill, use a windmill to generate power for the pump and condense water and run it into a tank. And not only that, he said, but that water that you’re taking from down there is rich in nutrients because it’s below the photic zone. So you could run that into a pond and have nutrient rich water in which to grow phytoplankton and clams and things like that. Well, the water part of it never got implemented but the aquaculture part of it did and they set up this plant down in St. Croix where they ran a pipe down to about a thousand meters depth and brought up this nutrient rich water and grew fat clams in a short period of time on it. So it worked.
How did people at Lamont feel about projects like that?
Oh, peripheral to the main thrust of the institution but we’re in the oceans and that’s something you do in the oceans.
Does it seem to fit in terms of the applied nature of the earth sciences?
I suppose so. But it was always peripheral to the main — even physical oceanography was peripheral to our main drive for a long while.
Right. You mentioned that George Wust was brought in to lead that and this was the reason that Xavier Le Pichon. How well did you come to know Le Pichon?
Oh, very well.
What sort of person was he?
At Lamont and then subsequently we worked together on the geodynamics project. He was the secretary-general and I was the president.
By that point he had returned to France?
Yes. He was brought back by Coulomb, same guy, to establish their new laboratory at Brest. And so he went back to Paris and did that and did very well in building that up.
Had anyone hoped to retain Le Pichon at Lamont? Was he seen as a potential long term researcher or was the whole physical oceanography seen as peripheral?
Now he was not in physical oceanography then. He came to work with Wust. But then he discovered plate tectonics, which was just — So his thesis was puffing together a lot of the stuff that we’d done into a coherent package. A very nice piece of work. Yes, we wrote some papers together and we worked together. Good friends. In fact, his son called up the other day.
What sort of person was he, as you think back?
Smart. A little moody. Did a lot of good works, with outfits like big brother and what have you, looking after other people; very socially conscious. Was ready to admit if he made a boo boo. Like he wanted to get rid of the submersibles in France. France was a leader in that. And they had a lot of trouble. I worked with them. They had a lot of trouble with Le Pichon, but then he was involved in this project in the mid-ocean ridge and he became totally converted. In fact, wrote me a letter apologizing for his earlier reluctance to accept submersibles, and became all for them. And pushed them. They really built some new ones and have done some nice work with them.
And this was an issue that was lively in the 1980s? Earlier?
Earlier than that. See, the French bought the first bathyscaph that [Auguste] Piccard made from —
— and a third one. The third one was the Arshemed.
You say they built a second and third?
Bathyscaphe after the original Piccard design?
But these were under the control of the French Navy down in Toulon and the Arshemed was built so it would go to the bottom of the ocean anywhere. It was like the Trieste, which was built by Piccard’s son. And they used the Arshemed very successfully in a number of places. I dove with them in the Puerto Rico Trench and then the Calamata Trench off Greece.
When was that?
That was ‘65 -‘65.
I want to hear at some point what the dive was like.
It’s interesting. If you ever go into the submersible business, go with the French. Because you go down in the Alvin and for lunch they give you a ham sandwich and an apple and a bottle of milk. And then you go with the French and they give you roast chicken and Beaujolais and a little brie. [Laughter] Very civilized. But it was a well-run operation. The Arshemed is retired now and that group has been dispersed but the other group, the non-military group in France has got into the submersible business, too. And in fact the guy that used to be the chief scientist for the Arshemed —
You’re pointing up to your —
That yellow and brown thing right in front of the middle there. That’s the Arshemed.
Okay. You’re pointing to a row of models that you have on the middle shelf here.
Yes. But Henri DeLouse, who was the chief scientist of that group, started a company called Comex. And Comex is one of the leaders in both deep diving and submersible type diving and passengers, tourist submarines, stuff like that. But then the French now have several submersibles for research purposes, but not under the French navy.
I’m curious how you got the models that are there.
I used to teach a course in oceanography.
Here and every student had to do either a project or a paper and lots of them preferred to do projects so they’d do all sorts of things like building ship models. That whale up there with the stamps in it; that was a model.
Yes. I’m looking behind on the wall a relief outline of a whale with — and what are the stamps? I can’t quite make it out.
They’re all marine stamps from different countries. And then things like that. There’s the Titanic up there and the Schooner America and that relief map, all of those things. There all old projects from my oceanography course.
This might be an appropriate time to talk a little bit about the voyages you did make on the submersibles. Was the first dive that you made in the mid- 1960s?
‘64, I think. The US had not been in the submersible business. The question is could we do anything useful if we were in the submersible business. Now [Jacques] Cousteau had brought his flying saucer over and it would go down to a thousand meters or so. But the French approached us and said how about a joint exercise in the Puerto Rico Trench area, so I got wind of this and thought it made real sense and so we persuaded ONR to put up the money for a joint venture in Puerto Rico. So we went down there and made a series of dives with different people. Let’s see, Bob [Robert] Dill who is — was — with NOAA [National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration]. He made some dives. I made some dives. The French made some dives and tried various things, like I took a gravity meter and measured gravity on the bottom. And it turned out later, the following year in Greece we could measure gravity as we came up, too, till you got up to about 1500 meters or so and then it began to oscillate and it shook too much to work. But otherwise you could do it.
You mean in the sense that the submersible was a platform?
Yes, but when it rose it gradually accelerated, but it rose very smoothly till it got up to the point where it began to get a little turbulence and then it began to wobble and when it wobbled, the meter wouldn’t be steady enough to be able to read. But you could read it from 8,000 meters up to 1500 or so.
You certainly got readings within the Trench itself.
Oh. Yes, right.
What seemed to be the most significant aspect of what you were finding in the gravity measurements?
Well, you know, I sent them off — I wrote a paper about it but I sent them off to Paris because there’s a woman geologist there who’d been looking for vertical data that she could use to find the gravity gradients, because from the gravity gradients you could then solve the problem of the distributions of mass. So I sent them off to her. I don’t know what happened to them. I didn’t hear from her.
I was just looking through to see if I could quickly spot the paper.
It would be about ‘66 or so.
I’ve already gone up to ‘68. I probably passed by it.
Oh, here it is. Drake and Lewis, ‘69. “Gravity Measurements Near Greece from the, —.” DeLouse is the guy that started this company called Comex.
Yes. You just mentioned that. How did you feel that those results were fitting into the debate, by that point the emerging debate over plate tectonics?
Perhaps the most interesting thing on the dives was in Greece because if you go right at the base of the inner wall of the trench in Greece the sediments at the bottom are wrinkled. They look almost like ripple marks. But there’s no current down there. So there can’t be ripple marks.
And were they on the scale that was larger than what one would expect?
Oh, yes. You’re looking at something the size of this room, say, and the ripples would be this far apart, or the pseudo-ripple [holding hands about two feet apart]. But actually what they were were evidence of compression. The sediments had been rumpled up by what must have been an earthquake in historic times or maybe the last few thousand years or so. The other thing was, no matter where you dove you always saw signs of life, even at the bottom of the trenches. And sometime you’d see the life itself like the bethiotorips which were fish that have two pointed dorsal fins plus a tail and they sit on the bottom like that, off the bottom looking around.
You’re holding your fingers down in a kind of inverted —
So they’re sitting there waiting for something to come by that can be eaten. But lots of times there’s burrows and holes and you don’t see the critter but you can see the evidence of it having been there.
One other area that I wanted to cover, and then if we have time, I want to get into the development of the research program that you were involved in the 1960s, is the teaching that you took on. What were the courses that you did take on teaching once you had completed the Ph.D. and were —
Well, I started teaching, actually, before I completed the Ph.D.
That’s right. You were already lecturing by 1958.
What they needed was for somebody to teach geology for engineers. And since I had an engineering degree, they figured, well, he’s a guy that could teach geology for engineers. So I started giving that course at Columbia before I actually had my Ph.D.
What I should have asked, because we did cover it a bit in the first interview, was as you became — when you gained the appointment one year after your Ph.D., as an assistant professor — what courses did you feel were the most significant that were needed within the department at the time? What did you particularly want to introduce?
Well, I still liked that course for engineers because I had this interest in getting the engineers involved more with geophysical techniques. What else did I teach? I taught tectonics, which was appropriate because we were learning things in the oceans about tectonics that ran counter to many of the ideas that were being taught in tectonics. Also, I organized another course. One of the problems — not problems — but one of the characteristics of the graduate student body in our department was that their backgrounds were extremely varied. They may come out of chemistry or physics or engineering or geology or what have you. And I felt there ought to be some common body of knowledge that they had been exposed to that would let them know that they’re really dealing with the earth. So I organized a course which was basically set up to introduce them to the principle areas of geology that were covered by some of the faculty. So I was the coordinator and part-time lecturer. But I’d get people like Malcolm [C.] McKenna to come up and talk about vertebrate paleontology or Roger [L.] Batten, invertebrate paleontology, or Norman [D.] Newell to say something about economic paleontology or Charlie [Charles H.] Behre [Jr.], something about economic geology and so forth down the line. So over the course of this you kind of gave people who did not have a background in geology some inkling of the scope and nature of the field. And that was a worthwhile course, I think. In fact, we even do that here now.
I was curious if that was one of the innovations that you had brought here. Did that serve as kind of a capstone course? Where did it fit into the curriculum for the students?
Where? Here or at Columbia?
At Columbia? Well, it was something everybody took. So as a result it was a common denominator for each person. And it came early so that if there were some areas that particularly perked their interest, why they could pursue them because they weren’t at the end of their career. They were at the beginning of it.
So this was essentially a required first-year course?
And did it come into being at the time that you were there? It happened earlier on?
No. We hadn’t had that. Now let’s see, Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker and I taught the beginning course at Barnard one year.
Is that right?
How did that come about?
Well, we had an arrangement with Barnard and Barnard would let the Columbia department recruit the — there was one faculty member who was the Barnard professor and they would allow us to recruit that person provided we would cover if their professor retired or what have you. So the previous professor had retired. We were in a recruiting mode but didn’t have anybody yet so Wally and I agreed that we would teach the Barnard ladies the introductory course, which was fun.
Sure. When was this that you did that?
That was the year of the strike. ‘68.
Yes. I remember that particularly because right after the strike I’m walking over to Barnard and I see a couple of my young lathes out there with a placard, protesting. So I said, “What are you protesting for?” She says, “Oh, we’re protesting in support of the Columbia strike.” I say, “What are they protesting for?” Well, they didn’t know. So I said, “You know, what you got to do is get your demands in order and present them to somebody reasonably responsible and back off and if nothing happens then really protest.” So they said, “Well, there’s nobody reasonable to present them to.” I said, “Well, what about Dave [David B.] Truman?” He was the most popular dean they ever had at Columbia College, but they didn’t trust him anymore because he was now the provost. I said, “Well, what about me?” And they said, “That’s not fair.” So I went in and did my business. Came out and they had gone.
Do you remember what the content of that course came to be? I’m curious. In particular did Broecker talk about the work that was being developed in the 1950s, the quickness of ocean convection and its relationship to carbon dioxide absorption?
I can tell you what we talked about. We talked half about things that we had to talk about and we talked about half about things that we wanted to talk about. And the young lathes told us they could tell us exactly which parts we wanted to talk about and which parts we had to. It really shows up for students because you get more excited when you’re talking about the things that are of particular interest to you and less so when you’re going through the mechanics of “You got to learn this and this and this.”
Which topics were which?
Oh, by then you’re into — well, plate tectonics model had become accepted but it hadn’t yet made it into the textbooks. Or, if it were it was, very rudimentary. But you can’t just start somebody off by saying, “Well, here’s plate tectonics.” You have to know what a rock is and what a mineral is and the fact that there’s land and ocean. A lot of basic information to get together before you can come to that. A lot of pick and shovel work that’s involved with getting going.
What were the interesting topics that you recall that you tried to present?
Well, from my perspective it was the plate model. From Wally’s perspective it was more the ocean side of things, the water part of the oceans and how it circulated and the rates at which it circulated and the fact that you could use bomb carbon as a tracer, you know, and bomb tritium as a tracer. You could look at the data and you could actually see this stuff moving through the ocean. All that good stuff.
Do you remember whether he was talking about the potential for global warming, given the work that had already come out with Roger Revelle?
I tell you, you go back in the 60s, late 60s early 70s, you look in all the publications you want to. Science Magazine or Nature or The New York Times or what have you, what everybody’s talking about then is the impending ice age and how it’s going to be upon us. Nobody’s talking global warming.
That’s a very good point. It was very different. It was a climate change, but to what was going to happen was very much up in the air.
That’s correct. So I could show you a quote. Well, I won’t right now.
No, but you’re absolutely right. This was a major concern and that was where the tension was focused.
No, the global warming, that really — the emphasis began with Roger Revelle and Chuck [Charles] Keeling. We had a thing called the geophysics study committee, which I chaired for a while. And we did a report on carbon dioxide and climate.
When did you do that report?
Well, I’ve got it right here.
Watch yourself on the cord.
I will. It’s right up here. But this report was slow in coming out because of the controversial nature of the thing. Roger wrote the final chapter which was the conclusions and people objected to it because they felt he was going too far. Somebody got it?
I should say on the tape, you’re looking through a part of your shelf right now that seems to have a number of committee reports.
I can’t find the thing. Solar variability. That’s another thing. We did a solar variability study.
When was that done?
That one? ‘82. I would guess that Roger’s thing must have been along around the late seventies or ‘80 Anyway, and Chuck Keeling had these measurements by that time from Mauna Loa. And they showed the C02 content going straight up. Well, Ewing and [G.] Arrhenius had published a paper somewhat earlier about the great unintended experiment which was adding C02 to the atmosphere and along around that time why the attitudes changed and instead of all of us freezing to death, we’re all going to fry. [Laughs] Sometime read Thurber’s story called “The Day the Dam the Broke.”
What brings that to mind?
Well, because the dam didn’t break. Somebody made a statement. Somebody else didn’t hear it quite. The third person thought they said the dam had broken and you know, on and on this thing goes. So everybody gets caught up in this groundswell and finally they discovered, well it didn’t’ break at all. We seem to do that, you know, go from — after the global warming thing calms down why, we’ll find something else to bother us.
Thurber wrote a number of pieces of that sort. I recall another one on propaganda which I suspect was one of his more famous ones.
Francis Conford wrote a little book called Microcosmografia Academica, being a guide to the academic politician and in it he describes propaganda as the art of not quite fooling your enemies and not quite convincing your friends. It’s up here somewhere unless somebody stole it. That branch of the art of lying. [Laughs]
I think that’s a real interesting point. Could you detect a period at which you felt there was a change in the way that the earth sciences were being conducted when these sorts of issues that had broad political ramifications came more to the fore?
It certainly happened. The question is when. In the immediate post-war period I would say the emphasis was almost totally devoid of social considerations and the ice age thing came before the global warming thing.
Particularly after the Ewing - Donn theory?
Well, that was an idea. But the matching of the cycles was [Mulatin] Milankovich. Wally had actually had a paper where he rejected that match. But the problem was the relative amplitudes of the peaks. And after some recalculation he changed his mind and came around to it. And then of course the work from the — by then you had enough sediment cores to be able to do oxygen isotopes and make other measurements. Well, that’s what Dave [David B.] Ericson was working on back in the beginning, just using to using the [unclear] data. Anyway, we began to get enough of a body of data to be able to correlate the cycicity of things found in the cores with the cyclicity predicted by orbital variations in the earth. The match, when you did spectrum analysis, was surprisingly good. So he made a splash and of course this gets peoples’ attention. Maybe that’s what got him socially conscious. They found if they got peoples’ attention, they’d get money.
I’m wondering, realizing it’s a difficult issue to put in these terms, is there a period of time at which you do feel that these factors become much more significant than they had been in the earth sciences previous?
It certainly happened and if you asked me for a specific year — I’d have to think about that for a while.
I’m wondering, did the emerging environmental movement in the 1960s play a role?
Very likely. Very likely.
How did Ewing react to the emergence of environmental attitudes, say, what was expressed on the Columbia campus in the late 1960s?
My guess is no reaction at all. That’s my guess.
It wasn’t on his radar?
Yes. What Ewing wanted to do was figure out how the oceans worked and in a sense he failed and in another sense he didn’t. It was through the data that he’d been so anxious to collect that it was verified. But he himself didn’t come up with the model. In fact, he resisted the model for quite a while. But he went through his grave resisting it. I’m not sure.
That, I want to get back to —
You better talk to Joe about that.
In fact, we’ve already treated some of that in our interviews.
Does Joe believe in plate tectonics yet?
[pause] I really want to get to this issue [Laughs]. We were postponing a few things for a while. But I just want to pick up on one or two of the other really interesting things you already mentioned. And we’ll probably get back to environmental issues as well. Let me just ask if you know, was there anyone in the Lamont community, if you think back to the 1960s, who identified with the emerging environmental attitudes, who became an advocate for Drake — 2 — 200 considering these points of view? Or did that really come up in your recollection at Lamont?
Well, the two people who have been most involved were — one was John Imbrie. But John left, you see, and he went up to Brown [University]. So that’s something that — and in addition, let’s see Ewing had his own model. The Ewing-Donn model. And so he was less enthusiastic about the Milankovich model than he might have been even though we had a man on our staff, [Wenceslas S.] Jardetsky, who had been a colleague of Milankovich’s at Belgrade back in the pre-war period.
And the same fellow he had co-authored the book with?
Yes, Jardetsky. So he’s well aware of Milankovich and his ideas and we were taught it in some course. You know, it was given to us as an idea. I’ve forgotten the course now.
That’s interesting. So you were exposed to that.
Yes, we were exposed to it. Yes. But aside from those two — well you could argue Dave Ericson. He was in the long term, you know, when did the ice age start? Or when did it stop? Where’s the boundary between the Paleocene and the Pleistocene? But that’s hardly environmental, you know, it’s too long. Or you could argue that Larry [J. Lawrence] Kulp was involved in environmental problems. You could argue it pretty strongly. But Larry left.
Environmental in the sense of understanding the introduction of radioactive materials?
Yes, strontium. Strontium, in particular. And Larry did a lot of work. We used to do things — I shouldn’t say this. We used to cut up bodies at Lamont —
Yes. It was part of Project Sunshine.
— and burn them. And then look at the strontium content of the bodies. This was part of the concern about the spread of radioactive nucleonics into the environment. And Larry would — they’d collect wine because wine is dated, you see, and so you could look at that. Or cheese, cheese is dated, too. So in that sense we were involved in the environmental business. But you see, perhaps not being in the biology business hardly at all, the concerns were not as great as they might have been had there been a stronger biological effort. And even Bob [Robert] Menzies, when he came in, he was interested more in critters than drugs. But Bob was interested in the critters that lived on the sea floor. His purpose was to collect and describe all of the fauna of the deep ocean floor. So that’s not quite environmental, either. That might be the reason that Lamont was slow to get in the environmental business. We weren’t involved in the biological business. And I should note that during this same period the Columbia biology department, which had been a first class classical department for many years, was going through tremendous throes. I was on a committee — the last committee I was on at Columbia was called The Committee on the Future of the Biological Sciences at Columbia University. And the question was how to get into the molecular side of biology.
Which of course was getting very big?
Oh, yes. And so they hired Cy [Cyrus] Levinthal and Cy said he would come provided he could be chairman. And the people who were already there said “If he’s chairman, we’re leaving”. So there’s this explosion. And a lot of people left and the department turned from being a major classical department to a molecular department and then finally they realized that these molecules were part of organisms and they worked into a better balance. But that whole thing took 10-15 years. So we weren’t getting much feedback from the biology department there, either. Oh, and there was another complication. Perry [B.] Hudson — I forgot about Perry. He poisoned us with the biologists. Perry, when Doe went over the side between New York and Bermuda —
This was back in ‘54?
‘53, I think. Maybe ‘51. But he and his brother John and Mike Brown, the second mate and Charlie, first mate, all went over and they got them all back but Charlie. Doe was badly beat up and so Perry, who was a urologist, went to work on him and repaired his plumbing, for which Doe was very grateful. But then Perry got in trouble with the medical school because he expected to be the next professor of urology and they by-passed him and appointed somebody else, and he felt betrayed and there were lawsuits and all sorts of things, and Doe got in between here and tried to negotiate a settlement. And the settlement he negotiated was that Perry would drop his lawsuits if the biology department would give him an appointment as a professor of biology. Well, the Biology Department didn’t really want him but in the interest of calming things down they agreed to this, and then Perry went ahead and sued anyway. And so that created frictions between Maurice and Perry so the relationships there were extraordinarily strained. This meant that anybody who was in biology at Lamont had almost no contacts with the biologists at Columbia. So that’s probably a large piece of why we didn’t get involved in the environmental side of things sooner.
Was Perry Hudson involved in any research programs at Lamont or was this simply a matter of his relation to Ewing?
He was working on cigarettes and cancer. He had a house and a lab down at the bottom of the hill, below Lamont, which is now where they do the tree ring work there. And he was trying to develop a filter for cigarettes. This is stupid to be doing at Lamont; that would be much healthier than the filters that they were using now.
But that had been seen as part of the Lamont effort?
No, it was part of keeping Perry away from the biology department where they didn’t want any part of him. [Laughs]
I was wondering whether political feelings in the broadest sense, or professional feelings, to put it in a different way, may have also played a role in the lack of response to the environmental movement. Did that seem to be a factor? Did those who were representing environmental interests on campus seem to be identified with those who were also concerned with military funding at the campus?
No, I don’t think it was that. I think there was a general feeling that the environment is like education, that it’s something that everybody should have. But it’s not a subject that’s worthy of scholarly interest. It’s too broad and unfocused and not a discipline. So it had trouble getting established in many universities just for the snottiness of the intellectual profession.
Amorphous, multi-disciplinary, having no overlying and integrating theory?
Yes. We had a big conference up here before we started our environmental studies program. It’s always been a program — not a department. Had a big conference. Invited lots of people up and sat there trying to figure out what we should do because we thought we should do something. And eventually we ended up with an environmental studies program where everybody majors in something so that they’re intellectually pure, you see. But then they get a certificate in environmental studies and do other things there, too. And it’s still that way. And they have graduate students now but the graduate students are in our department or in biology or in chemistry. They’re not in environmental studies. And it’s a toughie because it cuts in a way that the normal university way of packaging things doesn’t quite function. And some schools have done it reasonably well and other schools have done it quite badly. Duke [University] has done it badly. Duke basically took two units of the school which were not functioning very well and put them together and called them a School of Environmental Science. Well, that’s stupid. Virginia has done better. They have a Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences where one can go through and look at meteorology or geology or what have you. Harvard has got a department that’s basically a global change department now, with lots of distinguished people like Jim [James] McCarthy and Allen Robinson, [Mike] MacElroy and others. Well, we all have trouble with it because it’s just divided up in a way that we’re not accustomed to.
Again, was there discussion about these issues at Lamont during the time that you remained at Columbia? Or at Columbia was this a development that came later on?
I think it was later. I was department chairman then, so if there had been significant discussions I would have been aware of them. And I’m not aware of them.
To return briefly, at least, to the teaching, you had mentioned that one of the courses that you developed was in tectonics. Do you remember which course textbook you were using? Or how you actually worked through the materials?
Well, it was hard to find a good textbook in the field and almost no textbook in tectonics mentioned plate tectonics back then.
When did you start that course?
This would be in the sixties, probably mid-sixties; ‘66-’67, somewhere in there.
And this was after Bucher, or course, had long been retired.
Bucher had gone and we hadn’t got [Ian] Dalziel yet. Or we were just starting to get Daiziel. And Daiziel wasn’t interested in tectonics in that sense, at that point, so much as he was in structure. So I taught this course. I forgot — I used mostly reprints, I think, because that’s what you had available to you.
How many students were in that? Was it a class or a seminar?
Yes, it was a class. There were maybe a dozen. I could find out. I’ve got the notes on it somewhere.
Those sorts of things would be wonderful.
Down in the bowels of those files. Some old notes.
Those are going to be very valuable. I wanted to also ask — we may not want to get into some of the research in detail today just because we’re going to be coming to the time, when unfortunately, we’re going to have to stop. But one of the things we didn’t get a chance to talk about in the last interview segment was the growth of the physical plant of Lamont during the early 1960s, I think when you were there. What I’m showing you right now is reprinted from one of Lamont’s publications in 1962 showing the plans for development as well as the buildings that had existed.
Okay. This existed. That was actually built by a gift, I think, from [Georg Unger] Vetlesen.
Is that right?
For the director. Built as the director’s house. Ewing used to live right here in this little house.
You’re pointing now to the bottom almost center, near the core lab.
That’s right. Near the old core lab, this was the garage originally. Okay, so that was there. This was the shop — it used to be a greenhouse.
That became the machine shop.
Right. And Lamont Hall was there and we were all originally located there with the shop here. And this was an indoor swimming pool and the swimming pool was boarded over. That was a cafeteria for a while.
And in fact, it’s the cafeteria again. At the time it’s labeled “Meteorology and Biology.” Who was in there at the time when you think back?
Oh, this would probably be Bob Menzies’ era. Let me see, we haven’t built — see, there’s some more buildings over here now. They built a biology building here and a seismology building there, which don’t show on this. This was built. None of these others were built.
And were the other ones not built because of the controversy over buildings that were facing —
I don’t think so. I think they weren’t built because they weren’t needed because these were built down here. And then a new shop was built. But that was out —
That was out around the pond.
Yes, right. And a new core lab was built but that was over here. And all of those were in better places in terms of transportation, shipping, receiving and what have you, than it would have been up here.
Done in the area there. Of course, there had been a controversy with—
My office looked right out across the river there. People didn’t like that.
That’s why the building was painted green on the facade and tall trees were planted. That’s really interesting. So Bob Menzies was like the meteorology. Who represented the meteorology interest?
Bill [William L.] Donn — Bill Donn.
How did he divide his time between — was it NYU [New York University] that he was?
No, he is at City College. But we had connections. Andy [Andrew] McIntyre was at Queens College, Eric [Posmentiers] at Southampton College. Ed [Edward M.] Thorndyke was at Queens College. He worked on underwater cameras. Bill Donn, meteorology. City College. I said that.
How often would these people be at Lamont?
Fairly frequently. If you’re teaching, you could usually arrange it so it was three days a week, say, so the other two days when you weren’t teaching you could be up at Lamont doing your research. And you’d have students up there, too. The facility belonged to Columbia but this was an opportunity to broaden your scope in the area and most of these people like Bill Donn, he got his Ph.D. with Ewing. If it hadn’t been for getting a job at City College, why he’d have gone off somewhere else and they couldn’t have worked together. But because he had the job there, they could. So it was good for both sets of institutions. I had forgotten that. I saw that years ago. What’s the date on it? ‘62. ‘63.
So the residence was a gift from Vetlesen [Foundation]?
I think that was Vetlesen.
How influential was Vetlesen for Lamont?
Vetlesen himself, not at all because I think he died. But it was Chad, Chad somebody or other. Chad Brewer? The guy who was the head of the foundation [W. Barrett Brown]. The Wall Street lawyer and I can’t remember his name. Anyway, he was pretty close to Ewing. And since Vetlesen had been in the shipping business, they felt something in the oceans would be very appropriate for the use of Vetlesen money.
And it was particularly tied to Columbia as well?
The foundation is based in New York and it seems to me there’s somebody on the foundation board who was an old Columbia, which always helps. But anyway, we got him first. We had the Vema, or course. And we had the Vema before we got Vetlesen’s support. And of course, that’s named after his wife.
I didn’t realize that.
It was originally to be called Hussar. And it was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post — Hutton. She was Hutton then. And she split with Hutton and married [Joseph] Davies and she sold the Hussar and had the Seaclab built, which is a four rig ship. Anyway, Vetlesen bought the Hussar and renamed it Vema because he was married to the widow of Ambrose Monel who started International Nickel. And her name was Maude. Maude Monel. So the m-a came from Maude and the v-e from Vetlesen. And then he ran it until, oh, sometime before World War II and he gave it to King’s Point, to the Maritime Academy. And they ran it as a training ship for a while and then they couldn’t afford to run it anymore. So they tried to sell it without success and it lay at anchor off Staten Island for some years. And then Louis Kennedy from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia —
You were saying that Louis Kennedy had lost his previous [Crosstalk]
It’s sort of a funny story. He had this old schooner. He used to buy old schooners and haul cargo in them which you could of up to the Second World War. He had this old schooner and he took off for the Indies and the engine wouldn’t run and so they got out there and he worked on the engine. He finally got it running and the submarine heard the engine running and surfaced and told him to get off. They were going to sink it. And so Louis rode over to the submarine in his dory and says, “Hey, come on. We’re a long way from anywhere.” They were about half way from New York and Bermuda. “Can’t you tow us a little closer to Bermuda before you sink it?” They said, “Well, we’d like to,” but they were afraid of aircraft. So they got off in their dories and the submarine sank it and so they put up the sails in the dories and started sailing for Nova Scotia and got about halfway there and were spotted by an Irish freighter and so it stopped and Louis rode his dory alongside and climbed up and they said they could set him off in Ireland. Louis said, “The hell with that,” and went back down to his dory and finally they said they’d put him off in Newfoundland. So they did. But then he had no schooner. And he poked around and found the Vema and took it up to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia and was going to gut it and make a cargo schooner out of it. But there weren’t any — they had one more in between. He had the Old City of New York that used to be the Bear. It was the one that [Admiral Richard E.] Byrd took down to the South Pole. And he had a good contract supplying DEW line stations for that. And that was a good deal because it was ice strengthened you know, and he could take it.
So he was up in the arctic?
Right. But then they built some ice-strengthened ships and he lost that and there’s nothing you could do with it except go on the ice because too much of the cargo space was lost to wood. So he had it down in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and decided to tow it up to Bridgewater and they got just outside Yarmouth and quote “a kerosene stove” tipped over unquote and it burned to the water line. So he collected the insurance and brought the Vema. There we go. I got it straight, finally. Anyway, so he was going to go and make a cargo schooner out of it but there weren’t any cargoes for schooners anymore.
So the time has just —
Yes. So he looked at it and put it up for charter or sale. And it was just about that time that we were having trouble getting time on Woods Hole boats and the Hudson labs had got a boat called the Allegheny, which we were supposed to share, but we couldn’t share it with them because it was always busy. So we were looking for one of our own. So we saw this and decided to charter it with an option to buy. We chartered it and found it good and bought it for $90,000. We got a million miles out of it.
When does the Vema finally decommission? When was the last use of it?
About ‘74-’75, somewhere in there.
So it was well after the time you came up here?
We have made good progress, I think today, but we have not covered yet your velocities work in detail, the work with Jack Nafe, and the development of plate tectonics. That all seems to be part of a big and important piece and I figure we might want to save that until we have time to discuss that in depth, as well as the later development of Lamont in those more critical years of the late sixties, when you were there as well as your departmental responsibilities when you were head and so on. Let’s save that for a later interview and let me thank you very much again for this long continued episode.