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Interview of Anthony S. Laughton by Tanya Levin on 1998 May 12, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31380-2
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Topics include: his family and early education; his decision to attend Cambridge University and Kings College; the impact of WWII on his education; his Naval experiences; his post-war education; getting into geophysics; work on seismic refraction at sea; his dissertation work on the velocity of sound through the sea-bottom sedimentation; obtaining a Fulbright scholarship to go to U.S. where he spent one year at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observation; work with deep-sea camera; work with Bruce Heezen; comparison of Lamont with Scripps Institution of Oceanography; work leading to the gradual acceptance of sea-floor spreading; his work at National Institute of Oceanography; studies related to sea-floor spreading; comparison of British and American standards for classification of data; the Indian Ocean Expedition and its importance to the theory of sea floor spreading; his research vessel, Discovery; reactions to the work of Vine and Matthews; his work in the Gulf of Aden; Soviet ships and style of research; recollections of Russian scientist Gleb Udintsev; participation on the Atlantic Panel and participation on international programs and committees; comparison of the NIO to Lamont; the British government's support for research; the Rothschild report; differences between applied and strategic research; submarine detection work; creating government science policy; negotiations on the 3rd Law of the Sea; radioactive waste disposal.
...12th of May, 1998, and this is a continuing interview with Sir Anthony Laughton, and I’m Tanya Levin. And the last time we talked we ended up on GEBCO, but we haven’t quite finished the story. It’s the General Bathymetric Chart of the Ocean, GEBCO.
Well I think that we got to the point where I had described how scientists were unhappy about the quality of the charts being produced by the International Hydrographic Office in the fourth edition, and the SCOR Working Group 41 had reviewed all the bathymetric charts and had developed the specifications of a new chart of what people would actually like to have. And this involved bringing scientists in as well as hydrographers. And so the new organization included members of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, that is the scientific side: the International Hydrographic Organization is the hydrographers’ side. And with these new specifications we set about and produced a completely new series of charts, the so-called Fifth edition, where each area, each sheet, was compiled by specialists in the area overseen by people who knew about the processes, who had studied the area. And these charts, the Fifth edition, were completed in the early 1980s, and then a whole world chart was produced condensing all this together. But by this time the success of the Fifth edition was very great. We found that lots of people wanted this. Charts were sold through the Canadian Hydrographic Service, CHS, who donated the printing and publication of the charts and who marketed them.
Who particularly was buying these charts?
All the research laboratories, libraries, institutions. People found that if you papered the wall of your lecture room with them it was a very useful place to discuss future expeditions and what should be done, and people could stand and do arm waving in front of them about grand theories and assess the evidence in one place. People were talking about global theories by now, and so they needed a global view with the best evidence that there was.
About what time period was this?
This is late ‘70s, early ‘80s. Of course many things had happened by then. The International Indian Ocean Expedition had finished and so forth. But it was very clear that even the Fifth edition was rapidly becoming out of date and that paper charts was not the form that scientists wanted to have. And so we went into a phase of digitizing the whole of the charts series so that they are now available on a CD-ROM and the contours can be played out in whatever scale you want, etcetera. And the CD-ROM, which is called the GEBCO Digital Atlas, the GDA, first came out in ‘96 or ‘95 I think. The first revision of that came out in ‘97. The second revision will come out in ‘99, and now we’re moving from one form of digitization, vector digitization, towards a gridded database, which can be fitted into models. Oceanographers want to model the oceans for climate, for circulation, for heat exchange, for biological processes, for geology. And so that is our target. And on a personal basis I’ve been involved with GEBCO since the 1960s. I’ve been chairman of the Guiding Committee for GEBCO since 1985 I think, and it’s my one activity, or one of my activities that I still continue.
That’s wonderful. You have seen this organization change quite a bit. Not just in the form of the way the data are produced and sold, but also in the way that that data are gathered. For instance, you went from throwing charges off the side of a boat until the present when you have satellite data. But going back to the early years, Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen were also doing a lot of the mapping. Were you working on different parts? I know you worked mostly in the northeast Atlantic. Were you working together with them, with their group, to produce these maps, or was it something completely different?
We worked very closely with both of them. Bruce was a member of the GEBCO committee, a very devoted member, and we worked closely together. It’s interesting that Bruce and Marie Tharp are well known for their physiographic diagrams. And the reason that they went in that direction was that the U.S. Navy classified any contoured charts that were generated. And so they solved this by using the oblique projection and visualization method that overcame problems of classification of data and contours. Bruce and Marie developed this technique. And they first did it for the north Atlantic. Then when the International Indian Ocean Expedition was being mooted they produced another physiographic diagram of the north-western Indian Ocean. And then later extended it, and it became the world physiographic diagram. But all the way along their technique of presenting morphological data was a visualization one; as it were, strip out the water and look sideways and look at the shadows of mountains and valleys, whereas the GEBCO approach was a contoured one where the precise depth at the intersection of a contour and a track climb was a fact in so far as the accuracies of navigation and depth soundings allowed. So they were complementary approaches.
Okay. So the British Navy didn’t impose any of these same classification problems?
Well, the classification of soundings has always been a very difficult question. In the U.S. there was much more sensitivity on this, and if a survey was done around a buoy, an anchored buoy, there was a period when it was automatically classified. That was not true in the UK. We did surveys around buoys as navigation marks very frequently, and that was the basis of much of the work I did. So the US always had a lotof work on the shape of the ocean floor done with multi-beam echo sounders in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a system developed by the U.S. Navy. This only became known and published in a paper in the mid-1970s. But U.S. Navy ships had been going around the oceans mapping and collecting data for many, many years. A lot of that data still have not been unclassified, because it was done with multi-beam swath bathymetry and there was little ambiguity about the interpretation, because the swaths overlapped. Much of this data was of importance of course for submarine activities and defense purposes, which is the reason it was collected. And although some has been released, a lot of it still has not yet been. We would very much like it to be.
So what about GEBCO? Was it difficult for Heezen to work on this because of GEBCO’s policy of keeping things open? And what about the Russian data? Did the Russians participate as well?
The Russians participated in GEBCO. They of course had their own naval classifications, sections of which were not available, but GEBCO had to work on anything that was available. And it was a great deal. Research ships, survey ships on passage, ships that happened to be equipped with the deep sea echo sounding equipment. Because relatively few ships had equipment capable of measuring depth in the deep oceans. Echo sounding has been around for a long time, since the 1920s. And every ship, every merchant ship, carries an echo sounder for navigation purposes. And that’s fine on the continental shelf. And it will go down to 100 fathoms, 200 meters. Beyond that the power is not there, and so they switch it off. So what GEBCO was having to use was the data collected by the rare ships that had deep sea echo sounders — which is why there are still huge gaps in the data that we work on.
Okay. So how have you felt to see the satellites come in and open up a new phase?
That’s been an absolutely fascinating area, because quite unexpectedly, radar altimetry of the sea’s surface was measurable to about 5 centimeters. Knowing the distance of the satellite from the center of the earth, this can give the distance from the center of the earth to the sea surface. The shape of the sea surface reflects the gravitational field. And from the gravitational field you can interpret something about the morphology of the bottom. Obviously if there is a sea mount there it will produce gravitational anomaly at the sea surface. But there are many assumptions in this interpretation. It isn’t possible to make a one-to-one correlation between the satellite data and the topography, because you get density contrasts below the sea bed in the sediment basins. And so there is an ambiguity. But Haxby, and later Sandwell and Smith, collated altimetry data to produce datasets that are more or less uniform over the whole globe, because satellites have a very regular coverage of the earth as the earth spins under the their orbits. You get remarkable maps, global maps, that look very much like ocean floor bathymetry. The question is how do you integrate those with actual ocean floor bathymetry determined by soundings. And attempts are being made to do this. But there are always assumptions in this, and so we use the satellite altimetry, as a guide to interpolation where there are no other data. One has to be careful about using it as a precise measurement of sea depth — which it isn’t, of course.
Okay. Well that’s interesting. While we’ve been talking, you’ve mentioned the Indian Ocean Expedition, and I know that the expedition, which began early ‘60s and continued until the mid-’60s, actually got started in the late ‘50s for the planning and that it actually grew out of the International Geophysical Year. I know you did some work on the Indian Ocean Expedition for the planning and for the cruises, but what about the International Geophysical Year? Did you have any contact with that?
No, I didn’t. The International Geophysical Year was much more about atmospheric and global ionospheric type studies, and didn’t have any element of sea floor geophysics in it. So I read about it of course, but was not involved in that.
Okay. Were there any oceanographers that you knew from the UK that were? Anyone at NIO?
I think that probably some of the physical oceanographers were involved in it; the physical oceanographers and meteorologists on the air-sea interaction side. But I would have check on records.
Okay. And so then planning began for the Indian Ocean Expedition, and you were a main component of that, one of the people that was pushing for that. What interested you in this project? How did you first hear about it?
The initiative for the International Indian Ocean Expedition came, I think, from the physical oceanographers in the first instance. They wanted to see a rather regular grid of observations being made of the water properties and the currents and so forth in the Indian Ocean because it was one of the least known oceans of the world. The Atlantic had been studied, the Pacific a lot, the Indian Ocean very little. And so the objectives of the International Indian Ocean Expedition were to try to both learn about the Indian Ocean and to encourage science of the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, to get them into oceanography. The physical oceanographers, through the Special Committee on Oceanic Research (later called the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research), initiated the idea of a big international collaborative project — rather based on the IGY, but with different components. And the leading protagonists there were people like Roger Revelle, the director of Scripps, Maurice Ewing, director of Lamont and George Deacon, who was the director of NIO, and no doubt others whose names escape me at the moment.
By any chance Columbus Iselin?
Columbus Iselin, yes, at Woods Hole. And the idea was to focus efforts there. Now George Deacon at NIO said to me at one stage, “There is going to be a big expedition. We hope to take part in it. What on the geophysical/geological side do you think that the UK ought to concentrate on?” And so I was given the task to read up about the problems in the Indian Ocean. We realized our efforts were probably best concentrated in the northwest Indian Ocean, because that is the most accessible part for the UK, through the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden. We realized there was work that had been done there before the war, particularly by John Wiseman, on the Carlsberg Ridge, part of the mid-ocean ridge that, as Bruce Heezen eventually recognized, circled the world. The Carlsberg Ridge and its relationship to the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the Rift Valley System of Africa was a problem that needed research and was amenable to the sorts of things that we perhaps could do. So we concentrated on the northwest Indian Ocean on problems there related to mid-ocean ridges and to the structure of the Seychelles, which is a curious continental body left behind in the middle of the ocean. And remembering that this is in the context of sea floor spreading being thought about and written about in America.
What about in Britain? Was it also being discussed?
It was being discussed. Yes, yes.
And how did people react to it?
It hadn’t quite emerged as a grand concept, but clearly some of the things we were doing in the northeast Atlantic, the data we were collecting, the rocks we were collecting and interpreting helped to build up this picture of sea floor spreading. Work in the Geophysics Department at Cambridge on the magnetic reversal of rocks was something that was later to play a very important part in this. We recognized the importance of magnetics as telling us something about the nature of the rocks and sea floor. We recognized that they were predominantly basalts and were not continental rocks; there were not granites around, or where there were continental rocks they appeared to be erratics. Drummond Matthews wrote his thesis on dredge hauls taken from a sea mount in the Iberian abyssal plain where about half the rocks that were dredged up were basalts and about half were a miscellaneous collection of other things. And these he interpreted as glacial born erratics, which covered parts of the northeast Atlantic. We had at Cambridge recognized that there was a median valley in the Mid-Ocean Ridge and we surveyed part of that in the late ‘50s and tried to see what the magnetization of the rocks was and what the continuity of the valley was in the north-south direction and how the magnetics related to it. In America, Raff and Mason had done their famous survey of the magnetic anomalies off the west coast of America and mapped a major offset in the lineations. And Vic Vaquier was interpreting this as a huge great trans-current fault. So although these ideas were being discussed and we were working on particular parts of the northeast Atlantic, the recognition that earthquakes followed the line of mid-ocean ridges was coming up at that stage. So everything was ripe for grander theories. So I took part in planning some of the geophysical work in the IIOE together with scientists from other countries, and I sat on a committee that was trying to plan what we should do.
And what committee was this?
I’ve forgotten what it’s called now.
It was a world committee, I take it international?
It was an international committee to try to formulate a sensible program for the Indian Ocean Expedition. And it was with members of that committee that I got familiar with people such as Dr. Bob Fisher from Scripps who led much of the American geological component. I don’t even have it listed in my list of committees I think.
Okay. Well that can be added on later to the transcript.
When the UK actually started taking part, there was another event in the UK which was very germane to this, and that was that we had a new research ship that had been built in 1963. Our old research ship was called DISCOVERY II, and she had been built in 1926, was getting a bit old hat, and rolled like anything because she had been built for work in the Antarctic. The new ship was called DISCOVERY, and her first cruises were actually in the Indian Ocean, once she had been through the shakedown cruises. I had had quite a lot to do with helping to design DISCOVERY, working with people at the institute, because she was built by NIO. This was before the Natural Environment Research Council came into being, which later became our parent body. So DISCOVERY was very much a child of NIO, and as a marine geophysicist I remember being asked by the designers what were the instruments that would be normally looked after for watch keeping. The echo sounder, the magnetometer and the gravimeter were the three standard instruments for geophysical/geological work. And then of course one had coring, dredging and the over-the-side things — cameras, etcetera. Of course computers pretty soon took a major role, and we had to design a huge computer room to take an IBM 1800. We were also beginning to think about a new technique of side scan sonar that we were developing at that time. So we went to the Indian Ocean. The first cruises with DISCOVERY were biological and physical oceanography cruises. I went on a cruise in 1964 with Maurice Hill as chief scientist, a group from Cambridge, and a group from the institute, and we looked principally at the Carlsberg Ridge. We also looked at the Seychelles, we looked at the basins, we looked at the structure of the East African Margin, using seismic refraction techniques which were fairly dominant in our thinking. As a preliminary to the major expeditions, we were very fortunate that the Hydrographer made available two of his survey ships, HMS OWEN and HMS DALRYMPLE, to do some preliminary surveying work. Drummond Matthews and Bosco Loncarevic — who was a student at Cambridge at the time, and later joined the Bedford Institute in Halifax in Canada — and others made some sections across the Carlsberg Ridge, sections of bathymetry, magnetics and gravity. And on a later cruise, Fred Vine joined with Drummond Matthews to do some detailed surveys of sea mounts on the Carlsberg Ridge. Fred Vine used this survey as data for his thesis, and his intention was to model a given sea mount that had been mapped rather carefully, and calculate the magnetic anomaly that would arise from it given the magnetization of the rocks of a basaltic sea mount. Well, he tried to do this back in Cambridge and found that it was impossible to model it with as a normally magnetized sea mount, and that he had to assume that this sea mount was reversely magnetized. As a result of that, he and Matthews started to think about the magnetization of rocks in relation to the sea floor spreading that had been established by Heezen and others. They related sea floor spreading with the established fact, as it was becoming at this stage by Runcorn and others at Cambridge, that the earth’s field had reversed its polarization periodically. They put these two concepts together and produced their paper of 1963 in Nature, suggesting that the stripes of the magnetic field that had been mapped by Raff and Mason and others elsewhere, were caused by reversals of magnetization accompanying sea floor spreading.
Okay. Hang on.
At about the same time, others were beginning to think in this direction and a scientist called Morley had similar ideas, had submitted a paper which had been rejected, and so didn’t get the credit for these ideas. Fisher at Scripps strongly supports Morley’s claims to at least being alongside Matthews and Vine in this concept. The reaction to that Matthews-Vine paper was interesting because many people didn’t regard it very seriously when it first appeared. People at Lamont, particularly the director, Maurice Ewing, didn’t accept this concept for many years. However, because of the Lamont policy of collecting data wherever ships went, Walter Pitman, who I think you’ve talked to, had got a huge database of magnetic profiles and was able to apply these concepts to that magnetic database — particularly where they crossed mid-ocean ridges — and showed that all over the world there was symmetry in the magnetic profiles across the mid-ocean ridges which could be explained by associating sea floor spreading and magnetic reversals.
How did you feel about Matthews’ and Vine’s paper? Do you remember when you first read it?
I was very impressed by it, because I had been brought up in the culture of the magnetic reversal story in Cambridge. I was familiar with sea floor spreading. I had in fact at one time been appointed examiner for Fred Vine for his thesis, although I couldn’t actually undertake it, because I had other commitments. I read the paper with great interest. It seemed to me a sensible interpretation. I don’t think at any time did I realize quite what the implications of it were in overthrowing established geology.
At that time, were people thinking that it was as powerful as it was?
No. I don’t think they were. I don’t think people did appreciate quite the significance. It took a number of years by working on the magnetic database, Walter Pitman’s work. And a very key person in this was Tuzo Wilson, the Canadian geophysicist, who was a regular visitor to Cambridge. Many people came and spent sabbaticals at Cambridge working in the group with Matthews, Vine, Hill, and Runcorn. And indeed of course people went the other way too.
Particularly did any of this group go over to Lamont to use the databases then?
I’m sure they did. I know that Drummond Matthews and Fred Vine went to Princeton.
With Harry Hess?
And worked with Harry Hess. And there were many, many other players that I haven’t even mentioned in this interview, such as Bob Dietz. I’m not pretending to give a comprehensive account. I have to tell you what I remember.
It was about this time that the whole question of the layers of the oceanic crust was being debated. This comes from the seismic work. The seismic velocities were interpreted as being the sedimentary layer, another layer with a higher velocity beneath being perhaps a layer of volcanics, layer three being perhaps basalt, and then the famous Mohorovicic discontinuity where the velocity increased from 6.7 kilometers a second to 8.1 typically. Now the oceanic structure was relatively thin, 5 kilometers compared with 30 kilometers for the continents. A lot of geophysicists’ attention was focused on this contrast in continental structure versus oceanic structure. What were these layers, were these interpretations correct or incorrect, how can you find out? Well, the ambitious ideas of drilling a hole through to the Mohorovicic discontinuity were being floated at about this time, and the MOHOLE project was born in an initially somewhat flippant approach by the American Miscellaneous Society. Later it developed into a much more focused approach to attempt to drill a hole.
And that was in the late ‘60s.
That was in the late ‘60s.
Before we go into that though, we really haven’t covered all of the Indian Ocean part. We just talked about your work in the northeast and about some of the coordination that was done, but you mentioned that one of the reasons for it was to get some of the countries surrounding that area involved in oceanography, and I know the British were particularly interested in Zanzibar, because of the collaboration there with an institution.
What happened? Did you manage to get some of these African countries involved in oceanography? How did you try to integrate them? What approaches were taken?
The Zanzibar connection was developed more on the biological side, and indeed there were people who worked on that connection and who later joined the National Institute of Oceanography as were then. I personally wasn’t involved in that side at all. There were not countries around the Indian Ocean that took part much in the marine geophysics side.
They hadn’t got the skills and the equipment and the resources. I think one of the major successes of the Indian Ocean in those terms was the formation of the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, on the Indian subcontinent. They developed a physical oceanography program which worked alongside our physical oceanographers in doing sections. Now that NIO in Goa now is a very flourishing major institute, the major institute of oceanography in India. So that was I think a direct outcome of the International Indian Ocean Expedition. The Seychelles was a convenient place to operate from in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The Seychelles, Mombasa, Aden were the ports that we tended to use. What started to interest me was the relationship between the Carlsberg Ridge, a typical mid-ocean ridge, and the Rift Valley system of Africa. At the west end of the Gulf of Aden there is clearly a junction between three major features — the Red Sea coming down from the north, the Gulf of Aden coming in from the east, and the Rift Valley system of Africa coming up from the south. And these three features had been interpreted by geophysicists and geologists in different ways. The Red Sea particularly had been looked at by Chuck Drake and Ron Girdler, a former Cambridge student and later at Newcastle. It had been seen that there was a valley, a narrow valley down the middle of the Red Sea. This had been mapped. There were interpretations about this which had been made relating to tension. It was known there were earthquakes running up the middle, so a valley and earthquakes equated to a tension. The Rift Valley system has also got earthquakes and major grabens, but not very much separation. The Gulf of Aden is a much deeper ocean than the Red Sea. We mapped it and it turned out to have continuity with, or be a continuation of the Carlsberg Ridge, albeit offset by a series of lateral displacements, which actually penetrates into the Gulf of Aden and joins up in a complex area in the Gulf of Djibouti. The Afar Depression, which is the region where these three main features meet, turned out to have many of the features of an ocean floor as opposed to features of continent. So it was a very interesting area to work. I did work during the Indian Ocean Expedition in 1964 on the geology and the bathymetry of the Gulf of Aden which suggested that this had opened up and that one could, by going back in time, match geological features on the opposing shores, and that there had been a rotation of the Arabian block away from the African block. And this was associated with the Carlsberg Ridge sea floor spreading and the opening up, to some extent, of the Red Sea. There were problems there in relation to the fact that the Red Sea, apart from the median valley, is heavily salted. It’s filled with a vast layer of salt which rather obscures a lot of the deeper geology so you don’t see the features. So it was of great interest to try and relate these features together, and I wrote some of my major papers on that. I took another expedition out there in 1967 to get further data, make seismic refraction measurements, and further interpret the magnetics of bathymetry, etcetera.
And so this was your particular area in that period?
And the collaboration that did take place was mainly with, say, the Australians in a different part of the ocean, the U.S. in a different part of the ocean, and then everyone coordinating the data together, rather than exchange between ships? Or was there some of that?
I think you’re right that in geophysical terms, in terms of the solid floor of the ocean, most countries did their own thing in their own areas and had their own objectives. They would design their cruises back at home, they would come out with specific objectives of dredging rocks or mapping a particular part or looking at the sediments of the ocean basins. And although there was some exchange of personnel, there was not as much integration during the expeditions as there was perhaps with physical oceanographers who were looking at a dynamic moving field of water. The physical oceanographers had the major problem about the relationship between the monsoons and the ocean circulation, the Somali current. This required a lot of ships to do a lot of things simultaneously, synoptic observations. That wasn’t necessary for geology and geophysics. It sat still while you could study it.
So did you notice different styles of science coming out between what the Russians wanted to do and what you were doing and the other British ships and U.S., different goals and different methods of getting data?
Yes, I think that’s true. The Russians’ style at that time was to use very big research ships. They used large ships with very large numbers of scientists on board who were away for months at a time. This relates to the sort of politics of the USSR at the time. We had smaller ships, but nevertheless very effective ships, especially designed as research ships. In the case of the Americans many of the ships were converted ships like the VEMA, which was a converted three-masted schooner. I think the ship that used to be President Truman’s presidential yacht was being used out there as a research ship. So many ships, different laboratories worked in different ways. In some cases they would go off into long sections and maybe collect rocks from all over a mid-ocean ridge system in different parts of the oceans. The Russians particularly favored going to one area and doing what they called polygon studies. They would concentrate on a certain area, they would map it and take rocks from it, dredging and coring. And then there was the question of the instrumentation. That varied between laboratories and people, who had different instrumental techniques. The Americans tended to use the two ship seismic technique; we used the one ship seismic refraction technique.
And the Russians?
The Russians, they didn’t do a great deal of refraction work I think. Reflection work they were doing. But bringing all this data together, the integration of all this, tended to happen afterwards when we worked on the Atlas, the International Indian Ocean Atlas of Geology and Geophysics.
So the Russians were using this polygon method. Were you doing more linear studies, passing, traversing an area, then coming back, or going from one point to another? Or were you circling as well in a certain area?
We did both, depending on the objective. For instance one of our major seismic programs was to look at what happens in the ocean structure from the East African margin out towards the Seychelles. The Rift Valley is an uplifted part of Africa. It tips down towards the Kenyan coast. What happens to the crustal thickness? So for that we did a section of a series of stations, seismic refraction stations, going towards the Seychelles, where the ocean crust gets very thin. And then when you get on the Seychelles, it suddenly gets thicker again because that has got continental rocks. We worked on one of the offset fracture zones, the so-called Owen Fracture Zone, that we gave the name to, which displaced the Carlsberg Ridge in a northerly direction before it enters into the Gulf of Aden. This is a very narrow feature. It goes right up into the northwest Arabian Sea. Parts of this we mapped to try and see its continuity and to look at the rocks. There was a curious shallow area south of Socotra, a large shallow sea mount, that we headed for one night, and I had given the directions to the captain to head towards this sea mount. But I had misread my bearings, and we set off in slightly the wrong direction. And so this became known as Mount Error. On the charts you find Mount Error, and that was my error in sending the ship off 10 degrees wrong overnight. It was that sort of sense of camaraderie on board and a bit of fun that sometimes goes along with these things.
Because you were out at sea with people for a long time.
What kind of socializing was there on the ships?
Well, unlike American ships, we do carry alcohol on British research ships. American ships are dry. And so the socializing in the evening tended occasionally to be alcoholic unless you were on watch, in which case you abstained. It was a lot of fun. We played games and tricks on each other. Particularly in the tropical area one of the favorite games of what we called wetball. You take a balloon — and we had lots of balloons on board, because we used them for floating seismic charges for reflection shooting — and you fill them with water and tie them up, and then lob them from one part of the ship to another on an unsuspecting scientist coming round. Yes, and of course when you hit a port, there were always parties ashore.
With other scientists that are there to meet you, or just on the port just enjoying the town?
Well, if there was another ship in port at the time, then yes, we’d socialize with them, but very often it was just us coming into port, and of course there are usually an awful lot of things that need doing, like repairing equipment. Equipment failures were fairly common in those days. We were pushing the boundaries of what could be done. And you have to remember that O-ring seals, which are an absolutely integral part of deep sea engineering, had not long been invented. And so very often equipment you built tended to leak. We had to design our own electrical lead-through plugs, because you couldn’t buy them off the shelf for high pressure work. So there was a lot of development of new instrumentation. That meant a lot of failures, that meant a lot of time repairing equipment when you were in port. But then you go ashore later on and Seychelles was always a very nice place to go, with the lovely beaches, and we made many expeditions to some of the remoter islands — Bird Island, Aldabra. As well as geophysicists on board we had an ornithologist, and he was interested in identifying and collecting birds from the Indian Ocean to monitor them and their feeding habits. And so on one occasion we landed on Bird Island through the surf and onto the coral beaches, and tried to estimate the colonies of terns and boobies that lived there.
And even the geophysicists took part to help?
Yes, yes. Everybody shares in these things.
Interesting. So you got a little taste of that.
Taste. Yes, indeed.
Were you also hearing what the biologists were doing as part of this expedition?
Not unless they were on board. The biological cruises tend to be separate. We, on the whole, had either a physical oceanography cruise, a biological cruise, or a geological cruise. And so the intimate contact that happens on the ship was between those who happened to be on board. We’d sometimes have a meteorologist as well as an ornithologist, because continuous observations were being made to go back into a database to help people at home. But of course back at the lab you learned what people were doing at seminars and talked to people over coffee.
So did you hear about the biologists? Oh, I guess I already asked you this. So you didn’t really hear about what they were doing. Did you have biologists ever on board?
Not on our cruises. There were a limited number of berths.
Who decided what berths people got? Was there a central organizing committee?
Basically the way it happened was that bids would be made and decisions would be made for ship time. For the Indian Ocean Expedition Maurice Hill and I worked very closely together. We would make a case to the director, George Deacon, to have DISCOVERY for a month or two months, and in the ship planning committee, which would happen quite a long time before, there would be an allocation for a period for geology, a period for physical oceanography, a period for biology. And so these different groups would, within that period, organize the scientific targets, and the people to take part. There was always a strong contingent of research students on the Cambridge side on the geology and geophysics, because of Cambridge being a university. On the biology side, perhaps the biologists would invite people from Zanzibar or India or America to join in if they needed specialists in plankton or nekton or benthos or whatever. And the physical oceanographers would have people who were expert in tracking currents with floats or measuring salinity, temperature, taking water samples relating to the atmospheric stress — wind, waves, and all the rest of it. There was usually a shortage of space on the ship, which determined the disciplines that you could carry. This compared with the Russians, who tended to take a large ship full of all these groups, and so half the time some of those people wouldn’t be doing anything. I think they got rather bored.
Why was it important to bring a big ship? Was it a propaganda move to have such a big ship?
I don’t know. It was maybe policy rather than politics. I think once Russians were outside the country, there was the need to have political control over them: they would have their political commissars on board. They would not want to have too much contact with westerners so they would like to keep them at sea for very long times, and when they went to port they would be fairly well controlled. And I think they didn’t want to have lots of people flying backwards and forwards joining ships. It was more in line with their policy to send out a hundred people at a time, maybe 70 scientists on a ship, for six months. In the UK and in the USA, we would send 15 or 20 people for two months and then bring them back, and another lot would go out. And to do that, the Russians had to have bigger ships. They tended to use converted passenger ships for some of the research, which were usually larger than our research ships.
That’s interesting. There were a couple of Russians that were seen as coming over more often than others. Gleb Udintsev was one.
Do you remember them from this time as well?
Yes indeed. Beloussov I remember very well. I was at a conference in Ottawa in 1965 on ocean drilling and on sea floor spreading and various tectonic issues of this sort. And there were two papers were given by two Israelis, which was interesting. One by Professor Leo Pickard on the Dead Sea and the Dead Sea Rift indicating that there was no trans-current movement along the Dead Sea Rift. And there was another paper by one of his students called Freund, Raphael Freund, who held that there was a displacement of 120 kilometers along the Dead Sea Rift. And they both gave papers. I met Beloussov at a party afterwards, and he said he could not understand how a professor in Israel could allow one of his students to give a paper that contradicted what he, the professor, had said.
That in Russia that would never be allowed. If you were an important scientist and you said something, a student was not allowed to contradict you. Now that said a lot about Russian science at that time. Beloussov was one who did not believe in sea floor spreading, and what later became plate tectonics. And he would argue strongly against it. And I think Russian science suffered a lot through people not being able to disagree, students not being able to take a position different from their professors. And I believe even that if you were a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and you were giving a lecture, the chairman at that lecture was not allowed to stop you talking. If you wanted to go and talk for two hours instead of one. And this is the bureaucracy of communist style dictatorship. Now Gleb Udintsev, who I knew first I think through the GEBCO committee, is a very remarkable man. He was a hero of the Soviet Union because he had fought in the war, performed special deeds as a gunner in a bomber or some such aviation role. And as such, as a hero in the Soviet Union, you have a certain amount of protection. He was allowed to travel outside the USSR much more freely than many others at a time when it was very hard for Russians to travel. He came to the US and spent time at Lamont. He got to know many of the western, American geologists and geophysicists. And was also a very highly respected figure in Russian science, in Russian geology. But he also had his own political problems in Russia. There was one period when they wouldn’t let him out for three or four years, and the stories he told me about his difficulties at that time are probably best not recorded.
Well, during this period of time, were people worried about him, about what was happening to him? Because they were used to him coming over somewhat regularly.
Well, we always knew it was difficult for Russians to get out. Because he was a member of the GEBCO committee and also involved very much with the Atlas of Geology and Geophysics of the Indian Ocean — he was the chief editor — and he had many reasons to come out and meet internationally. When it appeared that he wasn’t able to come to meetings, then yes, we were concerned. I think he had a row with the director of his lab, who was a card carrying Party member, and he in fact left that lab with his group and moved to another lab and migrated around various places. But he has a remarkable ability to survive.
Who knows how? He’s a very personable man, and is a very good scientist. I don’t know that he ever became completely convinced about plate tectonics, which is interesting. He had run, and still runs, many expeditions. He spends a lot of time at sea and goes off on the VITYAZ and the LOMINOSOV, ships of that sort. And even though he must now be in his late seventies, as I say, he is actively at work. I think that he found it difficult when so many people were opposed in the USSR to the concepts of plate tectonics and sea floor spreading, which had swept the west and became almost second nature to anybody. He would find areas that were the exception to the rule and build on those and was never quite convinced. That’s my interpretation of it. I have had many, many arguments with Gleb, as many people have.
That’s interesting. So, but he told you afterwards about his difficulties getting out, during those three years.
And so he felt comfortable speaking freely of this. I mean, well, not freely, but he didn’t feel so thwarted that he couldn’t talk about it. Or at least in your confidence he was able to —
He was able in confidence to talk, but these were talks which tended to be wandering around the streets of Ottawa at midnight or up a mountain in Switzerland.
He didn’t have a tail or a secret serviceman with him because of his notoriety? Or he did at times and you just did not know?
He told me an interesting story, and I think he wouldn’t mind my saying this. His daughter got married in Russia, and he had met the bridegroom before but he hadn’t met the best man, and he introduced himself to the best man before the wedding. And the best man said, “ But I know you very well, Dr. Udintsev.” “Oh. How?” “Well, I work for the KGB. I’ve been your tail for three years.” And Gleb said, “Oh, but you’re not my tail now, are you? Why have you stopped tailing me?” He said, “We’ve run out of money.”
Which I think is a nice little insight into communism [laughs]. But that was in the period that he was having problems.
A very difficult time.
And so when you finished the Indian Ocean Expeditions and you’re now one of the general editors for the Atlas, of course you had to make sure that all the data got delivered to you. Was it difficult? Did you have to keep pushing the institutions to bring the data in?
It was very difficult. It took a long, long time, because on the whole when scientists have collected their data and interpreted them and written their scientific papers, they want to move on to something else. Many people don’t believe in atlases. The Russians believe in atlases. The Russians have a great sort of passion for atlases. But western scientists tend to be more resistive to them, want to get on to the next problem. So it was very difficult to get the systematic data that were required to produce a map of magnetics or gravity or whatever. The bathymetric side of this atlas was largely done by the people who were interested in bathymetry, the GEBCO people: Gleb Udintsev, Eric Simpson, Bob Fisher, and Victor Kanaev and myself. And we worked together to get the bathymetry for the atlas done, and this also was bathymetry that could be used for the fifth edition of the GEBCO. In fact the first sheet of the new edition of GEBCO, which we did in 1974, was based on the bathymetry we’d done for the atlas.
Was there any data you received that was questionable, that you had to send back to the institute and say, “We’re not sure. It doesn’t quite compute”? Or did you by and large trust everything you got in?
Well, the assessment of the quality of the data had to be done by the specialists. Very often it was a question of compilation. If you collect together all the magnetic data, a whole different set of ships, some well calibrated, some not well calibrated, for some the position is bad, for some the position is good. The person who was responsible for the particular charts that appeared in the atlas had to make those assessments. And I’m sure they frequently went back to the source, to the authors, and said, “Look, I don’t believe that. It doesn’t fit with the other people’s data.” So yes, there is a great deal of coming and going. And it took a long time to produce the atlas. The Russians did the printing and distribution. The marketing of the atlas was a problematic one, because having been produced in Russia the cost was in roubles and then to get any quantities to sell in the western market was difficult, and a whole series of problems occurred of that sort. But it did turn out that the Indian Ocean Atlas was a forerunner of two other atlases — of the Atlantic and of the Pacific. The last of which, the Pacific one, has only just been published. That became a responsibility of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, who were behind the publication of this one. IOC took over the organization of the International Indian Ocean Expedition, having been started by SCOR. IOC took over the intergovernmental aspects of the IIOE, because it all kinds of things required this sort of international collaboration on a government level, such as the clearance of ships, customs and excise, So IOC was responsible for funding that. The atlas was finally published in 1975. The expedition ended in 1965, so it took ten years to produce the atlas.
Wonderful. That’s a fairly quick turnaround.
Yeah. But not quick enough for the ‘70s. By the time it was out, the data had moved on. So many people question is it a valuable product? It’s a snapshot of certain times.
Okay, so moving on from the Indian Ocean project, you mentioned the MOHOLE, and that was 1969, the U.S. Deep Sea Drilling Project.
And it ran into difficulties of course in the budgeting. It was —
Well, no, let me correct you. The MOHOLE project, which is a combination of the words Mohorovicic discontinuity (the Moho) and hole, was envisaged as a one off attempt to drill through the ocean crust, through the layers of sediment, the layers one, two and three into the Moho. And the technology to do that was formidable. So there were two elements of the MOHOLE project. One was to find the right place to do it. Where is the thinnest part of the oceanic crust to get to the Moho? And secondly, what kind of ship could be used to do it, and what was the technology to do it? Willard Bascom was a moving force behind this, and a lot of work was done on the technology of using a ship with a drill pipe and casing, and dynamic positioning and all kinds of things of this sort. And a huge amount of research, and engineering development was done on this. At the same time a huge amount of work was done on surveying parts of the ocean to find out the best place to do it. A site was chosen north of Hawaii, where the crust was thought to be 3 kilometers thick and could be drilled, and where the weather was alright. But the costs started to go up and up, the technical problems multiplied, and there were always scientists who felt, “This isn’t the right way to go. All the eggs in one basket. What if that drill string breaks off? What if we meet problems which we didn’t anticipate?” And the cost escalated, so that when the budget went before Congress, and it reached some $100 million (or some figure which I don’t know), Congress said, “Hey, wait a minute. No. You’re not going ahead with this.” Other scientists, who had thought, “Let’s approach this problem of finding out the third dimension of the ocean crust in a slower and more ordered way”, thought it would be much better to try to sample the sediments first and then move from that to the next layer. A group of oceanographic institutions got together — I think there were five of them in the United States — and formed the Joint Oceanographic Institution’s Deep Earth Sample program, JOIDES. And they used various ships that were used by the oil industry for drilling sediments; first on the Blake Plateau and then later in the east Pacific to actually sample the sediments to relatively shallow depths. And these were looked at by sedimentologists. When the MOHOLE project failed, the idea of collecting sediment samples from the sea floor with a less ambitious program generated the Deep Sea Drilling Project. For this purpose they wanted to have a drill ship that was big enough to maintain its position at sea in water depths of 3,000 fathoms. They clearly couldn’t anchor. They needed dynamic positioning. Dynamic positioning had been used on smaller ships. And, they used a ship called GLOMAR CHALLENGER, which had got dynamic positioning on it and had enough drill length capability to suspend a drill to 5,000 meters or 3,000 fathoms. I think the first cruise they went out on was onto the Sigsbee Knolls in the Gulf of Mexico, and they successfully drilled some of the sediments there. And that was in 1969. Because they had chartered this ship for several years, the JOIDES group that planned the science of such holes, then looked for scientific problems that could be addressed by this technique. Now one of the problems was to test the theory of sea floor spreading, and a series of holes was designed in the South Atlantic across the mid-ocean ridge to look at the age of the sediments sitting above the basement of the rocks. If sea floor spreading was true, then the youngest sediments should be on the rocks near the center of the ridge, and as you go further away they should be older and thicker. They succeeded in getting a succession of three or four more holes, and demonstrated quite unequivocally that that was the case. The further you went from mid-ocean ridge the older the sediments. And that was very clear proof of sea floor spreading.
Although some people I know, I think Ewing, was concerned that because they were so unruffled, the layers, there wasn’t so much mixing that it meant that there wasn’t sea floor spreading. Because he expected that it would have been more tumultuous.
I think he must have been very influenced by the ideas of turbidity currents that were also very common at Lamont at that time. I don’t remember exactly what Ewing’s objections to this were, but the disturbance of sediments, the bioturbation is a relatively small disturbance. The major disturbances of horizontal transport by density currents and turbidity currents occur much nearer to the edge of the continents than in the mid-ocean ridges. And the increase of age of the sediments with distance I think was accepted by most people as very convincing. I think Ewing didn’t want to be convinced.
So that was a real shot in the arm for deep sea drilling. It was a sort of scientific achievement that DSDP could talk about. And they then went on to think about problems that could be addressed by this technology. They had within JOIDES a planning committee of various areas to look at the scientific problems that could be addressed by drilling. One of these areas was the Atlantic panel, and we in the UK at NIO were aware of all this going on, and obviously read about it in the journals and heard other people talk about it. And when we heard that there was a plan to drill in the northeast Atlantic, we thought, “Hey, wait a minute, they are coming into our patch. We’d like to have some input into this debate about where to drill the holes and what the problems were.” So I managed to get myself onto the Atlantic panel. And in NIO we generated a series of proposals of places to drill where the problems could be solved better. I took these proposals out to the States and talked to the Atlantic panel and they were accepted. And as a result of that, I was asked to be a co-chief scientist on Leg 12. I was the first non-American to be a co-chief scientist on one of these legs.
It’s interesting, because I was reading in the minutes of the Royal Society, and this was where the panel was, was it not? In the Royal Society?
What, the Atlantic panel? No. Because this was a JOIDES panel. This is an American panel at this stage.
Okay. But at the same time, you were a member of the Royal Society committee.
Well, I was a member of many Royal Society committees.
Because reading in the minutes of the Royal Society, I came upon a section where you talked to your colleagues about deep sea drilling, urging them to become involved in this, that the UK should become involved in this project. And it sounded from the minutes that you were able to encourage support.
Well, I’m glad to hear it. I don’t quite remember which committee this was — do you know which minutes?
I think it was geophysics, geology and geophysics —
Was this the British National Committee of Geology and Geophysics?
Right. That’s it, that’s it.
BNC Geology and Geophysics. There were a number of committees that I was on. The Royal Society had a system — and it’s changed somewhat now — a system of British National Committees for different areas of work which related to international programs. There was the British National Committee for Oceanic Research, which related to SCOR, there was the British National Committee for Geology which related to various geological programs going on, there was a British National Committee for Antarctic Research, there was a British National Committee for Geodynamics when the Geodynamics program was active, another geological program, etcetera, etcetera, and I’ve served on many of these. Not as a fellow of the Royal Society, I hasten to add, at that time, because these committees were simply national committees of whoever was working in the fields. I’m sure that I did advocate that the UK became part of the DSDP.
Yeah. I’m looking in my notes, and it was the British National Committee for Oceanic Research.
Okay. Now this I think is probably at a slightly later phase. I’m not sure what date those minutes were.
Let’s see. May ‘67? Well —
It couldn’t have been then, because DSDP didn’t start until ‘69. Well, no matter. I took part in 1970 in Leg 12 as co-chief scientist — and that cruise had as target areas some to the north of the Grand Banks on Orphan Knoll, the Labrador Sea, the Reykjanes Ridge, Rockall Plateau, the Bay of Biscay. So it was a clockwise sweep around the North Atlantic. My fellow co-chief scientist, Bill Berggren was a micropaleontologist and the procedure for the DSDP then and now is that the scientific program would be developed by JOIDES, the targets, the rationale for those targets would be worked up ahead of time, there would have to be site surveys, geophysical, geological, paleontological data to support the reason for them. Those would get argued about and agreed, and then a multidisciplinary team was assembled on the ship to address the problem. So there was a mixture of sedimentologists, paleontologists, geochemists, geophysicists, etcetera. I took with me a fellow geologist from the institute, Bob Whitmarsh, and before the cruise started we went around and talked to the various labs and saw the data that was being used to support these objectives. And that for me was a tremendous eye-opener, of how a lot of disciplines can integrate towards a given problem. It’s a very concentrated team. You’re at sea for two months, you’ve got no port calls for two months, you work 24 hours a day, or there is work going on 24 hours a day, meals every 6 hours regardless, and you each have your own set of tasks. My role was to lead on the geophysical/geological side and to make decisions about where we drilled, to look at the data as it came in and then to write up the reports as you go along. And one of the commitments is that by the time you hit the port, you’ve got a complete documentation of what you’ve done, which is a quite demanding thing. So it was a huge part of my life at that stage, with subsequent meetings afterwards to refine this report and to produce the Initial Reports, which was a major undertaking that took one back to meetings in Scripps or meetings in Woods Hole or wherever they happened to be. And finally these hefty blue/green volumes come out. The reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project fill people’s shelves. So that occupied a lot of my time in 1970 and ‘71, and it also did another thing for me, it brought me back to focus on the North Atlantic after the Indian Ocean. In the Initial Reports, I wrote summaries and reviews of the evolution of the North Atlantic as a whole. By this time the fact of sea floor spreading was established, plate tectonics and the aspects of subduction became well known through the work of Chuck Oliver and Lynn Sykes at Lamont, and the analysis of earthquakes on the sub ducting plates. John Tuzo Wilson had demonstrated trans-current faults and fracture zones could be explained when you get offset parts of sea floor spreading. There would be the inactive and active parts of what he called transform faults. I remember him demonstrating that whole concept with his wonderful cardboard models when he was at Cambridge. And about this time, Xavier Le Pichon was a very active scientist at Lamont and he wrote one of the papers that impressed me enormously. He considered the earth as a whole, taking the known sea floor spreading rates derived from magnetic anomaly analysis, taking the known fracture zones and transform faults and the directions that they implied for sea floor spreading, taking the subduction zones, taking the earthquake epicenter distributions, putting this all together and making a coherent kinematic model of the whole spherical earth and the movement of the continents. And from that kinematic model he deduced other fracture zones or spreading rates that had not actually been measured, which could mapped and measured and were checked and found to be correct. I remember reading that particular paper on the train going up to Newcastle once, and being so impressed how he had gathered all the threads together and no doubt he will talk to you about that at a later stage. So, I came back from DSDP, I was working on the North Atlantic. I started to put together the questions of how the North Atlantic evolved in plate tectonic terms. The work on the Reykjanes Ridge extending up to Iceland, showed it was clearly a spreading center; the Labrador Sea appeared to be a failed spreading center that had started and stopped. Rockall Plateau has always been an interesting area from the UK point of view, because it’s a very large shoal area to the west of the UK, separated from the continental shelf by Rockall Trough. Our drilling on Rockall Plateau indicated that it is probably continental, not a volcanic oceanic island. The questions then arose, why is it continental and is Rockall Trough oceanic or subsided continent? Is it a failed spreading center that tried to separate Rockall Plateau from Europe but then jumped to the west and went up through Iceland? These sort of questions were ones which started to involve me in the more ocean-wide geology rather than just the individual parts that I’d been working at before. And it built on the kind of things I had been doing in the Gulf of Aden. So my interest started to focus in on mid-ocean ridges, because these were the places where the action took place, and clearly what lay in the rest of the ocean basins had been generated at a mid-ocean ridge and bore the hall marks of its origins there. I think at about this stage it’s worth introducing the concept of the instrument GLORIA, which we developed at the institute, because it started to color the way that I went on my scientific research.
Okay. Well, since you developed it at the institute, let’s talk a little bit about the institute first of all. When you first got to NIO and you had just come from Lamont, and as you kept working with NIO, how would you compare the two institutes, how they worked? Were there similarities? Were they vastly different?
I think they were very different in several ways. First is the difference between the UK and America. We were much more under the control of a committee responsible for us and under the director. But the director gave us a lot of freedom. George Deacon gave us a lot of freedom. Lamont is part of Columbia University. It therefore has a flow through of research students, and all the ideas that they bring, and all the Ph.D.s they are writing, and the ability for the staff to use research students for developing programs. We didn’t have these at NIO, because we were not a part of a university. Secondly the difference I think was that Maurice Ewing’s view was that you should keep ships at sea as much as possible, that he would collect a database of all kinds of information, whatever the tools were, whether it’s seismic, gravity, magnetics, topography, coring, cameras, and he built up a very large database which needed to be handled, and a sediment database, a coring lab where sediments were kept. And so any time at sea, people had to take routine measurements all the way along. It’s not to say they didn’t go out also to target specific problems. Lamont was very largely geology/geophysically oriented. NIO was basically physical oceanography and biology. There was one geologist when I came, and myself as a geophysicist, so we were a very small team. Now the lack of research students was made up for me by linking with Cambridge, with Maurice Hill, and so research students came from there. And that was fine. Stimulating. So to that extent there was some similarity.
But what do you see as some of the advantages of NIO? What made this center work? Or do you think that it has been successful over the years?
I think NIO has been extraordinarily successful, considering the small size of it and the small budgets compared with some other laboratories. I would put that success down to firstly the director, George Deacon, who had the inspiration to take a group of distinguished — well, not at that time distinguished, but very clever — scientists who had been working at the Admiralty and to give them enough freedom to work on problems they thought were interesting and important without being too constrained. Perhaps it’s interesting to see that the number of Fellows of the Royal Society who came from NIO in those days is vastly more than the number of Fellows of the Royal Society that Southampton Oceanography Center now generates. There were people like Michael Longuet-Higgins, who specialized in waves, a very distinguished Fellow; Henry Charnock, who later became director; John Swallow, who developed a method of using neutrally buoyant floats to measure very small deep sea currents; David Cartwright, who did work on deep sea tides. You know, these were all people who were nurtured by George Deacon, and he had the ability to pick people. And because of his connections with America, and because of his friendliness with Roger Revelle and Maurice Ewing and Columbus Iselin, there was a lot of interchange of ideas. George Deacon was able to persuade the National Oceanographic Council, who ran us in those days, to support oceanography, to support the running of a research ship — and without a ship you can’t get very far — and to persuade them to replace DISCOVERY II with a bigger and newer research ship. By American standards DISCOVERY is a big ship although not by Russian standards. And it was the quality of the science that he encouraged and enabled to be done, and the interchange and exchange of science, that put NIO on the map.
How would you compare him to say Ewing’s style of leadership? Was Deacon perhaps more laissez-faire with his researchers, or —?
Yes. Absolutely. I mean, Ewing was a driver. The driving that Ewing made eventually split the lab. It split Lamont down the middle. He and Heezen developed a tremendous antipathy towards each other, and that created all kinds of problems that some of the less aggressive staff at Lamont had to try to solve. Chuck Drake and Jack Nafe were peacemakers in the sort of rifts that developed that Lamont. And that was very bad for the lab. George Deacon had a much gentler approach. He always said when he came and talked to us, “Don’t work too hard.”
Interesting. Very different.
Yeah. Very different approach.
And yet a lot of things got done anyway.
A lot of things got done anyway. Different style. Ewing drove himself. He drove other people. George Deacon did some wonderful science. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society very early on for his work done before the war, and he was a very good writer. He was writing papers even after he had retired. He stayed at the lab and worked at NIO.
How did you feel your place was at the institute as the geophysicist? Did you feel that others had an interest in your work, that there was a lot of interaction between disciplines?
Yes, there was. John Swallow for instance, although he became distinguished as a physical oceanographer, was actually a product of the Geophysics Department at Cambridge. He was a student of Maurice Hill’s and worked with Maurice Hill. And so he came to the institute more or less as a geophysicist, loosely. He was allowed to do what he thought was best, and at that time there was the interest in deep ocean currents, and how to measure them. Scientists at NIO, realized that acoustics was a tool to be used, and it was the tool that was used in a lot of acoustic methods that had been developed during the war in submarine systems. The idea currently available at that time was to drop a container with an acoustic signal generator slowly down through the ocean column and then map how much it deviates from the vertical. And that it is the ocean current that is taking it sideways. Drop it on a parachute, so to speak. John Swallow, when he came to the institute, looked at this system and discussed it with other people and in his wonderful Yorkshire accent said, “I don’t think that’s the way to do that.” And his great contribution was to suggest that you could create a float that would be neutrally buoyant by adjusting its compressibility to be less than that of seawater. He took a scaffold tube, blocked up the ends, adjusted the wall thickness, and made it just the right compressibility by dissolving away the walls in caustic soda. And because the density of seawater increases as you go down, if the density of the float increases less fast with depth than the density of seawater, in other words the compressibility is less, the float will stabilize at a given position. And that’s the basis of the Swallow Float. And having seen that as a technique, and tested it out and taken it to sea, he found that it worked. And so his whole research direction moved from geophysics into current measurement. I would go to sea with him on cruises. We would often share cruises. Some would be geophysics, some would be current measurement. And so I saw him in action a great deal. And that neutrally buoyant float revolutionized the measurement of deep ocean currents.
Interesting. Okay. So in 1965 the NIO is transferred to the Natural Environment Research Council.
Now this is a shift, the name is different, now Natural Environment. Does this have significance in some way with the ‘60s, with the changing in the environmental movement, or does it relate to something else? Or why did the name change?
What it related to was a change in the way that government supported science in the country. And there was a committee in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. that produced the Trend Report that looked at what we had previously been doing. The Trend Report said that government support for research should be done through a group of research councils, four or five of them. One was called the Medical Research Council, one was called the Science Research Council and one was called the Natural Environment Research Council. And there were a couple of others. So the research council system was set up. It was called the Natural Environment Research Council because the word environment in UK government terms referred to the man-made environment. The Department of the Environment is concerned with houses and roads and cities and planning and that sort of thing. They didn’t want to get confused with that, so it was the Natural Environment Research Council. And that took over a number of research laboratories which were existing in their own right in different ways. And one of those was NIO, one was the Institute of Hydraulics Research, one was the Geological Survey of Great Britain, one was the Scottish Marine Biology Association, one was the Institute of Marine Environmental Research. There were a number of semi-autonomous groups like that which were all put together to be run by the Natural Environment Research Council. That reorganization was strongly resented by George Deacon. He felt this was taking away his own lab and putting an administrative structure over it that he really was very unhappy about. Because the Natural Environment Research Council then had its own chairman, its own secretary and its own council. The chairman and the secretary were executive officers who then started to take over the budgetary considerations, all things which were done by George Deacon himself. And so it took away power from him. And yes, it did have an influence. Then at a later stage we went through a series of funding crises. There were always problems about funding. Although the funding of the new research vessel was actually funded out of institute funds.
Are you talking about DISCOVERY?
But then, when NERC came into existence, they said, “No, DISCOVERY now belongs to NERC. It doesn’t belong to NIO. We want to organize its cruise program, we want to run it.” And that caused a lot of problems, a lot of resentment. We had a special dispensation to run DISCOVERY for many years under NERC, but that was whittled away in the end. We had, in NIO, arrangements with Cambridge to make the ship available to other universities.
I’ve heard mention of it in Oxborough shakeup?
That was later, much, much later.
That was. Okay.
That was the rationalization of geology departments, well, oceanography departments and geology departments in universities. I think the next major thing that influenced NIO was the Rothschild Report. What we were doing before the Rothschild Report was work that was partly responsive to government departments. If the Department of Energy or the Department of Trade and Industry wanted some work done, we would do work for them. What the Rothschild Report started to clarify or to state was that research laboratories should operate under a customer/contractor principle; that we should be contractors to customers. That although part of our funds should come from the science vote, voted for basic research, part of our funds should come from the customers who wanted research done. And initially those customers were government customers. They were other government departments. So the Rothschild Report took some 40 percent of our budget, gave it to the departments, our customers, and for three years said, “You will feed that money back into your contractors, but after that you are free to put that money where you want.” This was the Rothschild principle which was implemented in 1972. And then, obviously developing from that, was the ability for us as an institute to get customers who were not government customers but from industry, from the private sector, or from overseas.
Before then you couldn’t.
Well, we could, but we didn’t. There wasn’t the pressure to do so. So in the early days we existed largely on a sum of money from the science vote. “There you are, get on, use it, do some good science.” And then gradually control of the science came in, the government wanting us to do this or that, or they wanted to spend less on the science, more on contracted research.
Which became more applied research rather than basic.
It tended to be more applied. There was the long argument, and still is, about the distinction of categories of research. Basic research, strategic research, applied research, front end, industrial research. I like the definition of strategic research as research which certainly has got application and a use, but its use is not immediately foreseeable. This is in contrast to applied research; that here is a problem, we want some answers, and we are prepared to pay you for it. Strategic research is an area of research which is clearly necessary for the long term benefits of humanity, for the environment, for the globe, or whatever, but we can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to be applied yet. And basic research is something that nobody can quite see what the use is. If you take something like research into the mathematics of wave propagation, this clearly has got application. It arose in our country through the application of trying to predict waves on the beaches in the Normandy landings. So that was applied research. It became strategic research in the more general sense. Because wave energy clearly carries energy and it is a mechanism of transferring energy between the atmosphere and the oceans and that relates to the weather. So it’s got application. We got into this whole period of gradually moving from what everybody wanted to do because they were curious, into strategic research, into more applied and more customer oriented research.
That’s a big difference, a big chance.
It’s happened all over the world. Every lab has faced this. Because it is a very a fundamental thing that, when research budgets were a small proportion of GNP, they could grow in a more or less exponential way. But as soon as these research budgets started to really look significant in terms of a proportion of GNP, they have to level out. And that’s a difficult period to manage. How do you start to control it? You can’t go on pouring money into huge nuclear accelerators or space programs. And it’s happened in universities, it happens in all institutes, how do you justify the expenditure of the money?
And as an institute director, you were very much involved in funding problems and challenges and getting money.
Especially during this period. You started as director in ‘78?
So this is just after the conversion?
Yes. Perhaps I should say why the name of the institute has changed, because that happened in ‘73. NERC started to look at the various laboratories that it had acquired under its general heading, and as any organization wants to do, it wanted to rationalize. So it took three of the laboratories that were concerned with marine science. One was the National Institute of Oceanography.
Okay. Hang on.
The first one?
The first one was the National Institute of Oceanography, the second was the Institute of Coastal Oceanography and Tides up at Liverpool, and the third one was the Unit of Coastal Sedimentation down at Taunton, which was associated with the Hydrographic Department. All those three had come under the NERC when it was formed. And there were others. But the decision was made to combine these three into one Institute of Oceanographic Sciences and give it a new name. So IOS was born. At that time the director if NIO was Henry Charnock, George Deacon having retired, and so he, as director, became responsible not only for the lab here in Wormley, but the one near Liverpool, the Bidston Laboratory, and the one in Taunton. So that was the nature of the institute when I became director in ‘78. But I think before I get onto the problems as director, let me backtrack a little bit to some of the science that I did.
Okay. In to GLORIA.
Which is ‘70s.
Which is the late ‘60s and ‘70s. The geologist at the institute who was there when I arrived, Arthur Stride, was concerned with the geology of the continental shelf. He had worked closely with one of the Admiralty scientists down at an Admiralty laboratory in Portland, on the use of the naval submarine detection ASDIC, as we used to call sonar. But I’ll call it sonar from here on. Submarine detection sonar picks up submarines by reflection of sound. If it’s operating in a rocky background, there are a lot of other reflections coming from the rocks. Now Arthur Stride was interested in the other reflections, and not the submarine. And he realized that this was a tool for looking at outcrops of rocks. So he worked with the naval sonar and did some work on rock outcrops and sediment wave forms on the shelf. We moved in the institute towards building a special sonar on the bottom of DISCOVERY II to look at this in a more rigorous way and to have our own equipment. A lot of very useful work was done with side scan sonar for geological forms on the continental shelf. Stride and his colleagues did a lot of work, identifying rock outcrops and sand wave forms. They also saw the plough marks made by icebergs when they grounded on the continental shelf to the north of Scotland. For all of these things, side scan sonar was an excellent tool. We then thought, if it works on the continental shelf, can we develop one that works in the deep ocean? This meant scaling up from the hull mounted side scan sonar. If you’ve got to keep the geometry of back scanning of the bottom to get reflections, then if you’re working much deeper water, the range has to be very, very much greater. It’s got to be a range not of 2 kilometers but 20 kilometers, working in depths not of 200 meters but of 2000 meters or more. If you want to get those ranges, you’ve got to lower the frequency. If you are going to keep the narrow beam angle with a low frequency, you’ve got to have a bigger transducer. So all in all as you go through the design concept, you end up with a transducer that is 30 feet long and 6 feet in diameter. And because the surface of the sea has got a thermocline, a velocity gradient in the surface waters, you want to tow it deep to get below that in order to get the long range propagation and also to get below the wave action. So you end up with a design of a vehicle that is big, has to be towed deep, and, to get the range, has to put out a lot of power. We didn’t know how much power was going to be needed to get reflections back from a range of 20 kilometers and to get a signal. So the designer, Stewart Rusby, who was in charge of this project, went through all these calculations and generated the design which resulted in a vehicle 36 feet long, 6 feet in diameter and towed on the cable at a depth of 50 meters. It was extremely difficult to handle in and out of the ship. We had to replace one of the lifeboats on the davits and put special davits to handle this. It was given the name Geological Long Range Inclined ASDIC, ASDIC being the earlier name of sonar. This became GLORIA for short. (Just as a footnote, people often describe the name ASDIC as standing for Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee, which is actually wrong. It is the Allied Submarine Detection Investigation Committee. That was a joint committee of the U.S. and the UK to detect submarines during the war, and ASDIC was the technique that came out from it.) The name GLORIA ends in ASDIC and is a double acronym. GLORIA was used first in ‘69 by Stride and his colleagues in the Mediterranean, and I started to use it in the Atlantic and took it as a tool to use to look at the morphology of features on the Atlantic sea floor. And it was very successful. It was enormously interesting in the data it gave. It had many problems, not least of which was getting it in and out of the water. To get it out of the water we usually had to steam and get into the shelter of an island, because of the hazards of operating at sea in a swell. We used men in rubber dinghies and divers in the water. But we used GLORIA, and it gave great data. Now at about that time, a joint expedition of the Americans and the French were using submersibles to look at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge southwest of the Azores. The so-called FAMOUS Expedition. And our contribution to that was to do a GLORIA survey of the whole of the area to look at the fabric of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on either side of the median valley. And what emerged first from that — and this is I think was one of my more important papers — was that the individual ridges, which elongated parallel to the median valley, and the scarps that define those ridges, were extremely long and extremely closely spaced. They were thirty kilometers long and spaced by about 2 kilometers. And secondly that the steep scarps of the tilted blocks predominantly faced inwards towards the median valley. They weren’t random, some outward facing, some inward facing. In the Pacific they seemed to be different, where there were as many facing outwards as inwards. But in the Atlantic, a slow spreading ridge, they were predominantly facing inwards. And this tectonic fabric of the mid-ocean ridge was something which one needed to build into models of how the median valley was created and what the mechanical processes were. So that was a very good use of GLORIA. We later used it in other parts of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, including the Reykjanes Ridge. Now the Reykjanes Ridge is unusual as a ridge in that it has many of the characteristics of the slow spreading ridges — in other words, at the south end it has a median valley, it has inward facing scarps. But at the northern end it has more of the characteristics of the fast spreading ridges of the Pacific. In other words it has a central horst, a raised ridge, and some outward facing scarps. And then further north still it runs into the Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland. And so that’s one difference from other ridges. The second thing is that it is oblique to the axis of spreading. Now the axis of spreading is recognized by the orientation of major fracture zones. The Charlie Gibbs fracture zone, which runs east-west on the south end of the Reykjanes Ridge, tells us that the movement of the plates either side is east-west. But the ridge itself runs northeast-southwest. And so I took an expedition to Reykjanes Ridge with these problems in mind to try to resolve some of the fabric of the Reykjanes Ridge. And what we discovered was that the Reykjanes Ridge was not a single ridge or a single valley turning into a single ridge, but it is a series of en echelon ridges, each of which was normal to the spreading axis but was offset, in a series of offsets, in fact overlaps. This in itself is not easily explained in the simple sea floor spreading concept. So there were some very interesting data. GLORIA was the only tool able to do this. By this time we had actually moved, in the GLORIA story, from GLORIA Mark I to GLORIA Mark II. Mark I had done a lot of very useful work, but it was realized that it was very difficult to handle, and it only looked out to one side. And we wanted something to look to both sides at once. When we saw how much energy is coming back we realized that we did not need the power that we had originally anticipated. And so GLORIA Mark II was a much slimmed down version, and that cruise in 1977 to the Reykjanes Ridge was the first cruise in which we’d used GLORIA Mark II, I think I’m right in saying. And it proved to be enormously successful, thanks to the designer of the Mark II system. By this time Mike Somers, who had worked on Mark I, took over the design of GLORIA Mark II. We found that we could launch and recover in rough seas. It was a slimmer system; we had a different towing arrangement, it was less vulnerable to damage, and the Mark II system is operating today.
You mentioned the submersibles project between the U.S. and the French.
The British at this time weren’t using submersibles.
And in fact I realize now that when I was talking about your talking in front of the Royal Society about the Deep Sea Drilling Project, it was really the British National Committee for Oceanic Research in January ‘67 talking about submersibles. And from what the minutes said, they decided that what they should do was to cooperate with the U.S. and the French to test out the idea of submersibles. So did you have any cooperation, did you use them?
The answer is not personally, no. I argued for collaboration with those who had got submersibles on the grounds that I couldn’t see there was a justification for the UK to support building a submersible of its own. There were already some around. I don’t think they were all being used to their full extent. They were very expensive to use in ship time as well as money, because you have to have extra levels of safety. Woods Hole had developed ALVIN and the LULU submersible support Ship. The U.S. Navy had developed TRIESTE and was using it. There were a number of other submersibles around, but they tended to be expensive. Very popular in the press, but not terribly efficient tools for doing science from. And so my view was, no, let’s use other people’s when we need to, as indeed we have. We have used a lot certainly in the past decade or two, from the French, the Woods Hole’s ALVIN, and the Russian MIR submersibles. And I don’t think it was a bad decision not to go ahead with submersibles. We have had shallow ones here used by the Geological Survey.
You have sat on quite a lot of committees.
Is this seen as service, giving back to science, or how were you chosen? Was it a combination of election and or being chosen or nominations, interests?
Well, a lot of the committees are the means of doing what you want to do. Particularly committees that are, say planning for the International Indian Ocean Expedition. It is mechanism of getting in with one’s ideas and talking to people from overseas and trying to collaborate and work a program or developing the results of programs. Mainly a policy committee is about trying to influence the way that science is going to go and having a voice in what is being decided. And I think everybody wants to do this.
Government policy, or just policy within science?
Well, it’s often not easy to distinguish between the two. The Royal Society was a vehicle for government to generate policy, and still is. So the British National committees of the Royal Society were places where policy was talked about nationally. It fed from there into International policies. It also fed into the government. The government funding took cognizance of the Royal Society’s recommendations. So that it fed into government policy. Later when I retired from being director, I sat on a committee that was much more directed towards government policy, called the Coordinating Committee for Marine Science and Technology. That was at a higher level, naturally. So earlier in my research career, the committees were a means to an end to further the research. When I became group leader of the Geophysics and Geology Group at the institute and I had actually a group leadership title, I had responsibility for that group. So I had to sit on committees to advance the needs of that group, whether they were committees of NERC or committees of science to which the group was interested. That was the mechanism. Of course within IOS one had committees on the finance, on personnel management, all these sort of administrative things. If one belonged to a society, like the Geological Society or the Challenger Society or whatever, one was often invited to serve on a committee and it was interesting to do so. There were also committees entirely outside the science and I served on committees of schools and councils and other bodies. These are voluntary because I have an interest in them and have been asked to join.
And for the policy committees, were those elected or —?
Appointed? Who appointed you?
Well, for the government policy committee there is a coordinating committee on science and technology and I was appointed by what was then the Department of Education and Science. I think it was a government appointment.
And what would define your responsibility on that committee?
The committee’s role is defined in its terms of reference as a whole to review and to recommend and to report. But my role within that would be determined by the chairman. He set up subcommittees of that major committee. I was chairman of three subcommittees and had to produce reports for those within the CCMST. One was on marine geology and geophysics policy, one on international coordination in marine science and technology, and one on the use of research ships. And those were subcommittees which were given to me because I had experience in the subjects.
At times it must be very political, especially with international collaboration.
So for your reviews, the government could come to you with an idea. Would the government suggest a collaboration? For instance, “Oh, we want more of a collaboration with,” let’s say, “our former colonies,” and come to you and say, “How are you going to work this?” Or is it the other way around you saying, “Well, we want this project with the U.S.?”
I think it’s that way around. This particular policy, this particular committee had its origins in a critical report by the House of Lords on the lack of coordination of marine policy within government departments in this country. And so it set up this committee to look into this, and to make recommendations. Sitting on this committee were representatives of government departments as well as independent members. I was an independent member. So I could put in my two pence and make my own comments. Whether the government departments took any notice of the discussions which it had, or even when we finally wrote our report, is doubtful. One is sometimes rather cynical about the impact that it had, because the government’s response to it was rather feeble. In terms of the committees that are talking about the science, for instance the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, the Working Group 41 on reviewing charting programs internationally, there the recommendations that we made were indeed taken on board internationally and were followed through and led to other things which produced successful products. It is very rewarding to see that happen. After I had finished actually participating in Deep Sea Drilling Project, when I was on the planning committee of JOIDES, I recommended and encouraged the UK to join in what became the international program on ocean drilling, IPOD, when five other countries joined in with the American institutions. I was on various committees both nationally and internationally regarding that. And I was on the JOIDES planning committee, which planned each leg and the scientific objectives. And so there was a very distinct role in the coordination of all sorts of strands and trying to create a viable program. And they were all very rewarding and interesting things to do. They involved a lot of paperwork, a lot of traveling.
Did this demand some sort of a reason or a justification for this collaboration? Like what political advantages would be gained through collaboration?
Well, political is perhaps not the word. It’s the scientific justification and economic justification for doing that science, because money and politics tend to be tied up together a bit. I mean there was never an issue, “Well, Russia is misbehaving. Should we expel Russian from the system?” Those sort of politics probably did go on at a Foreign Office level. One bit of real politics that I got involved in, and I haven’t really talked about this at all in any of our discussions yet, were the negotiations and Conference in the United Nations on the Law of the Sea. Now that was a very political thing. It arose out of the fact that there were thought to be resources, in the form of manganese nodules, from the deep sea that could be garnered, that if we were not careful America would scoop them all up, The United Nations were worried about a free-for-all in the oceans. And so the 3rd UN Conference on the Law of the Sea was set up. Already there had been two conferences on the Law of the Seas, which had defined the limits of jurisdiction on the continental shelf. But the 3rd Law of the Sea Conference was to extend that to all the open ocean and to broaden the issue completely. But I don’t want to get into details about the Law of the Sea Conference. It was an immensely complicated, fascinating and long-winded and political affair of ten years. It had the politics, it had the law, and it had technical problems of oceanography.
It was finally decided, was it ‘73?
No. The conference was concluded in 1984.
So just began.
It was ten years starting with some 80 countries and ended with 150 countries, and divided up into all kinds of interesting groupings of east-west, north-south, developed and undeveloped countries, continental margin countries, there was one group called the land-locked and geographically disadvantaged nations. So and all of these had got their own pressure groups, their own agendas to argue for. Out of it all was a draft convention, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
And you went as a delegate.
I didn’t go as a delegate to any of these meetings. I participated in a lot of the technical discussions in this country on behalf of the Foreign Office, or with the Foreign Office. I did go to one intercessional meeting in Moscow with a UK delegation to argue a point with the Russians. Where my expertise came in was that part of the convention, Article 76, is to define what the edge of the continental shelf means in legal terms. And that’s a bag of nails, a can of worms.
And was this a pointed dispute between the USSR and the UK? Was this the argument?
There was a particular element in that Article 76 which needed to be agreed. The UK and Russia wanted to develop a common position.
And to develop that common position, they needed to thrash out certain issues. It was to do with natural prolongation of the land mass. That’s a technical phrase that sits in there in Article 76. There is a very interesting little sidelight on negotiations there. There was the UK ambassador was sitting one side of the table with his colleagues, and the Russian ambassador on the other side, and glasses of water and bottles of drinks and plates of biscuits on the table in between. And neither side wanted to feel that it was the originator of a particular draft wording, and so it was suggested that the originator should be the plate of biscuits in the middle of the table. And this became known as the “Biscuits Proposal.”
And this was very serious.
It was serious, yes. There is a very good write-up of the whole of the Law of the Sea negotiation, which appeared in The New Yorker. It actually mentions this biscuits affair in that. Two issues of The New Yorker carried about 30 or 40 pages each on the personalities and all the sort of different strains and stresses during the negotiations. So yes, I contributed and advised the Foreign Office on aspects of the Law of the Sea on that issue.
And you gave your technical advice. Did you ever feel pressured to be swayed in any way toward interpreting the data a certain way to come out with a different position? Or did you see the ambassadors using your data in a certain way?
I felt that I had to try to keep some sense of rationality and sense in it, because the lawyers love to have obscurity. And I later began to realize that that is quite intentional; that without some ambiguity, conventions would never get signed. Because it enables both sides to say they won a point. And I suspect this is very true of the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement. You see the interpretations of both sides. This was an eye-opener to me, a scientist, in the ways of political negotiation and compromise. And a lot of the Law of the Sea has got compromise in it which will keep the lawyers busy for years. So I have kept an interest in Law of the Sea issues ever since then, and even quite recently have contributed to a book that’s being written about it. So that is an aspect of my life which I don’t know even whether it comes up in my CV. So, just to continue with the GLORIA story — and it links in with the Law of the Sea reasonably well — as you are probably aware, towards the end of the Law of the Sea Conference, President Reagan was elected as President, and being a rather right-wing Republican he was very cagey about the objectives of the Law of the Sea Conference and withdrew all the American participation. He made a declaration that the United States would claim its own exclusive economic zone around all the American coastline to the distance of 200 miles, not in accordance with UNCLOS but as a unilateral declaration. It doubled the land area of the United States over which they had legal control. And that was in 1984 I think. And having done that, he said to the Secretary of the Interior, one Judge Clark at that time, said, “Okay, we have acquired all this land mass. What do we know about it? What happens there? What are the resources?” The Secretary of the Interior went to the U.S. Geological Survey and said, “What do you know about this?” Now it so happened that we had been in discussion with one of the USGS people at Menlo Park about them using GLORIA for some survey work that they had in mind, and we had got a big proposal sitting on the table. Looking at that proposal, the USGS said, “Look, here is a technique that we can use to find out about the exclusive economic zone. How about it, Mr. Secretary?” Well the upshot of it was that we in IOS were given a contract by the USGS to survey the U.S. exclusive economic zone from the western shore coastline out to 200 miles, and from the Mexican border up to the Canadian border. And we did that in 1984. We took a hundred days to survey it with our new double-sided GLORIA, and we brought our own ship out to do it, because it was cheaper than an American ship, half the price. That was an extremely successful expedition and survey. It was done under contract to the USGS. It brought funds in to the institute, and it was on time and within budget. We got 96 percent coverage and gained lots of nice sonographs (pictures) which could be built into an atlas. I flew out to San Diego and presented a copy of the atlas to the Secretary of the Interior on the completion of the cruise, and showed him the ship and the data. So as a result of that IOS got a contract to do the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast of the United States, part of the Canadian margins, and continued on with a contract to do the Aleutian margin of the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska margin, and a 200-mile strip either side of the Hawaiian Island chain. So this was a contract between the USGS and IOS. It was called by the Americans EEZ-scan, and continued for about eight years. We did about six months of ship time a year for about eight years, ending up after I had retired from IOS. But it was a very good, very important contract for us. It brought in money, it demonstrated the utility of GLORIA and justified the investment that we had put in it, and was an excellent project. For that the institute was awarded the Queen’s Award for Technical Innovation. So, that was the GLORIA story, a success story that was fairly well heralded around. I guess we now come to another part of the institute’s major work that I have not referred to yet. Do you want to stop at this stage and say something?
No. I am just wondering what this is going to be.
Oh, okay. Radioactive waste disposal. Okay.
Can we switch off just for a minute?
Okay. Let me go pause it. [tape turned off, then back on...] Resuming after a brief pause, and brief talk about radioactive waste.
Before I became director, one of the problems that was addressed to the institute through the Department of the Environment as part of the commissioned research area was a problem that was facing countries internationally, and that is what to do with the radioactive waste that had accumulated or might accumulate further from nuclear power stations and from weapons programs and from all sorts of other sources. In particular there was the question that if there was to be a development of the further use of nuclear energy, particularly reprocessing for higher powered energy generation, that the residual wastes could contain high level radioactivity of a particularly nasty sort and long lasting. And the question then was what should you do with this stuff. Already a certain amount of waste had been accumulated and was being stored in cooling tanks outside processing plants, and the ideas were being developed in the nuclear industry that this high level waste could be solidified into glass cylinders by a vitrification process. The glass cylinders which would be a couple of meters high and a meter diameter, and be generating heat, 10 kilowatts of heat. After 50 years they might generate a kilowatt of heat, and would be of course all the time be generating radioactive radiations. Very nasty materials. Internationally, this problem was being addressed by the Nuclear Energy Agency, and various proposals were being touted around, like shooting it into outer space, which was rejected as being too dangerous; of putting it into the ice caps, but that could result in its melting its way through the ice caps and pop out rather too quickly; of putting it into subduction zones to be absorbed into the mantle of the earth, and that appeared to be too slow a process to be really usable; to bury it in mine shafts on land or in salt mines, programs which are still being looked into. But one option was to see whether there was somewhere in the deep oceans where it could be placed. The idea was to put it into the deep ocean sediments area 50 meters down and to see whether that would sufficiently protect mankind from the consequences of it for long enough for the radioactive waste to decay. Well, we got involved in this program together with the United States. Charlie Hollister at Woods Hole was a proponent of this scheme. There were other people, the Sandia Laboratories were involved in rad waste disposal scenarios, and the Dutch were involved, the French were involved, and so the UK became involved through the Department of Energy into an international program of looking into the oceans. IOS undertook a long term program starting in about ’76, I think, about a 10-year program of research into the oceans to discover what the stages of protection were and to assess them. The radiological modeling was being done by international groups, and in this country by the National Radiological Protection Board. Our role was to define some of the processes and the barriers that constituted this. And the first barrier clearly is the fact that it is vitrified, the second barrier is that the glass cylinder is contained in a metal container that has to decay first before seawater gets at it, and so the first contact with the natural environment would be the sediments at depth. What is the nature of the sediments, what is the role of the pore water, how mobile is the pore water, what is the chemical exchange between the rad waste and the pore water as it tries to migrate up through 50 meters of sediment, how does it interact, what are the time scales, what are the properties of the sediments, are they reducing or oxidizing, what are the chemical reactions that stabilize it, and so forth? That was a geochemical, a physical problem. In the geology were there possible short cuts through faults that would let the water go up faster, or the radiation or the nuclides to migrate faster than just through the pore water? These are all problems of geology. It related to the Deep Sea Drilling Project, it related to the geochemistry, it related to physical properties of sediment, seismic assessments of micro-faults and fissures, etcetera, etcetera. These were projects that we undertook at sea on our expeditions. And then if nuclides got to the sea bottom boundary, how would they get carried away by currents? Would they be diluted by fishes, by fast-moving currents and become of no importance, would they be diluted in the oceans or would they be concentrated in plumes and hence possibly get to somewhere where they might be picked up? That was a problem for the physical oceanographers. If they got into the biomass by bottom feeders near the potential disposal site, would they get into the biological food chain and hence into man’s food chain higher up? This was a problem for modeling the whole of the biological food chain in the oceans, which our biologists were beginning to get into. And then if they got into the fisheries, were those fish caught, or if it got into the seaweeds on the shoreline what are the links between the fish and mankind and eating it and getting into mankind? So there’s a whole set of links, a lot of which involved all the disciplines the institute was involved in. And so it provided a very integrated study for many of our scientists. And that program was initiated by Henry Charnock, but it carried through the time I was director working through the Department of the Environment, who had responsibility in this country for looking at this program. It was also an international program of the Nuclear Energy Agency. It took a lot of talking, a lot of debating, organizing programs, linking to and fro. Quite a lot of politics in it. And it was politics of a national kind that stopped it in the end. It was the trades union, the National Union of Seaman, who stopped us doing research into this because they were worried about using the seas for nuclear waste disposal. The Trades Union Congress put a veto on all migration of nuclear materials through the country. The London Dumping Convention put a stop on the use of the oceans for disposing of radioactive waste. It was blacklisted. It was on their blacklist of prohibited substances. And so the program eventually had to stop. But a lot of work was done, and my view about this was that it is still probably one of the safest places to put it. People are doubtless aware of the problems every single other method of disposal has faced, whether it’s a land disposal in the salt mines in the Yucca Valleys in America, or the Asa Mines in Germany or the granites in the UK, or wherever. Wherever people think of putting it, there are objections. So that was quite a major part of our program while I was director.
How did you see that science? As perhaps a little different from science as it is typically undertaken? Did you have to do worst case scenarios? What if you know the radioactivity gets out at a much higher rate into the environment? Did you have to do those kind of scenarios?
Well those sort of modeling scenarios were not our responsibility. They were done by the Nuclear National Radiological Protection Board, who have specialists in that kind of modeling. Our role was to define the processes as clearly and as absolutely as possible and to quantify them — to put numbers onto the processes of rates, migration rates, look at the barriers, and so forth. That data could then go to the modelers who would do the worst case scenarios.
I suppose while that was going on that we had these two major programs when I was director; the USGS GLORIA program and the Rad Waste Disposal Program. But there were many other programs which were commissioned, related to the oil industry and related to waves, related to flood protection, related to crustal work — remembering that I had the Bidston Laboratory that was looking at the continental shelf programs largely and the Taunton Laboratory, which was concerned with sedimentation problems. Things evolved in NERC. There were yet more changes as the government changed or NERC changed itself. It decided to have three directors of science in the headquarters who were to take over the responsibilities of directors at laboratories. I found myself being asked to apply for one of the posts at the headquarters in Swindon and I actually declined to do that, because I wanted to be with the scientists who I was directing and not at some headquarters post. But there were changes in the arrangements, so a director of marine sciences was appointed, Professor John Woods, with whom I worked very closely. There were also reorganizations in the laboratories. Economics, money, had become very tight. The research council was looking for rationalizing the laboratories which led to my having to close the laboratory at Taunton, which in itself was an agonizing business. The idea was that the staff would be re-deployed at the other laboratories. But in event, most of them left, and set up their own small businesses or went into other firms or joined universities. And then later on, the Bidston Laboratory was separated out from IOS, having been brought in earlier, and became independent again. It was then called the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory. With all these changes NERC wanted to change the name of IOS, and I resisted this as long as I could. We did have a name change by adding the words Deacon Laboratory on the end, so we became the IOS Deacon Laboratory. And that lasted until the decision was made, and a right decision, to move the institute as a whole out from the place we had sat for 40 years, which was in an ex-Admiralty building at the back of a school in the middle of Surrey and way away from the sea, to a location on Southampton Docks. And one of the last things I did when I was director was to walk the docks and to discuss and choose the site where the new Southampton Oceanography Center would get placed. This linked together IOS, the strategic research laboratory, with Southampton University oceanography department, and its geology department, and also brought in the research ships of NERC, who were formerly based in South Wales, down to Southampton as well. So specialist new buildings were built for SOC right on the dock side. Research ships could come alongside, university lectures could be given there, students could work there. The research side of IOS, or what was IOS, could work alongside the university, alongside the ships and new workshops. So it’s a large new site. It is one of the biggest sites of European oceanography and is vying to become the Center for European Oceanography I guess. But I bowed out of oceanography and administration in 1988 when I was retired at the age of 61. End of life story.
Okay. Well I have no further questions.
Well, I have not entirely bowed out of oceanography. I kept associated with GEBCO, I am used occasionally by NERC for committees to chair, I have an honorary research fellow position at Southampton and I go down there from time to time, but my other activities have been involved in education in schools, and things have kept me pretty busy out here.
Well, that’s wonderful. Well?
So, there we are. Thanks.
I thank you for this interview, both of them, and at the end I’ll give you a form and you can decide how you want it made available to researchers.