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Interview of Jack Oliver by Kai-Henrik Barth on 1998 June 8, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5900
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Interview focuses on Oliver's training and career as a seismologist, covering the period until 1970. Oliver gives an account of his training at Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory and his subsequent career in seismology. He discusses his participaiton in the International Geophysical Year and in early nuclear arms control negotiations, and his contributions to the improvement of seismic capabilites for the detection of underground nuclear explosions in the late 1950s and 1960s. He also reflects on the changes in seismology as a consequence of the DOD's "Project Vela Uniform" and talks about his role in the Plate Techtonics revolution.
Summary: the interview focuses on Oliver's training and career as a seismologist, covering the period until 1970. Oliver gives an account of his training at Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory and his subsequent career in seismology. He discusses his participation in the International Geophysical Year and in early nuclear arms control negotiations, and his contributions to the improvement of seismic capabilities for the detection of underground nuclear explosions in the late 1950s and 1960s. He also reflects on the changes in seismology as a consequence of the DOD's "Project Vela Uniform" and talks about his role in the Plate Tectonics revolution.
Oliver's educational background and professional training: Oliver went to Columbia on an athletic scholarship, football player, that got him into College, his parents didn't have any money; he began as a pre-engineer of some kind (chemical engineer and others) and then went through two years at Columbia; then went into service for WWII in 1943 until 1946; while in service he worked with Navy Sea-Bees (civil engineering group, construction group); when he came back he couldn't decide whether to study civil engineering (which he liked as a field) or physics (which he also liked); the advisor in CE wasn't in that day and the one for physics was, so he enrolled in physics; got a BS in physics, and he got admitted to graduate studies at Columbia in physics; he needed some money and a fellow he met through the athletic connection referred him to geology department and Maurice Ewing; Ewing hired Oliver after three minutes of interview; Oliver had to tell Ewing that he had never studied geology in his life and Ewing replied he hadn't either: Oliver recognized that it was possible to go from one science to another; fall 1947 Oliver started to work for Ewing, first just a job; Oliver got a MA in physics then (no research required), but in the meantime Oliver was doing research in geophysics; Oliver transferred to geophysics and got a Ph.D. there in 1953 under Ewing
Who else was there at that time working with Ewing: pre-Lamont days, Joe Worzel (came with Ewing from earlier association), Frank Press (a couple of years ahead of Oliver in academic scheme), Gordon Hamilton, Paul Winshill (sp??), Sam Katz, Chuck Drake (close associate of Oliver), a little later Chuck Officer came along, George Sutton, Dick Edwards (the guy who took him to Ewing in the first place, didn't stay long in grad school, but became port captain in Woods Hole), Ivan Tolstoy (wrote fine textbooks on mathematical physics and geophysics}, Milton Dobrin (wrote a well-known textbook on geophysical prospecting; was a more senior person, came back for Ph.D. later in his career), Nelson Steeland (sp??) was there for a few years, went on into industry and did very well.
Was there already a big group around Ewing in the late 1940s? Oliver: at the time they moved to Lamont (early 1950s) there were about a dozen grad students, not many other people around, no technicians, few people in the machine shop, and one or two secretaries
Major focus at Lamont: exploring the ocean basins and that was Ewing's prime target; however, Ewing was interested in seismology from the time Oliver got there and Oliver tried to run a seismograph in the basement of the geology building at Columbia (didn't work very well, was too noisy in the city, that was part of the reason to move to Lamont); Frank Press was especially interested in earthquake seismology and of course there was a connection between the kind of seismology done at sea and earthquake seismology; when Oliver started, he didn't work on a marine project initially: he worked with flying balloons (1947); Ewing during WWII he had studied the SOFAR channel in the deep sea (a low velocity channel that traps the sound waves), and Ewing had the idea that there might be a similar channel in the upper atmosphere around 120,000 feet (36km) and the idea was to fly balloons up there with microphones which would listen to distant sources of sound (no explosions, but missiles that were fired from New Mexico as sound sources): big balloons, 150 feet diameter (45m) and they were sometimes reported as flying saucers; Oliver just tried to find his niche were he could make a contribution, and he went to New Mexico and Florida to fly balloons
How did Oliver become interested in seismology; because of Press? Oliver: Press was a factor; he got into seismology from a number of different routes; as a consequence of the balloon flying he got in with Albert Crary who was at AFCRC [Air Force Cambridge Research Center] at that time (Crary was a former student of Ewing) and Oliver began to work with Crary initially on balloon flying project, but then went to the Arctic with him: Alaska, studying sound propagation in the atmosphere using explosions on the ground level, and then Oliver went with Crary on the first US plane landing on the Arctic ice pack, for scientific purposes, and they did seismology there: explosions to study waves in ice and study the depth of water etc.; so Oliver was eased into seismology from that direction; the other thing that pushed Oliver towards seismology: during WWII he was in the Navy and he had traveled on ships and he knew that he got seasick relatively easily and he was not that anxious to get into marine geophysics and marine geology, and he didn't want to spent his life on ships; and looking at different efforts going on under Ewing, Press was in seismology, and he was one or maybe the most competent of the graduate students, later faculty members: and Oliver figured if Press liked seismology then there must be something good there and he gravitated towards seismology partly because of Press.
Press was working at this point on dispersion of surface waves and Oliver got into the same research area; study of dispersion started in 1930s with Ewing and Crary; they studied dispersion of flexural waves on ice on a Lake in New Jersey; studying the sounds of cracks in the ice on a lake: how the waves got dispersed to make that funny sound and in the process they studied how to handle the dispersive wave train; so Ewing had that as his background; then during WWII and Ewing worked in underwater sound and the SOFAR channel in deep water, but in shallow water one got this long, dispersive train of waves due to the fact of the water layer, acting as a wave guide; so Ewing had a lot of experience during WWII with that phenomenon; and a nice theory of the fact was written by [Chaim] Pekeris, and Worzel worked with Ewing at that time as well; so these people had all thought about dispersion in shallow water; (Oliver didn't know Pekeris very well); Ewing was always thinking about new applications, and he realized that if you got this kind of dispersion in shallow water, maybe when you went out in the deep ocean you got the same kind of dispersion but in a much lower frequency range; so Ewing started looking at earthquake seismograms with that in mind, and he quickly recognized that the long train of waves that you get when earthquake train traverses an ocean it was likely that kind of [dispersion] phenomenon; Ewing began to work on it and Press was right there; Press was very well trained in mathematical physics, but at that time didn't know much about observations of the earth; so Ewing and Press got together and wrote some of the key papers (on dispersed long period Rayleigh wave train); at that time seismologists looked at the seismogram, they saw a lot of impulsive things at the beginning, P and S and so on, and then they saw this long train of waves which they couldn't understand, so they didn't worry much about the character of the train (long train, which lasted about half an hour or an hour); Ewing and Press thing was to explain the character of these late arriving waves; this was a distinctively Lamont contribution to seismology: Ewing and Press became quickly well-known in seismology, because they were so effective in explaining those late waves; Caltech (Gutenberg, Richter etc.) were doing good things in seismology, but they were not working on that; there was a little bit on this in England with Stoneley (student of Jeffries): Stoneley did the mathematical, theoretical part well, but he didn't know how to operate with the actual observations, and so Ewing and Press quickly captured that field and they became very well-known in seismology that way.
How was the step made from dispersion of surface waves to crustal structure? Did Ewing realize this immediately that this would be a tool for studying crustal structure? Oliver: Yes, Ewing immediately realized that this would a tool for exploring the earth, however in those early days it was very difficult to make some theoretical calculations for completed models of the earth; so first they studied the oceanic paths: the first model was just a layer of liquid over a solid, and the liquid was both to represent the water in the oceans plus the low rigidity sediments, and the solid was all the rock down below: rough approximation, but it gives you that long train of waves, because of the great contrast between the water and the rock; but the next thing was to make more complex models: that first required to do a wave-guide theory, relatively simple for one or two surface layers, because you had some wave equations and boundary conditions and you ended up with a period equation (relation between the phase velocity and the period of the waves and then you had to solve that equation: it was a transcendental equation and sometimes a complicated one: it was difficult to solve with hand-calculators, and Oliver studied for his thesis a higher mode with a model which had water, crustal layer, and a mantle layer: Oliver hired a high-school girl to work all summer punching the calculator just to get one mode; Oliver: now of course you get this in an instant; at first they could only develop the theoretical equations for models with one or two surface layers, then Norman Haskell at AFCRC [Air Force Cambridge Research Center] developed a theory which essentially let you do any number of layers (Haskell method), essentially just generalized the whole thing so you could write down the equation for any number of layers; but nobody knew what to do with it, because you couldn't calculate it; you need computer to solve it: Jim Dorman at Lamont (he came along just when the first computers were coming out) and for his thesis he recognized he could handle that multi-layer problem on the computers.
Computers into seismology: Oliver: Jim Dorman's thesis was a key part of it: in mid to late 1950s that he was developing this technique using computers; any interaction between physicists and geophysicists at Columbia concerning computing? Oliver: physicists didn't use computers not much earlier than geophysicists: Oliver remembers one time distinctly: at Columbia they have the IBM Watson Lab, and they invited geophysical scientists down there for a special session to learn about the IBM 650 which was the big machine at that time, they were taught how to program it, and that's how Jim Dorman got started; Oliver: that was probably a little later than the physicists, but not much later, because the IBM lab wanted to bring the geophysicists into it; when Oliver was grad student in physics, his advisor was I.I. Rabi, and after Oliver was getting interested in geophysics Rabi encouraged Oliver (Oliver thought, gee, maybe Rabi just wants him out of physics), but Oliver learned later that Rabi thought that geophysics was going to be a field full of opportunity and so he encouraged a number of people to go to geophysics, and a key guy was Jack Nafe (when Oliver was studying physics at Columbia, Nafe was instructor in a course or two Oliver took; so Nafe was a little older than Oliver and established in physics, fine Ph.D. thesis in physics, worked in Hudson Labs a little while and then came to Lamont and he really brought perspective and rigor of physics into Lamont group
Oliver: some of the Lamont graduate students took quite a few courses in physics (Oliver took courses from five Nobel Prize winners, while he was there: Rabi, Lamb, Rainwater, Kusch, and Townes)
Oliver at the Naval Research Lab in 1947: summer intern and worked at NRL [Naval Research Laboratory] in DC, with just one year of physics under his belt, and so he didn't know too much about what he was doing, he worked for Willard George, and George's boss was Erwin and they studied the impact of projectiles on mostly metals (military applications was to make armor plate), but this was theoretical physics study, so they had theoretical equations for what happened if a perfect cone made an impact at high speed on a piece of aluminum or so; so Oliver's job was to set up this rifle and fire the projectiles into the armor plate to see what the crater looked like; Oliver got the experience of working in a big lab, and that was useful, and it probably helped in getting the job with Ewing; after the summer right back to Columbia.
The job at AFCRC in 1951 a bigger thing for Oliver: similar in the sense that he was a graduate student, but the research he was doing in that program was the Arctic program, so he had to go to Alaska in the middle of the winter, probably the most adventuresome project for Oliver; Oliver thought of it a part of his graduate study; Oliver organized some preliminary work on flexural waves, so he went up to Lake Superior and there fortunate enough to discover the air coupling phenomena: if the air wave goes over the ice it excites preferentially one frequency of the flexural wave train, and that's a striking phenomenon; Oliver was still fairly new, he couldn't do the theory of that, but Press and Ewing were doing wave-guide theory and they could do that part, joint paper (published in 1951: "Air coupled flexural waves in floating ice", Trans AGU).
Lamont's organizational structure in the early days: where there subgroups working in seismology or oceanography or other fields or basically one large group and smaller groups working informally working on research topics? Oliver: kind of a mix of those things: some people were running seismograph stations, some people who were going to sea, but it was possible to change from one group to another fairly readily; geochemists were a Lamont as well, and there wasn't a lot of transfer of people from geochemistry to geophysics; but in the geophysics program: Oliver went to marine cruise, went to Arctic, worked with earthquakes; Press was clearly the head of the seismology program, but Oliver was about the only other student; the marine program tended to be organized from one cruise to the next: you knew you are gone to have a cruise, so who would be on it? Some might be more appropriate than others for this particular cruise, or simply more available, so there was flexibility but nevertheless some division
Up to the late 1950s: how much contact did Oliver have with seismologists in the western US, like Byerly, Gutenberg: Oliver started going to the SSA meetings in about 1949, small group then, just 30-40 people to the meetings then; one meeting in Arizona, just about 30-35 people came; at a small meeting like that even as a newcomer, those people were very open: the first meeting Oliver went to he talked with Gutenberg, the "Dean of all seismologists": Oliver very pleased about that; in a social way he got to know almost all of those seismologists who came to those meetings;
Eastern Section was pretty small as well; AGU meetings: high overlap between AGU seismology section and SSA meetings; at Lamont the students tried hard to get to the AGU, get a car, rent a room together etc. (Oliver probably started going in 1949, rarely ever missed one); SEG: Oliver was going there, because: Oliver got his Ph.D. in 1953, studying surface waves: some time before that he started to work in model seismology: ultrasonic waves on table-top models to understand wave propagation because solutions for some of these complicated theory were too difficult; used ultrasonic waves and techniques which had been developed for RADAR in WWII (high frequency ranges): tried two-dimensional models, thin sheets, turned out to be a good thing, so Oliver published this in Geophysics and won some kind of citation; that really got him into the exploration geophysicists circles; oil companies were doing some similar things; motivation of going into model seismology: partly difficulties in solving the complex equations, partly there were configurations they didn't know how to handle mathematically: for example, wave at a comer (singularity); Oliver continued model seismology for a while (around 1953);
Press left in 1955 [to Caltech], and then Oliver became head of the earthquake seismology program at Lamont; Oliver did most of the modeling up until then, but with the new responsibility for all of earthquakes Oliver passed some of the model seismology work on to other people: Jim Brune, Glen Bowey (sp??); Oliver took over a lot of what Press had done: he tried to read every day seismograms in detail, initially just the Palisades seismograms, but during the IGY [International Geophysical Year] Lamont put out a network of ten stations around the world and Lamont began to get all that data: so Oliver was in the position to look at data from a network of the 10 LP seismograph stations that were better than most of the LP stations anywhere and he began to make discoveries based on that
His work for the IGY: Ewing got Lamont into it, Ewing was one some kind of high level committee; Ewing tried to get seismology into IGY; Ewing and Press got this program to put the stations around the world and they used the Press-Ewing seismographs which worked in LP range most people did not record in; was very difficult to get data from seismograph stations because everyone kept their own data and kept them in different format; so the idea of the IGY network was that all the data would come to a central place in the same format: seismograms just mailed in the seismograms; in those years that was fast: in other cases it could take a year before a station made information available in published form: mailing was faster, more comprehensive, and standardized
Press-Ewing at 15 sec and galvanometers around 45sec: much better in the LP range than almost any other seismographs around [in this LP range], and furthermore: Lamont operated three components; a lot of people just operated one vertical or just horizontals, but not all three; motivation to study LP waves: well, everybody else had studied P and S part;
What came out of LP network? Oliver: all kinds of things: first, just trying to understand the propagation phenomena and what it was that made the waves look the way they did; then they began to understand unusual phenomena: for example, when they started studying the near surface wave guide, continental path, we looked at fundamental mode: basically Rayleigh waves; but from theoretical considerations: there could be higher modes; Oliver found higher mode trains; other seismology groups didn't work much in LP waves: Lamont were trying to understand in detail the character of the waves, the character of ground motion as a function of time: others were just using the character of the wave to take the arrival times, plotting up the travel times;
Lamont compared with Berkeley, Caltech, and St. Louis: Lamont (Press and Ewing) clearly had the lead in the dispersion of surface waves, no doubt about that; Byerly got the idea of working on fault plane solutions from somebody in Japan (Honda), and his students, including Romney, focused on particular earthquake and use Byerly's technique for getting focal mechanisms (so that was Berkeley's thing at a time); Gutenberg and Richter were heavily on seismicity, they wrote "Seismicity of the Earth", the bible of seismicity; they worked on the travel time curves, they developed one of the best sets of travel time curves at that time, the Jeffries-Bullen were the only competition at that time; Harvard: Leet and Ewing clearly not friends: Leet showed up at one meeting of the Eastern Section at Lamont and gave a paper, which was horrible, says Oliver: the Lamont people had explained the oscillatory wave train as a result of dispersion and Leet tried to claim that it was a result of oscillatory motion at the source: Oliver: there was no way the earth could have done that (this was the first and only time Oliver saw Leet perform, and he knew it was so bad; Oliver never got into the personal friction with him, but never thought highly of him either); St. Louis was good, says Oliver, with the Jesuit missions and their network: important factor in seismology.
USCGS: Oliver had a lot to do with them, because for his thesis he studied waves that crossed the Pacific ocean and the USCGS among other places ran a seismogram station in Honolulu; so Oliver went to DC office of the USCGS often to look at their seismograms from Honolulu for earthquakes around the Pacific; so Oliver knew that group very well and by that time they were beginning routine and fairly thorough job of locating all of the earthquakes; Leonard Murphy was the leader in the DC office, Oliver knew him well, he let Oliver use all the USCGS data; Rutledge Brazee was a younger guy then; Dean Carder; reputation of USCGS seismologists: Carder did some interesting studies, but in general they weren't thought of as a research unit so much a place where they just did this processing, epicenters etc.
When Oliver was student there were other places to choose from besides Lamont, Berkeley, Caltech, St. Louis: Washington hired Frank Neumann (from USCGS), started a new era, one more university on, and of course there were the Jesuits and Jesuit schools: some were pretty good seismologists, others were doing it as a routine duty: Father Stauder, Lynch (at Fordham), Macelwane, Sohon, St. Louis had others who were not Jesuits: Carl Kisslinger, Ross Heinrich, Otto Nuttli; they had considerable strength; in Canada there was the Dominion Observatory; MIT was not on the map for seismology at that point, only when Press came from Caltech to MIT in mid 1960s.
Nuclear Arms Control business: how did Oliver become involved in the Berkner panel work? Oliver: started partly because Oliver knew Romney: met him at a symposium of some kind on microseisms at Ardenhouse; afterwards he would see him at meetings, so Oliver got to know Romney; Oliver sort of knew that Romney worked in the nuclear detection business; so when Oliver discovered these higher mode surface waves (they had higher phase velocities than the other surface waves) he said to Romney, gee, the air wave [from atmospheric explosions] might generate these higher mode waves, and Oliver said that Romney should look for it; so Romney knew that Oliver had some interest in detection; Rainier was fired underground: Oliver looked at Lamont seismograms with his special background of understanding surf ace wave trains and he found Rayleigh waves from Rainier: probably first time anybody saw surface waves from underground explosion at such a long distance; Romney didn't have LP instruments at that time, so he didn't see it at long distance: he saw it at about 10 degrees, while Oliver saw it at about 35 degrees, so kind of overnight Oliver became the expert in surface waves generated by underground explosions; there were not many of those explosions, but that's how Oliver got invited to the first conference in Geneva, through Romney; Press had a big reputation by then as a seismologist.
Geneva Conference: Oliver was a relatively young guy then, in mid 30s; Oliver never really thought of himself as someone who was up on some level to have political influence: Oliver thought about himself as someone knowing something about seismology; that he was there at the conference to provide that kind of information; so Oliver never tried to get into the controversy of who should do what politically; there was a NYT front-page article about the conference nearly every day, so it was fascinating: so the scientists had the feeling that they would be doing something on which the fate of the world depended (now he is not so sure whether it was that critical).
[discussing the photo from the conference in my 1998 Physics Today article]: technical advisers would sit behind the key people (Fisk, Bacher, etc): the negotiators could ask for a break and then tum to their technical advisors; seismic advisors for the West: Oliver, Press, Haskell, Byerly, Romney; Oliver: if it took a small group of seismologists, they would get a group together; interaction with the Russians (Oliver can't remember if it was Geneva or TWG2 conference): some people said that Love waves would not be generated by underground nuclear explosions (both of the sources make Rayleigh waves): Oliver had data showing that explosions had produced Love waves as well, and so he had a private session in the Russian quarters, with Keilis-Borok, and Oliver showed them the data and they accepted the interpretation (such a contact arranged through diplomatic channels); relations were like on a professional meeting, says Oliver.; how did Oliver feel about the outcome of the conference: Oliver was and still is rather pleased with the judgments they made concerning capability for detection, what magnitude levels they could operate at: considering the low level of research at that time Oliver thinks they came out with pretty reasonable numbers; Oliver says, they didn't do anything that was ridiculous, Oliver feels that they were pretty much on target, but of course now you have more and more detail; this was his first major involvement into an issue with political ramifications; Oliver: that was true for almost everybody there.
How was TWG2 [Technical Working Group 2] different from Geneva Conference? Oliver doesn't remember too clearly, but has the impression that TWG2 was just extension of the same, maybe a little bit more emphasis on observations; maybe a little bit better prepared, better documentation; Oliver never participated any more in any of the formal political negotiations after TWG2; Press was head of one delegation; Oliver was involved in various advisory committees; to what extent was Oliver interested in test ban issues? Oliver: had an interest in it.
Oliver's personal views on test ban issues: Oliver: tried to have not any strong political feelings, felt that his job was to make sure that there is a sound scientific and technical basis for what people concludes; he didn't really see himself as trying to save the world, he felt that that was up to people who knew the political situation much better than he did; so he stayed in the background on that, trying to contribute to the technical questions; Oliver: it was pretty obvious after they were there for a while [Geneva Conference?] that some of the seismologists were in the business of detecting nuclear explosions of the other side: Pasechnik, Romney, and the others were academic researchers just drawn in; Oliver was pleased that science had gotten to the point where it could provide some good technical information on things that eventually hinge on some political decisions; Oliver didn't think that decoupling was that big of a matter; Oliver feels that in 1958 meeting they did responsible job given the information that was available [he doesn't have much to say about the two conferences].
Oliver's involvement in advisory committees: AFOSR [Air Force Office of Scientific Research] committee for geophysics; Oliver remembers that this committee met fairly regularly; what Oliver remembers most is evaluating proposals that AFOSR had received; the committee commented on these proposals, probably not the final decision, just recommendations; Bill Best would use this kind of committee to make decisions about which contracts should be issued (Oliver said it was like being on an NSF panel); Oliver was involved for years with that panel [doesn't know exactly]; Oliver went with the panel after the 1964 Alaska earthquake to Alaska [see picture in Bates et al., Geophysics in the Affairs of Man, picture section after p. 160]: Oliver guesses that he was on the panel for a couple of years after that, but doesn't quite remember; Oliver gave a talk to this panel about plate tectonics when "Seismology and the New Global Tectonics" paper came out, around 1967.
Oliver doesn't remember any specifics about Herbert Yorks Ad Hoc Panel on Seismology, but remembers the Berkner Panel of course.
Berkner Panel: Oliver: was by far the most important one of all; subject matter was seismology so they had some seismologists on the panel: Press, Oliver, Romney, but they also brought in people from other fields who had expertise which could be used in seismology where seismologists weren't familiar with already: for example, John Tukey: very good applied mathematician: he had some good ideas about things seismologists could be doing; John Gerrard: into digital seismology, and he could see a little bit of the future of digital processing and he talked about how that could be effective in seismology, he was right that this would be important in seismology; Romney contracted with Jack Hamilton; how would the Berkner Panel operate? How often did the Panel meet? Oliver can't remember: certainly more than one meeting, but not too many; Berkner was not a seismologist, but he knew how to operate in the scientific-political world and he tried to stimulate our imagination: paraphrasing Berkner: what could you do with seismology if you had some support, put on your grand ideas here and I'll see what'll happen; so sometimes the seismologists said, well, we can do this in seismology, and Berkner would say, how much would it cost, and the seismologists would start budgeting in great detail and Berkner would say, let's take a round number, and it would be a bigger round number than the seismologists had anticipated: and Berkner would say: let's the way the effort should be, you are getting into the big time now. Berkner stimulated them to think about it, then he assigned certain topics to different people (usually when someone spoke up about a topic, he was assigned to write something up about that): so Oliver wrote up a section [he forgot which sections he wrote about; just check in Berkner Report]; Berkner took the report to the right places and suddenly a lot of funding began to come in to seismology; and there were some really good ideas in there [the Berkner Report]: WWSSN (Oliver says that was in a way just an extension of the Lamont's old IGY 10 station network) was a great development in seismology
Question about how the Berkner Report was translated into Vela Uniform: [Bates had told me that he took the report as his bible essentially]: Oliver can't remember how Bates did it but after he had done that and carried out some of these things, either in a committee meeting or privately he said to Oliver: now you go to the Berkner Report and see if there is anything I missed; and Oliver did and found that Bates had done a pretty thorough job [in covering all items in the Berkner Report]; Oliver has the impression that most stimulus came from the Berkner Report; Oliver: on the other hand, he didn't feel that the Berkner Report was particularly anomalous in any way: most seismologists would consider the items as things that could be done;
Oliver: in 1958 seismologists realized that this would be a chance to modernize seismology; there was a feeling that seismology was underdeveloped and underfunded before Vela;
Early years of Vela: interaction between Lamont scientists and Vela management (people like Bates, Don Clements, Ted George): Oliver: Vela managers relied more on their committees that evaluated the proposals and looked over their program;
Question: did the seismologists take the DOD money and run, or did the DOD money shape seismology, or something in between? Oliver: bit of both; seismologists would try to do what they thought was best for the science and, Oliver says, almost all of that was relevant to the test-ban problem;
Any research areas which were emphasized because of Vela (like seismicity studies, focal mechanism studies)? Oliver seismologists probably put those words in their proposals that made them more likely to be funded; Oliver: on the other hand most things are not so clear cut that one can easily separate “pure seismology” from nuclear test ban seismology;
Which areas did Vela emphasize? Oliver: seismologists just did what was good for the science and not just something which has some application later on; Oliver says he always tried to do the good science, and if it was relevant for the test ban, fine
Meetings in the 1960s: Oliver: much more specialization and many more specialized papers, only of interest to small group; you kind of loose the feeling that you can comprehend the whole subject; before the test ban treaty Oliver thought of himself as a specialist in surface wave studies and he was not inclined to argue with Gutenberg on travel times, that was his game; Oliver: nature of science is specialization, not necessarily Vela Uniform
Some Vela projects: WWSSN [Worldwide Standard Seismograph Network] [Oliver was on the National Academy panel to determine the technical specifications for WWSSN instrumentation: asked about the DOD appropriations hearings 1965 (Bob Sproull), why some parts concerning WWSSN (apparently a totally open network) were off the record, whether he had an explanation for that: Oliver has no explanation; Oliver says that this was the kind of network seismologists were dreaming of installing. Was it difficult to select the 125 stations? Oliver: he was only involved in the general policy, never got involved in determination of exact location; says that USCGS did most of that; Oliver: we wanted to get a nice distribution around the world, got a reasonably good one, unfortunately nothing on the ocean bottom; Oliver may have helped out in a few installations, because Lamont had the experience with the 10 station network; but Oliver can't remember any of the details
Contracts for basic research: any recollections of Vela contracts for Lamont? Oliver: we were looking for instruments with increased sensitivity to LP waves and we were often handicapped because of the microseisms: how to get rid of this noise peak; talked about adding a second galvanometer to filter out microseisms: Paul Pomeroy and George Sutton tried it out and it worked; Paul Pomeroy gave the talk at a AGU meeting and showed how much better the instruments now were, and [Merle] Tuve got up and applauded in the middle of the paper
On instrumental development: Sutton and Pomeroy did some other thing: station on the ocean floor off California for a while (Sutton was involved in that); Lamont ran a couple of stations in Africa, in Tschad, partly to be at distance from earthquakes in the Pacific where they would get PKP [seismic phases] with large amplitudes, and they wanted to see whether it would be advantageous to listen for nuclear explosions at that distance range as well; Tschad station: Oliver not quite sure, but thinks that the French had some station there before: he cannot remember whether Lamont put it into a new place or in an existing French station; Oliver went down there once
Oliver: during that time it was difficult to do anything in seismology that was not relevant for detection problem
Jim Brune, one of Oliver's students at that time, did a nice study of seismic noise as a function of period and became a famous picture
Oliver studied later ultra-long period microseisms from 11-18 sec (generated by waves at sea, striking coast), most people just didn't have the LP instruments to record these waves; later he found something of a microseisms storm of 27sec, really long, and he found out that these things are recorded all over the world and he could get the direction of the microseisms, source was big storm in the south Atlantic, which generated ocean waves, spending days traveling and then struck the coast of Africa and shook Africa enough to produce the seismic signals
VESIAC conference on micro-seismic noise (around 1964): Oliver not sure whether he participated
Oliver's involvement in instrument design: his involvement in development of LP seismographs, ocean bottom seismographs, water well seismographs: except for the galvanometer filter, most of the ocean bottom seismographs were designed by George Sutton, lunar seismograph was George Sutton and Gary Laython; Georg Hade was around, but more of an engineer; Paul Pomeroy worked a lot with instruments; Oliver would sometimes have to do with instruments, but not much
Water well seismograph: Elmer Rexon (he was not Lamont: he was Milwaukee Nunbush Shoe Company (sp??)): he had a water well: discovered that water well level changed a lot during earthquakes so on his initiative he put a recorder on it and measured huge water well fluctuations, but he didn't know anything about seismology, so Oliver got in contact with him to interpret the wave train, wrote a joint paper [see his publication list]; funny: with float and pulley, very unsophisticated; Oliver: the phenomenon not fully exploited today
Upper Mantle Project: after IGY people (including seismologist) recognized the great advantage of having some international framework, so they tried to prolong it; the Russian Beloussov was considered the father of it and he promoted it: basically a continuation of the IGY with a focus on the Upper Mantle; Oliver got into it because by then he got tired of the political test ban issue and he was looking for some more purely scientific things to work on and he decided that deep earthquakes would be something that could be exploited and that fit the upper mantle perfectly; Bryan Isacks came along as a student at that time, and they got NSF grant to put instruments down in Fiji and Tonga to study the deep earthquakes there and that resulted in the discovery of the subduction zone, the down going slab of lithosphere; not Vela stuff strictly, but second thoughts: once they know that a slab goes down into the mantle and waves come up that slab without much attenuation that might be a good place to listen to some events in other parts of the world; [that was the rationale behind LONGSHOT]; UMP was primarily organized by IUGG or ICSU; as far as Oliver knows there were no formal links between UMP and Vela, but of course people could get money from Vela and do Upper Mantle work, in this respect probably some interflow of funds there
Any recollections about phasing out of Vela? Oliver: NSF became more important for him, around 1964, big discovery 1967, “Seismology and the New Global Tectonics” had big influence, by that time Oliver was considered a plate tectonics seismologist; so Oliver was not thinking too much about the test ban treaty at that point; Oliver moved to Cornell in 1971 and that changed his focus also
Oliver felt that Vela had brought in so many new scientists who were focusing on the detection problem that he felt that he was not an essential element of it at all, so he didn't mind moving away from it
When did Oliver become interested in earthquake prediction? Did this start with Alaska earthquake in 1964? Oliver: says that he was never heavily involved in earthquake prediction, except he was on a delegation which went to Japan (possibly even as chairman), NSF was trying to encourage communication between the Japanese and US seismologists; Oliver hadn't done much in earthquake prediction then; plate tectonics: some thought about how the new understanding of earthquake mechanism might help earthquake prediction work
On “Seismology and the New Global Tectonics”: how was it received by seismologists and what kind of work did it stimulate in seismology? Oliver: felt that it was favorably received almost everywhere, very little criticism (there were those who didn't like plate tectonics: but those where geologists, not seismologists); pretty readily accepted (refers to C. Allegre's book, The Behavior of the Earth, Harvard U Press, 1988; about acceptance of the paper in Europe)
Links to Vela: WWSSN data for seismicity and for focal mechanism were important for the paper; Oliver: if we hadn't had that network [WWSSN] the 1968 paper would not be nearly as good as it is; furthermore: sometimes they looked at the character of the waves some of which crossed the boundary between plates and some of which just traveled within a plate; Peter Molnar and Oliver did a study like that: waves are heavily attenuated when they cross a subduction zone; this was also done with WWSSN data; the ease of access to the microfilm seismograms played a role; [Lamont would just buy a whole year of seismograms]; Oliver purposely built in a huge room for storing seismic data; Oliver: one of the things that helped Lamont in the plate tectonics era was Ewing's policy of archiving huge quantities of data of any kind; Oliver wants to say some nice things about Ewing, “Because some people don't”: Ewing recognized the advantage of the inductive style of science: just observing; you didn't have a hypothesis to test, you just went out to see what it [the phenomenon] was like; Oliver says that he followed this policy since; Ewing archived all kind of data, which put him ahead of everybody else
Did any measurements of the ocean bottom seismographs play a role in the 1968 paper? Oliver: no, nothing critical; Oliver followed the development of OBS a little bit
To what extent where data from artificial sources important for the 1968 paper (quarry blasts, chemical and nuclear explosions)? Oliver: in a very secondary way; when plate tectonics came out it was important to know that the crust under the oceans was not the same as the crust under the continents, that was partly based on explosion refraction studies [see Pakiser], but critical information came from earthquakes
Oliver gets the top medal of the AGU for his COCORP work; when he came to Cornell he was brought there to rebuild the whole geology department, so he wanted new area for research: he decided to investigate the deeper parts of the continental crust which had observed by seismic refraction technique, but low resolution, boundaries, velocity structure (he called that the physicist's view of the world) whereas for a geologist it's much more complicated: rocks are folded up etc.; so he chose reflection technique used by exploration industry for highest resolution; he was not sure whether that technique could be used to the depth he wanted, so he went to SEG meeting and met his friend Syd Kaufman, who he knew from the AFOSR committee; and they asked experts if vibroseis trucks would give reflections from as deep as the Moho; it worked very well