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Author(s) of the publication: Rudolf BALANDIN

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by Rudolf BALANDIN, geologist

Work of prominent scientists offers an example, if not to be emulated, then at least scrutinized and analyzed. That fully applies to an extraordinary personality like Academician G. Gamburtsev, a geophysicist and a pioneer of seismic survey in Russia; this 100th anniversary is commemorated by a recently published book (A. G. Gamburtsev, N. G. Gamburtseva. Grigory Alexandrovich Gamburtsev, 1903 - 1955. Moscow, Nauka Publishers, 2003. 300 pages).

Back in mid-1700s Academician Mikhailo Lomonosov wrote: "Great is the challenge to reach with mind's eye into the earthly bowels, which the human hand and eye are forbidden from probing by nature; to wander with thought in the abyss, to penetrate with reason through narrows and bring out into the sun light things and deeds immersed in the eternal night." He referred to geological studies, the surface and mining data of which are the acid test of what is going on at relatively small depths. However, practical applications require most accurate data, while theory would be incomplete without the knowledge of the composition and properties of subsoil, inaccessible to boring, especially so, since focuses of destructive earthquakes are often located right there. The reason why so valuable are the geophysical methods facilitating instrumental probing of the earthly bowels with mind.

So, what are the qualities a scientist should possess to make a substantial headway in an area requiring equal knowledge of mathematics and physics, earth science and technology?

As for Gamburtsev, he apparently had no good reason for choosing the profession rare and odd in the early 1900s. His grandfather was a nobleman who took part in the Crimean War of 1853 - 1856 and retired in the rank of major general. His father was

Pages. 31

not an officer, and his mother came from a military family and graduated from the Institute of Noble Maidens.

As a Moscow gymnasium student Grigory was keen on mathematics. He found it easier to draw formulas himself rather than memorize them. Hardly had he chosen his specialty as 1917 broke out. Having finished a co-operative school he had to work as a bookkeeper at the Tsentrosoyuz (a consumer cooperation organization) to earn a calm and comfortable living. But the 16-year-old lad was striving not for comfort but for knowledge. He enrolled in the physical laboratory of the Free (non-government) University named after Shanyavsky to attend lectures of the head of the laboratory, the author of the ion theory of living cell excitation Academician P.Lazarev who had a remarkable range of scientific interests.

Soon Gamburtsev joined the Higher Military Camouflage Academy of the Workers and Peasants Red Army and simultaneously entered the faculty of physics and mathematics of the Moscow University. At the Physical Institute headed by P. La- zarev he conducted a research in optics (light absorption and dispersion in turbid media). At the age of 20 he wrote an article "On the Problem of Sea Color Index" (published in 1924) of which just as of another two of his works twenty years later Academician S. Vavilov, the founder of the Russian school of physical optics, would give such an opinion: "Gamburtsev's optical works, written a while ago, are still quite viable. They reveal the author's outstanding skill in addressing complex mathematical and experimental tasks."

Still another evidence of the young scientist's acclaim is a photo dating back to 1924, portraying him in the company of two prominent colleagues, the Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Raman (1930 Nobel Prize) and the Soviet geo-physicist, founder of sea physics V. Shuleikin (Academician since 1946). It might seem that Gamburtsev's "scientific baptism" took place and all he had to do was go on with so successful a quest preparing a thesis. However, he developed interests directly related to practical tasks of economics. In 1923, Grigory Alexandrovich joined the geophysical team of the Special Commission for the Study of the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly (KMA). He engaged in field work decoding gravimetric survey data, was carried away by new methods of studying the earth crust structure which in this country were first applied in full scope at KMA. Starting from 1925 he published one article after another devoted to geophysical studies of the anomaly and interpretation of instrumentally obtained materials. Incidentally, some of the instruments, integrators, quick and simple to use for certain gravimetric and magnetometric functions, were designed by Gamburtsev himself.

From 1930 to 1932 Gamburtsev worked as the director of a seismological expedition and a consultant of the KMA geologic survey trust, combining that with the position of Senior Assistant with the Institute of Physics and Biophysics of the USSR

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People's Commissariat of Health. Together with Academician Lazarev they developed a comprehensive seismo-gravitation method that was destined to become key to the study of the deep structure of the earth crust and upper mantle. That method expedited the discovery in this country of several major mineral reserves, including those of iron ore and oil.

Academician V. Strakhov later gave his appraisal of Gamburtsev's activities: "Just a very narrow circle of outstandingly gifted personalities ever managed to work in several areas of geophysics so as to leave inerasable trace in each of them. G.Gamburtsev, no doubt, belongs to them."

V. Shuleikin reminisced: when the gifted experimenter, fresh from the Moscow University, was building his first handy and elegant field seismograph, none could even guess that his hands were molding a new field of applied geophysics-exploration seismology. In 1937 - 1938 Gamburtsev devoted a monographic textbook to this extremely important field, which for long became a desk book of specialists.

Working in the Glavneft system he consulted numerous geophysical teams in Baikal area, Urals, Northern Caucasia, Ukraine, Caspian Sea basin, Preduraliye, Azerbaijan; he invented a new type of electric seismograph, developed an original methodology of extracting and analyzing reflected seismic waves generated by artificial earthquakes (explosions) * .

In 1938 Academician Otto Schmidt, Director of the USSR AS Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, invited the young scientist to organize a section of physical methods of mineral exploration. The group created by Grigory Alexandrovich was small but worked rather fruitfully. It pioneered the correlation method of wave refraction which yielded supplementary data about the subsoil structure in the process of mineral

* See: D. Fyodorov, "Deep Seismic Studies: Is It Worth It?", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1999. - Ed.

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reserve exploration. At the same time research in the field of deep seismic probing of lithosphere commenced. With that purpose experiments were conducted near Serpukhov (Moscow area) in the course of which, at the explosion of relatively small charges waves from the depths of 15 - 18 km were for the first time registered.

The reminiscences of the time are further expanded by Academician V. Keilis-Borok, a major expert in global seismology and tectonics: "My first impressions of Gamburtsev date back to the early 1940s... when he engaged in seismic explorations from the physical standpoint and tested the idea of copying the phase correlation concepts from reflected to refracted waves. Now it is perceived as an obvious technical detail. In fact, then it was revolutionary... In less than a decade the methods developed by the school of Gamburtsev became the practice of seismic exploration."

During the war with Nazi Germany Grigory Alexandrovich was occupied with the oil fields of Bashkiria and Apsheron Peninsula, developed the method of high-frequency seismology for bedded formation studies (the explorations were carried at radioactive mineral fields of Estonia, Central Asia and Ukraine).

... Following the destructive Ashkhabad earthquake of October 6, 1948 Stalin signed a decree on the deployment of studies related to the forecast of such events. Major scientists, and Gamburtsev among them, were put on the problem of predicting seismic calamities (which is still vital). Jointly with S.I. Vavilov, President of USSR Academy of Sciences, they specified the problem proposing to monitor major fore- shocks * . The research was organized and helmed by Gamburtsev appointed Director of the Geophysical Institute (presently the RAS Joint Institute of Physics of the Earth named after Otto Schmidt). The scientist was given the opportunity to resume the improvement of deep seismic probing (DSP): by focusing the reverberations of powerful earthquakes we can probe practically through the entire globe.

In the subsequent years the DSP method was used to obtain data of the structure of lithosphere and mantle. The information laid the basis for numerous charts and profiles, including those of the Kola

* See: V. Muravyov, G. Krasnopevtseva, "Violent Earthquakes: How Predictable?", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2000. - Ed.

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super-deep borehole * . In the process of drilling it was intended to sink through the 7 km of the so-called "granite formation" and cut, for the first time ever, into the basalt (they were distinguished by the speed of seismic waves passage). However, the latter is still not encountered, although over 12 km have already been bored. According to the geophysicist N. Pavlenkova: "That was not a big surprise for DSP experts, since by that time they had revised materials of the Baltic plate... However, among geologists and other specialty geo-physicists the mismatch between the projected profile and the boring data produced a shock... That was a powerful blow at the DSP prestige, all earlier constructions were questioned, as a result, the scope of the method's application in research shrank."

But the alarm proved to be false. The identified border does exist, but is stipulated not by the change of the rock composition, but by the change of its physical properties: substantial increase of porosity and cleavage and circulation of solutions in these zones. Hence, the error was committed by interpreters of seismic parameters, who assumed the theoretical notion of three-layer structure of the continental crust (sedimentary, granite and basalt horizons). Such model conformed to the broadly proliferated global plate tectonics ** . Therefore, the negative result yielded by the super-deep boring proved to be extremely significant, primarily, in terms of rationalizing the materials produced by DSP.

Of course, many of Gamburtsev's developments now belong to the history of science and technology. But we can still draw on the example of his fruitful creative life. He worked in full accord with Lomonosov's maxim: "To draw theory from observations, to correct observations through theory." And one more: Grigory Alexandrovich was an estimable representative of the now relict generation of Russian intellectuals whole-heartedly devoted to their native country and their cause.

* See: V. Kazansky et al., "Super-Deep Borehole on Kola: Well of Discoveries", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.

** See: V. Trubitsyn, "Global Plate Tectonics: New Turn?", Science in Russia,, No. 2, 2003. - Ed.



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