Skip to main content

Antarctica. They were the first

© Из альбома М.Е. Виноградова/ Первая советская антарктическая экспедиция АН СССР 1955–1956 годов

On January 28, 1820, the Russian expedition led by Thaddeus Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev discovered Antarctica, but its exploration began only 70 years ago. If the names of the discoverers are known to every schoolboy, then not everyone can name the scientists who began the actual study of the new continent.

In 1955, the members of the First Antarctic Expedition (FAE) only dreamed of modern diesel generators, equipped research stations, and wintering complexes. Their goal was to build the initial service and living quarters on the mainland. The main scientific tasks were to study atmospheric processes and their participation in the general circulation of air masses, to reveal regularities in movements of Antarctic waters, and to provide a physical and geographical description of the region. At that time, only general geological and glaciological surveys were carried out.

It was planned to fully deploy research work during the Second Expedition, so the composition of specialists was considerably expanded. Thus, the number of the geophysical team nearly doubled, from 11 to 19 people. Of the scientists who began to study the geology of Antarctica, the four leaders stood out: Pyotr Voronov, Mikhail Ravich, Lev Klimov, and Dmitry Solovyov. In addition to their passion for the White Continent, all of them were connected by their alma mater, the Leningrad Mining Institute, which became a real “forge of personnel” for polar expeditions.

геологи антарктиды
© Общественное достояние

Pavel Voronov was the most experienced

By 1956, he had been through the Great Patriotic War, became an employee of the Institute of Arctic Geology (NIIGA), and had led field research in the Taimyr. After defending his dissertation in 1952, the young scientist started teaching work at the Mining Institute. Numerous investigations in various fields of earth sciences - from paleontology to geochemistry - ensured his invitation first to the First and then to the Second expeditions.

On problems of Antarctica and the surrounding sea areas, Voronov has published more than 60 pioneering scientific works, which made him a famous scientist both in the USSR and abroad. Among his fundamental works are Transcontinental Clastic Structure of the Central Sector of East Antarctica (1959); On the Structure of Antarctica (1960); Scheme of the Recent Tectonics of Antarctica (1960); The main results of geomorphological observations in the First Soviet Antarctic Expedition, (1961); On the size of Antarctica and the nature of its denudation. (1964). In total, Pavel Voronov authored about 250 works, including 12 monographs, the 1st volume of the Soviet Atlas of Antarctica, more than a dozen textbooks.

The extensive factual material, personally collected by Voronov in the opposite hemispheres of the Earth, led him to a number of generalizations concerning the structure of the Arctic and Antarctica, and later - on the regularities of the planet formation, its deep structure, as well as the south-polar oceans and seas.

His works on shear tectonics were of particular importance. In the 1960s, Voronov confirmed the hypothesis of continental mobility at a new level. He studied the patterns of continental fault tectonics, analyzed the Earth’s shear zones, was interested in the problem of poleward forces and rotational dynamics of the planet, and emphasized the structural differences and geological features of the northern and southern hemispheres.

In 1972, Voronov was confirmed as a professor. Despite his expeditions, Pavel Voronov did not give up teaching and organized a new department of structural and Marine Geology at the Mining Institute, where for the first time in the country training of marine engineer geologists began.

The name of “Honored polar explorer of the USSR” Pavel Voronov was included in the collection Living legends, published in 2004 by Cambridge International Biographical Center.

Ravich, the head of the Soviet school of arctic geology

The figure of Mikhail Ravich is no less important for the first stage of exploration of the ice continent. After graduating in 1936, he worked in Dalstroy, Yakutgeoltrest, and the Arctic Institute, and in 1948 he joined the NIIGA, where he rose from laboratory head to deputy director of the institute for scientific work.

The main areas of his work were the geology of the polar regions (Kola Peninsula, Taimyr, Yakutia), magmatism, and metamorphism. That’s why nobody was surprised when a major specialist in mapping, petrography, and geophysics was invited to head the geological surveys in the 2nd SAE. All in all, he became a participant and head of the profile team of five such expeditions. In subsequent years, Ravich described them as the most exciting trips of his life. And this can be understood without too much explanation…

© Главархив Москвы/ Антарктида, 1956 год

Before 1956, only a cursory reconnaissance survey had been conducted in Antarctica, covering no more than 5-7% of the territory. Scientists were facing a blank sheet of paper on which they were to map new lands. Over the next 10 years, the study of the continent covered more than half of the area free of ice. Domestic geologists surveyed the central part of Queen Maud Land, Enderby Land, areas of the Banger Oasis, and Mirny Observatory.

Thus, in 1958, polar explorers led by Mikhail Ravich discovered in the eastern part of Queen Maud Land the peaks of mountains rising to 2,500 m and named them the Russian Mountains. At the junction of the 5th and 6th Soviet Antarctic Expeditions (SAE) in 1960-1961, Ravich already had aircrafts AN-6, Li-2, and IL-12 at his disposal, which allowed him to make a detailed area survey of the mountains and route aerial survey of the coast. As a result, nearly 200 new geographic names appeared on the maps - mounts Kropotkin, Kurchatov, and Mayakovsky, the Urvantsev cliffs, the Gagarin and Gorky ranges, the Mushketov glacier.

Ravich studied the peculiarities of the structure and geological evolution of the Precambrian crystalline basement of East Antarctica, discovered deposits and numerous signs of deposits of various minerals, concluded that the geological structure of the Antarctic platform is similar to the Gondwanan platforms of other continents of the Southern Hemisphere.

The material collected by the scientist formed the basis of the Atlas of Antarctica, for the creation of which in 1971 he received the USSR State Prize. In addition, he became Vice-President of the International Commission on the Geological Map of the World.

Dmitry Solovyov was considered the record holder for participation in the SAEs

After graduating from the Geological Exploration Department of the Mining Institute in 1954, he was invited to work at the NIIGA, and in 1956, right to the 2nd SAE. In total, he participated in 10 of those. The reason of interest to the young specialist was his success in Western Yakutia - as the head of the thematic field party he was the first of the Institute employees to discover the diamondiferous kimberlite pipes in the north of Siberia.

The study of the southern polar continent became the business and meaning of life of the geologist. Sitting in a helicopter 24 hours a day, he flew over the then-unknown mountains, directing the scientific search of individual squads, and then in a prefabricated house on the edge of the glacier he studied thousands of mineral samples, “reading” from them the geological history of the ice continent.

© Дмитрий Соловьев в Антарктиде

In 1968 he defended the USSR’s first geological dissertation on Antarctica.

In the 17th, 18th, and 19th SAE Solovyov was Deputy Head for seasonal work. On his initiative and under his direction, a large-scale three-year cycle of geological-geophysical and topographic-geodesic work in East Antarctica began, called “Operation Ameri”. Simultaneously with the airborne geophysical surveys, a wide range of gravimetric, airborne surveys, and geological work was carried out. Unique results were obtained on the deep structure of the region, the rift system of the Ameri and Lambert glaciers was revealed, and the prospects for solid minerals were determined.

Seismic soundings of the Earth’s crust, the discovery of large deposits of iron ores in the Prince Charles Mountains, and a number of manifestations of minerals in other areas are associated with the name of Dmitry Solovyov. But Operation Amery was the last in the life of the geologist. He returned to Leningrad seriously ill and died suddenly at the age of 47.

Lev Klimov’s fate was the most dramatic

After graduating in 1950, he was invited to the Karelian-Finnish Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In the same year, the young man was sent to work in the Special Eastern Expedition, which operated in the DPRK during the Korean War. In 1953, he ended up in Mongolia. Returning after service in Moscow, the geologist was awarded the Order of the State Banner of the DPRK.

It would seem, an ordered life began. A specialist in the Precambrian Period, he worked in Yakutia, at the Aldan Shield, was preparing his doctoral dissertation, and wrote articles. But the transfer in 1956 to work in NIIGA (now VNIIOkeangeologiya) gave start to a new chapter in the scientist’s career, in which there was no place for quietude.

Klimov immediately began to work actively in Antarctic Expeditions. In 11 years at the scientific institute, he took part in six SAEs. It was Lev Klimov who conducted a detailed geological survey of the Mirny area, reconnaissance survey of some coastal regions of Antarctica, a small-scale survey of Enderby Land.

© Из личных архивов семьи

At that time, the practice of exchanging scientists between different countries was considered popular, which, by its idea, was supposed to promote the unification of scientific experience on a wide range of issues. Such an agreement existed in the framework of Antarctica between the USSR and the United States, but given the specifics of relations between the states, this exchange could bring not only positive consequences to its participants.

In 1965-1967, Klimov was sent as such an exchange scientist to the Antarctic Expedition of the United States. There, in the process of wintering, he not only worked on the surveys of Mary Baird Land but also personally met an important guest who visited the distant continent. We are talking about Wernher von Braun, the German rocket and space technology designer who worked for America since 1955. One of the founders of modern rocket engineering and the creator of the first ballistic missiles is considered the father of the American space program, and in the 1960s he was already the director of the NASA Space Flight Center.

As if the United States wanted to add fuel to the fire, for his activities in their expedition Klimov was awarded the Antarctic Service Medal - a state award of the armed forces, which is usually received by members of the army. Moreover, the Americans named a cliff on the White Continent after the scientist. The last straw was Klimov’s invitation in 1967 to give lectures on geology in the USA...

“For reasons beyond his control” the geologist did not go; in the same year, he was forced to leave his service in the NIIGA and move to the Precambrian Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences, which had just been formed. According to his colleagues, that very wintering was the reason for the undefended dissertation and change of institution. Henceforth the way to Antarctica was closed…

© Общественное достояние

Often the legendary four worked together. For example, the first summary of the geology of the ancient Antarctic Platform was compiled and published jointly by Ravich, Klimov, and Solovyov. The same team published the famous monograph The Precambrian of Antarctica (1965), and the Geological Research in the Princess Astrid Coast Area was already worked on by all four of them.

One way or another, each of them made an incredible contribution to the study of the structure of the Earth’s crust, tectonics, and petrography of Antarctica. Today the memory of the tireless explorers is preserved by Dmitry Solovyov’s mountains, which stare their tops into the Antarctic sky at the head of the Lambert Glacier, the Ravich Glacier Dome, and the Klimov Cliff. The SAE participants also paid tribute to the university by naming a large glacier on Queen Maud Land in honor of the Leningrad Mining Institute.