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The Mother of the Polar Expedition and Grandmother of Marine Geophysics

© Архив Института Океанологии РАН

The Arctic, its harsh nature and complex organizational and technical conditions have always attracted men. To work at drifting stations with the risk of being in icy water at any moment, to drive worn-out all-terrain vehicles in a snowstorm to the next survey, to drill wells in the ice... However, there is a woman's name in the history of the Arctic, which is firmly connected with the development of polar lands.

© Авария самолета с партией гидрографов на борту при его очередной посадке на свежезамерзшую полынью/ Фото из архива Сорокина А.И.

Raisa Mikhailovna Demenitskaya is widely known in geological circles. She was adored, feared, referred to her explosive character and ambition, but always respected.

It was she who owned the initiative supported by the Ministry of Geology of the USSR to organize the Polar Expedition to conduct scientific geological and geophysical research of the shelves of the seas of the Soviet Arctic, as well as mineral and hydrocarbon resources of its continental part.

What did this idea mean for the country's economy? It was necessary to restore industry in order to raise the country lying in ruins after the war. Even in the pre-war years, expeditions in the North showed that these territories were rich in copper, tin, nickel - almost everything that industry needed. The only thing that stopped the government was the unknown. The Arctic was no longer a white spot on the map, but it was still largely unexplored. In order to conduct geological exploration not blindly, but in the identified promising areas, it was necessary to perform surveying and geological mapping. When by the middle of the XX century new methods of prospecting gradually began to appear, scientists decided to move into remote areas. And not only to explore the land, but also the bottom of the Arctic seas.

© CIA World Factbook

Demenitskaya was born in Moscow in 1912, but she preferred to study in St. Petersburg, enrolling in the Mining Institute, Department of Geological Exploration. Immediately after graduation in 1935, she was hired by the Arctic Research Institute (AARI). The young specialist was completely captured by the North - she was a participant of numerous expeditions to the Arctic, was engaged in the study of the Arctic Ocean, Antarctica and general problems of the Earth's crust structure, geodynamics and tectonics.

In 1948, on the basis of the Mining and Geological Department of the Glavsevmorput and the Department of Geology of the AARI, the Research Institute of Arctic Geology (NIIGA, now VNIIOkeangeologiya) was established to conduct "comprehensive scientific research to study the geological structure and mineral prospects of the Central and Eastern sectors of the Soviet Arctic". Raisa Mikhailovna was invited there as a party chief, quickly enough became chief engineer, senior researcher and, finally, head of the geophysical department.

In the fall of 1962 the Ministry of Geology and Subsoil Protection of the USSR entrusted NIIGA to carry out a systematic gravimetric survey of the entire Arctic shelf of the USSR from the landfast and drifting ice. The Institute was obliged to receive this strategic order from Demenitskaya, who proposed the creation of a specialized expedition, which had not only resource, but also international legal, navigational and defense significance. Having obtained the consent "from above", she began to fight for the earliest realization of the conceived.

"At the beginning of the second half of the 20th century it became finally clear that geologists had already found everything or almost everything that lay badly on land. And the growth of industrial production required new raw material sources. Then it was remembered that four fifths of the Earth's surface are covered by the waters of the seas and oceans. And under the water is the bottom, and there - minerals. The head of the geophysics department of our institute Raisa Mikhailovna Demenitskaya, a woman of sharp and unorthodox mind, who herself had recently parted with the naval uniform of Glavsevmorput and the stripes of captain of the 2nd rank, made her way to the highest naval authorities and convinced them of the necessity to put geophysical equipment on military oceanographic ships. This is how I, as a member of the first geophysical group, found myself on board one of the two largest sailing ships in the world, the Kruzenshtern," Raisa Mikhailovna's pupil, the famous bard and scientist Alexander Gorodnitsky, told the magazine Itogi in an interview in 2012.

© Институт океанологии имени Ширшова РАН

Later, Demenitskaya, who by that time had already become a doctor of geological and mineralogical sciences, supervised all the activities of the Polar Expedition, including geophysical research on the shelves of the Arctic seas, geological and geophysical work in Antarctica and the World Ocean.

Even now the work there is difficult to accomplish, and even then even more so. Thanks to the pressure and high qualification of Raisa Mikhailovna, the expeditions were organized from the very beginning at a high technical and methodological level, which ensured their high efficiency in the end. The entire Soviet sector of the Arctic Ocean was covered by aeromagnetic and conditioned gravimetric surveys, and a 30-year in situ experiment on conducting ice seismic observations (reflected wave method and refracted wave method), unparalleled in the world, was launched.

© Архив РГМАА/ Разгрузка оборудования

The solution of grandiose tasks required the development of absolutely new hardware, methodological, organizational and transportation solutions. Traditional methods of measurement, uniformly covering sea and ocean water areas, turned out to be unacceptable due to their excessive labor intensity.

According to Rear Admiral Engineer Alexander Sorokin, the Navy's Scientific Research Navigation and Hydrographic Institute (NINGI), which was charged with developing cost-effective methods of studying the bottom relief for mapping the Arctic basin, sought advice from most scientific organizations in Leningrad.

"And only the head of the geophysical department of NIIGA (now "VNIIOkeangeologiya") Doctor of Sciences Raisa Mikhailovna Demenitskaya immediately appreciated the importance and magnitude of the work to create a methodology for the use of aeromagnetic survey and seismic sounding, agreeing to perform a joint research work to study the underwater relief" - he wrote in his scientific article "From the history of the development and implementation of geophysical methods".

The jointly developed complex of geophysical methods of hydrographic research was put into practice already in the very first high-latitude air expedition of the Northern Fleet in 1961, and later in the Polar Expedition.

The research results of the first years gave a start to the purposeful work for oil and gas on the Arctic shelf - a new branch of the national economy of the country. In less than two decades the West Arctic shelf oil and gas bearing province - the base of the future energy industry - was discovered and prepared for development, the study of alluvial mineralogy of the shelf and islands was initiated, sheets of the geological map on the scale of 1:1000000 were created for the shelf water areas and the adjacent oceanic area, the first "Map of oil and gas bearing prospects of the Arctic coast and shelf" was built with an estimate of predicted resources of 60 billion tons of fuel equivalent.

© Архив РГМАА

In addition to leading the expedition, Demenitskaya, being one of the leading scientists in the field of geodynamics and the structure of the Earth's crust, conducted her own research. These became the basis for major discoveries, the most important of which was the discovery and study of the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean. Also, on the basis of magnetic anomalies together with geophysicist Arkady Mikhailovich Karasikov she restored the history of the Eurasian basin opening of the deep-water part of the Arctic Ocean - the Arctic continuation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is perhaps the only example in the history of world science when a whole ocean was "discovered" by one country.

In 1978 Raisa Mikhailovna became Director of the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Oceanology of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1986 she was awarded the State Prize of the USSR "for research of the Arctic Ocean floor relief". Since 1987, due to her age, the professor held the position of chief scientific officer, later advisor of the institution.

Her name constantly appears in essays, memoirs and scientific articles of polar explorers. Here and there the geologist is called "the mother of the Polar Expedition" and "the grandmother of marine geophysics".

"A brilliant scientist and a bright, original personality. Just one small touch. From the Far East came a group of inventors with a proposal to build together a manned deep-sea vehicle of their original design. At the meeting in my office Demenitskaya repeatedly thwarted the enthusiasm of the speaker, asking him one or another specific technical questions.

- Raisa Mikhailovna, - finally, could not stand the annoyed speaker, - it's all trifles. The main thing is to go down to the bottom.....

- No, - Raisa Mikhailovna said seriously. - The main thing is to rise to the surface!" -

said Vladimir Ivanov, chief researcher of "VNIIOkeangeologiya" in the book of memoirs published in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Institute.

On account of Demenitskaya more than two hundred scientific papers, eight monographs, two scientific discoveries and twelve certificates of authorship for inventions. But the main achievement is considered to be the fact that it was she who was the first in Russian geology to study the shelf spaces of the Soviet Arctic adjacent to the mainland.

Thanks to her Polar Expedition, which over the years turned into an independent world-class research enterprise, NIIGA (now VNIIOkeangeologiya) became the owner of a large production unit. Ten years later, this played a decisive role in the formation of the research and production association "Sevmorgeo" on the basis of the Institute and the expedition.

© Архив "ВНИИОкеангеологии"/ Работы на арктических островах

The results of Raisa Demenitskaya's many years of research have proved to be in active demand now that the Arctic and its raw material potential are once again an object of special state interest. Studying the structure of the subsoil and searching for minerals in the most inaccessible regions of the Earth - the Arctic, Antarctica and the World Ocean - is on the agenda of the largest specialized scientific and educational organizations of the country. The most popular areas of activity include drilling wells and increasing oil and gas recovery in the Arctic, studying the deep-water Lake Vostok in Antarctica, searching for solid minerals in the World Ocean and geological study of Spitsbergen.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Полярники Санкт-Петербургского горного университета, альма-матер Деменицкой, в Антарктиде с керном льда из скважины над озером Восток

The geologist died in 1997 in St. Petersburg, Russia.