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How a Polander founded Russian geological exploration

© Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Википедия

Next to nothing is known about the scientist who at the beginning of the 20th century founded geological exploration and petroleum geology in Russia. What is the reason for such a negligible attention of descendants in relation to the traveler and discoverer, whose research formed the basis for constructing a geological map of Russia? Was it his Polish origin or change of citizenship after the October Revolution?

In the first volume of the Mining Encyclopedia, published in 1884, Karl I. Bogdanovich is presented as Karol Bogdanovich, a Polish geologist and a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences. And this is said about a man who was born and lived for 54 years in Russia, devoting his life to the painstaking study of its bowels. In fact, calling him a Polish geologist is like calling Nikolai Gogol a Ukrainian writer.

He was born on November 29, 1864 into the family of a Belarusian gentry in the city of Lyutsin, Vitebsk province. He received his secondary education in the cadet corps in Nizhny Novgorod, and in 1881, he entered the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. He studied brilliantly: in the list of graduates in 1886, he was ranked second in academic performance. All the more unexpected was the decision of a young engineer, who had quite a lucrative position at one of the mining enterprises, to connect his life with geology.

Горный университет
© Общественное достояние

However, the fact is that at that time the entire staff of geologists in Russia consisted of only 7 people. Director, 3 senior and 3 junior geologists comprised the full staff of employees of the Geological Committee. At that time, the first technical university in the country was mainly training "mine workers" (they were sent to the mines) and "mine entrepreneurs" (that is, factory engineers). But in 1886, Vladimir Obruchev and Karl Bogdanovich bid on science, the potential of which their contemporaries considered controversial.

At the beginning of their careers, young people went to Turkestan to conduct surveys along the route of the Trans-Caspian Railway. Within three years, Karl managed to explore both the highway and the adjacent areas of the Kopetdag and northern Iran. He composed the first geological map of the Turkmen-Khorasan mountains. The work proved to be so successful that the works of an overnight student were published in scientific journals, and for the next 10 years he almost continuously spent in expeditions. Field-specific ministries and government agencies entrusted him with the most difficult and responsible research: Siberia, Kamchatka, Baikal, Chukotka and the North Caucasus.

The main goal of Bogdanovich was to study the geology of territories where scientists had not yet been. He became the first Russian specialist who visited Tibet, conducted a thorough study of minerals there and repeatedly climbed to heights of over 5000 m in the Tien Shan mountains. In addition to studying the deposits, the geologist got acquainted with the culture of the peoples living on the studied lands; he was interested in ancient methods of recognizing valuable metals and rocks, working conditions in mines, and trading in precious stones.

© Daniel Läubli, CC BY 3.0

Perhaps the most successful in the list of his expeditions was Kamchatka. In three years, in inhuman conditions, when the summer lasts no more than two months, and in winter the temperature drops to -45 degrees Centigrade, and the depth of the snow cover reaches 1.5-2 meters, a group of scientists overcame thousands of miles along the Okhotsk coast and discovered several deposits of placer gold. This way, Bogdanovich became the discoverer of Kamchatka deposits. But that's not all.

The “fiery mountains” of Kamchatka are its main attraction. In 1996, a significant part of the peninsula, on which there are about 30 active and 300 extinct volcanoes, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, a hundred years before that, they had remained just a poorly understood phenomenon. It was Bogdanovich to whom their first geographical and geological research belongs, which makes him also one of the pioneers of Soviet volcanology.

In 1902, he became a professor at the Department of Geology at the Mining Institute. At that time, the university released specialists who were engaged in the study of mineral resources, and not in the targeted search for mineral deposits. It was Bogdanovich who created the Department of Geology and Exploration at his alma mater.

In parallel with teaching, the eminent scientist studies the oil-bearing regions of the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia. In fact, he is the founder of petroleum geology in our country. Another graduate of the Mining Institute, Ivan Gubkin, is considered to be the chief geologist of Russia. However, it should be noted that he came to the "Polish" professor as a student-trainee in the fields of the Caucasus in 1906-1908.

In 1912-1913, Bogdanovich created a major summary of the country’s ore deposits. And in January 1914, he became director of the Geological Committee of Russia. Despite the resistance of the representatives of classical Russian geology, who considered the search and study of mineral deposits not prestigious, he reformed the department. An independent department of applied geology appeared in Geolcom, within which five sections were formed: metals, gold, oil, coal and a section for mineral sources of salts and hydrogeology.

After the revolutions, the functions of the geological survey expanded dramatically. Its tasks included the organization, implementation and regulation of all geological exploration works of national importance. However, all this took place without Bogdanovich's participation: in 1917, the power in the country changed, and the researcher’s authority began to drop down. According to one version, the reason was class rejection: for the Bolsheviks, he was “His Excellency State Councilor in deed", who received a salary of 8 thousand rubles during tsarist times. On the other hand, Bogdanovich was let down by his work in the Polish Economic Council during World War I, in which he was engaged in planning the extraction and use of minerals after Poland gained independence.

This was followed by dismissal from the Geolcom and the position of an ordinary teacher of the Mining Institute Later he became the first dean of the Geological Prospecting Faculty and taught the first course in petroleum geology in Russia. But they didn't pay him for it.

Once the students asked Bogdanovich what it takes to become a real geologist. A succinct answer followed: "To fall behind on sleep, to stay hungry, be economical with the truth." There is probably a limit to this principle.

© Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Википедия

In 1919, Bogdanovich left Petrograd across the front line to Poland. He was considered a Soviet spy, and the Polish geological community did not immediately recognize his authority. However, caution quickly gave way to adoration. In 1920, Karl Bogdanovich was elected president of the Polish Geographical Society, in 1921, the head of Poland, Józef Pilsudski, appointed him professor of applied geology at the Krakow Mining Academy. In 1938, he became the head of the country's Geological Survey.

Karl Bogdanovich died in 1947. In Poland he is called a legendary man. And yet his last fundamental generalizing work - a three-volume monograph "Mineral Raw Materials of the World" - was written in Russian and only then translated into Polish.