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The man who established the laws of motion of the Earth’s crest

Joint project of St.-Petersburg Mining museum and Forpost Nord-West.
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Rock salt deposits in the Bakhmut basin, huge reserves of coal in the Donetsk basin, the presence of a serious iron ore deposit in the center of European Russia. What helped the Russian scientist to foresee these and many other geological finds in Russia?

A member of 21 foreign academies of sciences, holder of all orders of the Russian Empire, the first elected president in the history of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the founders of the city of Novosibirsk and a scientist who, yet during his lifetime was called "the father of Russian geology." Almost each of his works gave rise to an industry or an area in the science of the study of the earth's interior. It is hard to believe that one person was capable of this, but the activities of Alexander Karpinsky were distinguished by astonishing versatility.

The future scientist was born in 1846 in the Urals, in the village of Turinsky mines on the territory of the present-day Sverdlovsk region. By the way, only 12 years later, in the same village, literally in the next door house, the future inventor of radio Alexander Popov was born.

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Alexander Karpinsky's father served as a manager of mines and industries. By the way, almost the entire male line of the old Ural surname Karpinskikh studied at the St. Petersburg Mining Cadet Corps, as the Mining University was then called. In fact, the boy's fate was predestined when, at the age of 12, he was placed to this educational institution. At that time, it was a boarding school and combined secondary and high school. It was also important that the sons of mining engineers were admitted there free of charge: after the death of the father, the Karpinsky family funds were more than modest.

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In 1866, the young man graduated with a gold medal and returned back to the Urals. The 20-year-old graduate was obliged to serve for several years in government positions. He became an inspector in the Zlatoust district at the Miass gold mines. The ones where the “Big Triangle”, the largest Russian gold nugget weighing 36 kg, was found twenty years earlier. In addition to performing his official duties, Karpinsky, with a bag over his shoulders and a geological hammer in his hands, managed to travel through the South Ural Mountains in search of minerals and study the geological history of the region.

Eighteen months later, he returned to the alma mater, defended his dissertation and became an associate, that is, assistant professor at the Department of Geology. For the next 27 years, from 1869 to 1896, Alexander Karpinsky taught at the first higher technical school in the country. In 1877, Karpinsky became the youngest professor: he was only 31 years old. His life acquired stability: he was granted a four-room rent-free apartment and married the daughter of his institute colleague.

In addition to giving lectures, the young teacher continued to conduct active scientific work. He became the first Russian scientist to use a microscope in his research, which allowed him to reach a new level in the systematization of minerals, clarification of their structure and origin. Later, his work in this area was regarded as the first step in the formation of a new science, i.e., petrography.

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Expeditions remained an invariable part of his life. The discovery and study of the Ural deposits of copper and iron ores, oil, coal, gold are associated with the name of Karpinsky. He also conducted his research in Altai, Donetsk basin, Kyrgyz steppe. Later, he applied his accumulated experience in drawing up a geological map of Russia.

The scientist predicted a number of the country's most important deposits of natural resources. He argued that all rocks can be divided into several groups according to the method of formation. For example, sandstone, limestone and coal are all in the same group. As a result, having found one type, it was possible to predict the appearance in this location of other types from the same group. In addition, having studied during the expeditions the conditions under which the ores of various metals were formed, Karpinsky formulated a system of signs by which it was possible to determine the presence of a deposit. Subsequently, all these conclusions formed the basis for the development of a geological exploration approach, and for many years miners relied on his forecasts in their search.

Tectonics, stratigraphy, geomorphology, cartography, the study of ore minerals: these are far from all areas in the development of which the scientist took a hand.

But nevertheless, stratigraphy, which studies the sequence of formation of rocks, had always remained a priority area of Alexander Karpinsky's scientific activity. His favorite research object was the Russian (East European) platform. In 1880-1887, the scientist identified its two-tiered structure (crystalline basement and poorly disturbed sedimentary cover) and identified a “ridge strip” in the southern part.

Later, he built a whole series of paleogeographic maps covering the distribution of the seas and land in different periods of history. With their help, the scientist gradually demonstrated the evolution of the earth's crust. In 1894, in his article, Karpinsky made an essentially fundamental discovery: the change in marine and continental conditions within European Russia is controlled by the slow oscillatory movements of the earth's crust. This revolutionary statement was of enormous importance for the development of geology.

The geologist’ work on paleontology also brought him world fame: he studied the remains of mysterious ancient organisms with great interest. In 1898, in the vicinity of the city of Krasnoufimsk, a strange fossil was found, reminding of a saw, coiled with its teeth outward. Karpinsky put an end to fierce disputes about what kind of creature it was: he restored the outlines of the fish's head and stated that this was the dental apparatus of an ancient shark, which he called helicoprion. They lived in the Carboniferous and Permian eras, when there was still a sea on the site of the Ural Mountains.

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Фото © Dmitry Bogdanov, Википедия

Scientists did not even suspect the existence of this class of fish, so few people took seriously the discovery of the Russian geologist. However, he was able to substantiate his conclusions; moreover, he proved that the development of fossil organisms was subject to the same laws of evolution as changes in the modern animal world. That is, Darwin's theory was equally applicable to both existing and fossil animals. For this fundamental discovery, the scientist received the prestigious Cuvier Prize, awarded by the French Academy of Sciences for achievements in the field of geology and natural science.

Here is another interesting fact from Karpinsky’s life. In 1882, the Geological Committee, the first geological state institution in the country was organized. From the day of its formation, Alexander Petrovich was its senior geologist, and then director. In terms of its tasks, the department could be equated with the Ministry of Geology, and the duties of its head included the organization of work throughout the country. In 1901, as the head of the Geological Committee, the scientist took part in the preparatory commission for the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Among the many projects for crossing the Ob River by the railway, the most successful in his opinion option was to cross near the village of Krivoshchekovka. The design project was approved. At the mouth of the Kamenka River, a small village of Gusevka, Krivoshchekovskaya volost nested; its 24 households had104 inhabitants, engaged in arable farming. With the start of the construction of the highway, the settlement began to grow rapidly, and today we know it as the city of Novosibir sk.

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In 1916, Emperor Nicholas II himself instructed the “father of Russian geology” to act as vice-president of the Academy of Sciences. And in 1917, the scientist became the first elected president of the famous scientific institution. Previously, the emperor used to approve the candidacy for this position. For example, the last president-appointee was Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov.

At this turning for Russia point, Karpinsky had to lead the community of major scientists and ensure not only its survival, but also productive work under the harsh conditions of that time. When in 1918 the authorities tried to close down the Academy, Karpinsky was not afraid to send a personal letter to Lenin, in which he wrote: "The destruction of the Academy would disgrace any government.” It is difficult to say what ultimately influenced the decision of Lenin, but the RAS perpetuated.

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In the photo: Alexander Karpinsky in the main building of the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad in the presidium of the ceremonial meeting dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Academy of Sciences

Alexander Karpinsky headed the Academy for 20 years, until his death in 1936. He survived the proletarian terror and the beginning of the Stalinist repressions, more than once showed strength of mind, standing up for the country's outstanding scientists. Philologist Dmitry Likhachev, philosopher Ivan Deborin, and literary critic Vladimir Friche owed their freedom, and probably their lives to him. He died 4 months prior to his ninetieth birthday and was buried in the main Soviet necropolis near the Kremlin wall as an unsurpassed master of geology who influenced the development of science far beyond the borders of our country.