Oral history of British science

Laughton, Anthony (Part 4 of 12). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Surrey

  • Interviewees

    Laughton, Anthony, 1927- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: Story of Anthony Laughton's [AL] first cruise over western approaches to English Channel, in D2, 1952, using seismic refraction, including own role, formal dress and dining arrangements, relations between scientists, separate ‘crew’ mess. [4:19] Comments on D2’s non-scientific officers (part of Royal Fleet Auxiliary) and crew. Mentions officer’s surprise at ship’s course; own tendency later as principal scientific officer to explain scientific aims to officers/crew. Comments on effect of weather on scientific work at sea. [6:06] Description of methods of navigation, including laying of marker buoys on piano wire. Discussion of use of marker buoys/distinctive sea floor feature to find location during JS’s studies of currents. Mentions later introduction of ‘Transit Satellite’ and then GPS (Global Positioning System). [11:10] Comments on MH’s relations with officers/crew; culture of excessive drinking on British research ships, deterring some scientists (including Fred Vine), affecting work of others; own level of participation. [13:22] Description of effect of design of D2 on ‘rolling’ in bad weather. [14:33] Comments on social activities on D2, including water balloon fight. [15:35] Comments on role of previous Navy training in ‘seamanship’ on self and other post-war oceanographers; use of Navy equipment in oceanography, including ‘dahn’ buoys. Story of use of casing of Navy underwater vehicle. [19:34] Comments on military interest in published oceanographic research, especially sea-floor mapping. Mentions submarine navigation around ‘sea mounts’ in Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt for Red October’ (1984); classified US and British Navy bathymetric surveys; own attempts to declassify these surveys. [22:19] Description of use of recording equipment on 1952 D2 cruise. Comments on punch tape used from late 1950s to record magnetic data; developing, fixing, labelling photographic records of seismic refraction. [24:58] Description of ship ‘logs’ including ‘general scientific log’, log books for each scientific operation. Comments on role of ‘watch-keeper’ in maintaining accuracy of recording equipment; current uncertainty about location of some records. [27:10] Description of quantity of paper records produced by Mufax echo-sounding recorder. [28:54] Story of 1954 D2 cruise. Description of/use of TB’s heat-flow probe, nicknamed ‘Teddy’s prick’. Comments on significance of heat flow in work on sea-floor spreading [SFS]/plate tectonics [PT]. Comments on informality of TB. Story of releasing wire model of TB on weather balloon, with ‘Teddy’s prick’ attached. [34:17] Description of process of collecting sediment ‘cores’, using ‘corer’; preservation of cores for laboratory work. [38:38] Description of role of crew (especially ‘Net Man’ and ‘Winch Man’) in assisting with scientific work. [40:45] Comments on crew’s view of scientists. Description of practical difficulties of oceanography, including weather, effect of water and pressure on electrical equipment. [46:40] Story of contribution to sediment compaction work of theoretical soil mechanics. Comments on US Navy’s interest in findings of AL’s sediment/sound research. Mentions correspondence with Navy Electronics Laboratory, San Diego, US. [50:36] Comments on departmental secretary, DGG, Molly Wisdom [MW]. [54:41] Track 4 [cont. from 54:41] Story of beginnings of year at LGO, Columbia University, New York [NY], US (United States of America), 1954-55, supported by John Murray Studentship. Description of ship Vema, chartered by LGO for research. Story of previous accident on Vema, involving Maurice (Doc) Ewing [ME], Director of LGO. Description of use of underwater camera [UC] work on Vema ‘Cruise 2’, Gulf of Mexico [GOM]. Story of loss of UC. Description of operation of UC. [1:05:44] Description of process of developing 35mm negatives; printing; typical images of sea floor. [1:07:00] Comments on possible reasons for GOM site for Vema ‘Cruise 2’; activity on Vema ‘Cruise 2’ of oil industry seismologists. Story of visit of these scientists to Harold Jeffreys [HJ], UOC. Comments on own contact with HJ; HJ’s reasons for dismissing continental drift [CD]. Story of MH recommending HJ’s ‘The Earth’. Comments on timing of development of CD/SFS ideas. [1:14:34] Story of arrival of Vema in NY; period living on Vema, cycling to LGO; seismology courses, LGO; Atlantic cruise; cruise to Puerto Rico; shared house in Nyack, NY. Comments on social life; friendship with Barbara Osborn. Mentions relationship. [1:19:49] Comments on relations between US and British oceanography, through UNESCO Special (later Scientific) Committee on Oceanic research [SCOR]. Story of first International Oceanographic Congress [IOC], United Nations [UN], NY, 1959. Comments on effect of Cold War on relations with Russian oceanography. Brief story of Jacques Cousteau’s attendance at IOC. [1:24:40] Comments on split between ME and BH ‘factions’ at LGO; response of LGO to SFS theory of FV and Drummond Matthews [DM], including ME’s rejection, Walter Pittman’s [WP] acceptance. [1:29:23] Further comments on antagonism between ME, BH. Mentions Office of Naval Research funding of some LGO research. [1:32:34] Story of US Navy banning echo-sounding surveys of whole areas, allowing only separated tracks; BH and Marie Tharp [MT] use of these tracks to ‘draw’ the sea floor by interpolation between tracks; US Navy’s approval of BH and MT’s ‘physiographic diagram’ [PD]; development of PD by National Geographic; widespread reproduction of PM. Comments on vertical exaggeration of PD. Discussion of US ban on systematic echo sounding. Mentions secret Navy echo-sounding work; relations with Navy scientists later in career. [1:37:40] Story of visit to Scripps Institution of Oceanography [SIO], California, including friendship with Russ [RRT] and Helen Raitt [HRT]; visit to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution [WHOI], Massachusetts, including conversation with George Deacon [GD] involving UK National Institute of Oceanography [NIO] job offer; informal beginnings of career at NIO. [1:42:14] Comments on HR’s ethnographic interest in oceanography. [1:44:05] Detailed comments on differences between LGO and SIO. Description of SIO, including situation in relation to coast, sea. [1:50:50] Comments on reasons for returning to England, following year in US, including alarm at sexual permissiveness. Story of Havana port-call of Vema involving (for others) brothel visit. Discussion of view of US ‘morality’. Mentions English friends; wish to develop ‘British’ oceanography.

  • Description

    Interview with Oceanographer Sir Anthony Laughton.

  • Related transcripts

    Sir Anthony Laughton interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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