Oral history of British science

Laughton, Anthony (Part 5 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 5: Story of joining NIO, as Temporary Senior Scientific Officer, 1955; history of establishment of NIO. Comments on suitability of site of NIO, King Edwards School, Witley, Surrey. Comments on NIO research ships: D2 and William Scorseby. [5:17] Story of deciding to develop underwater photography at NIO. Description of operation of underwater camera [UC]. Comments on photographs of deep sea floor, including discovery of life/signs of deep ocean currents; NIO work on ocean circulation, led by JS. Description of JS’s ‘swallow floats’ [SFs] used to track currents at particular depths. Comments on use of SFs on cruises from late 1950s, including surprising measurement of significant bottom currents, western Atlantic. [11:36] Comments on design/construction of instruments at NIO; role of NIO’s Physics Group/Engineering Group. Mentions drafting office, workshops, towing tank, pressure vessels. Description of JS’s trough of caustic soda and salt water tank used to balance SFs. Mentions careful transportation of SFs. [15:44] Detailed description of process of designing UC, including role of engineer Dickie Dobson [DD]. Mentions first use of camera on cruise, mid 1950s. Comments on interest of newspapers in first underwater photographs taken; process of developing black and white prints at sea. [22:13] Comments on nature of popular interest in photographs. Description of use of UC by marine biologists. Comments on photograph of two squid reproduced in national newspapers; use of own articles by popular press. [25:56] Comments on development/refinement of UC, including less successful designs. [27:33] Story of continued involvement in DGG cruises while at NIO, including work on bathymetric through echo-sounding. Description of production of plotting sheets [PS] using soundings from individual cruises, and collective soundings of cruises/voyages of the Navy’s Hydrographic Department. Comments on errors in PS. [29:55] Story of design of precision echo-sounder [PES], based on meteorologists’ Mufax Recorder, involving transmitter in towed ‘fish’. Comments on use of PES to contour abyssal plains, eastern Atlantic, 1958, indicating sediment transport by turbidity currents; development of navigation systems. Story of use of PESs to create ‘contour charts’ [CC] at 1:1 million scale and then coloured 1:2.5 million scale. [34:57] Story of history of work by International Hydrographic Bureau [IHB], Monaco on General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans [GEBCO]. Comments on relative level of understanding of sea floor of oceanographers and hydrographers. Story of UNESCO’s SCOR (Scientific Committee on Oceanographic Research) working group ending work on 4th edition of GEBCO charts, forming new GEBCO committee through Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, production of 5th edition GEBCO charts, including own role; incorporation of SEASAT satellite altimetry data, from 1980s to present in Google Oceans. [43:50] Mentions involvement in SCOR working group and GEBCO committee as member (1966-1974) and Chairman (1974-2003). [44:37] Comments on editions of GEBCO charts on walls of MR. [46:43] Detailed comments on informal and formal naming of deep sea floor features. Comments on preferences of GEBCO nomenclature committee; IHD’s nomenclature gazetteer. Story of naming of particular sea floor features inspired by female form. [55:15] Comments on lack of British Navy restrictions on the production of bathymetric charts; classified naval surveys; operational reasons for classified status of gravitational data. [59:47] Comments on process of collecting oceanographic data from Naval hydrographic departments of various countries, including copyright restrictions. [1:01:56] Comments on activities of Jacques Cousteau [JC], including the use by French oceanographers of his research ship Calypso. Story of meeting JC in mid Atlantic, 1958. Comments on JC and wife’s negative view of ‘scientific’ work of physical oceanographers. Comments on JC’s invention of diving equipment, achievements in shallow-water photography, success as publicist for self and oceanography, use of submersible craft. [1:08:10] Comments on partly negative view of JC held by ‘professional’ oceanographers, including self; distinction between JC’s shallow diving and NIO’s deep sea science. [1:10:30] Comments on accommodation shared with NIO oceanographers. Brief story of skiing holiday, winter 1955-1956, involving NIO staff. Mentions meeting first wife Juliet on this holiday. Comments on social life, including involvement in Woking Symphony Orchestra with fellow NIO oceanographer Sechan Ishigoru (father of author Kazuo Ishigoru). Mentions squash, tennis, skating, parties. [1:15:54] Comments on limited effect on career of marriage and fatherhood.

  • 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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