Karpinsky, Alexandr Petrovich

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Karpinsky, Alexandr Petrovich

(b. Bogoslovsk [now Karpinsk], Russia, 7 January 1847; d. Moscow, U.S.S.R., 15 July 1936)


Karpinsky’s grandfather, Mikhail Mikhaylovich, and his father, Petr Mikhaylovich Karpinsky, were mining engineers; his mother, Maria Ferdinandovna Grasgof, was the daughter of a mining engineer. His childhood, spent in the Urals, awakened in him a permanent love for the region and determined his future profession. In 1858, after the death of his father, Karpinsky was sent to study at the Mining Corps in St. Petersburg (later the Mining Institute), from which he graduated in 1866 with a gold medal and a diploma as a mining engineer. In 1868 he began his teaching career, which continued for twenty-eight years. In 1869, after defending his dissertation, Karpinsky was made adjunct; and from 1877 to 1896 he was professor at the Mining Institute. Every year he did fieldwork, the greatest part of it in the Urals.

Karpinsky’s general scientific activity was extremely broad in scope. From 1885 to 1903 he was director of the central geological institution of the country, the Geological Committee; in 1886 he was elected adjunct of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, and in 1896 he became an academician; in 1916 he was elected vice-president, and from May 1917 to 1936 he was president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In addition, from 1899 to 1936 Karpinsky was president of the Mineralogical Society. From 1881 he was present at ll the sessions of the International Geological Congress and was president of the Seventh, which was held in St. Petersburg. Karpinsky remained active even in his declining years. In 1933 he was a member of an Academy of Sciences expedition to the northern region; and in 1936, shortly before his death, he took part in a series of meetings and conferences.

Karpinsky was a charming and warm family man. Even when extremely busy, he never refused scientific help to anyone. He loved music and was an excellent singer, and held musical evenings in his home that were attended by eminent musicians.

Karpinsky’s first works were in petrography. In 1869 he defended his dissertation on the augitite rocks of the Urals (from the village of Muldakaeva), which he called “muldakaite.” In the same year this work was published both as an article and as a book. In preparing this work Karpinsky was one of the first to use the microscope for research on metamorphic rock. Subsequently he studied the principal metamorphic rocks of the Urals. The study of beresovite (a quartzrich aplite) with microscope and chemical analysis showed its similarity to greisen (1875, 1877). His research on the rock listwanite of the southern Urals revealed that it could be regarded as the result of the transformation of limestone. Karpinsky also investigated the pegmatites of the Urals with carbonatite inclusions. The alkali rocks of the Ilmen Mountains next drew his attention. He described these rocks and presented an taxonomy of pegmatite lodes in a guidebook for the Seventh International Geological Congress (1897).

In 1902 Karpinsky described in detail the nepheline syenites of the Ilmen Mountains. He considered that for these rocks—consisting of orthoclase, nepheline, and semiprecious minerals—it was necessary to keep “miaskite” as a generic term, and thus these rocks have entered petrographic literature under that name. In brief communications to the St. Petersburg Society of Natural Scientists (1874, 1909) Karpinsky described the rare Urals rock associated with syenite—kyschtymite, which consists of plagioclase and corundum.

In other articles devoted to geological research on the Urals, Karpinsky often returned to questions of petrography: he described uralitic and actinolite rocks, effusive rocks, tuffs and serpentine of the southern Urals, and others. But not only the Urals attracted his attention—he wrote many notes on rocks from various regions of Russia, including breccia of diabase composition from the Olonets region (1882), crystal shale of the Kaninsky Range (1892), diorite from the Yenisey (1888), and basalt and porphyry from the Far East (1897).

The study of various rocks led Karpinsky to a number of important conclusions and generalizations. Investigating the metamorphic rock epidosite, he suggested its formation from limestone by means of contact metamorphism and discussed the formation of rocks by metamorphism (1871). In his early works Karpinsky had already dealt with petrographic laws (1870) and laws of association of feldspars (1876). For feldspars, the principal rock-forming minerals, Karpinsky established the regularity of the association of plagioclase and orthoclase.

Karpinsky was also interested in methods of petrographic research, especially in separations by heavy liquid and in determining the free quartz in rock by means of chemical processing. In addition, the classification of rocks that he compiled in his lecture course for students at the Mining Institute was important for its time. At the end of the nineteenth century the chemical composition of rock received special attention. Karpinsky opposed the classification of rock by chemical composition alone, considering mineralogical composition more important. He presented a report on the principles of classification in 1900 to the English International Geological Congress at Paris.

Karpinsky lectured on petrography at the Mining Institue for almost thirty years. At meetings of the Russian Mineralogical Society he delivered a number of reports and maintained an interest in petrography until his death. At the end of the century, however, the geological-paleontological orientation began to predominate in his work.

At the jubilee meeting of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, 29 December 1886, Karpinsky gave a speech in connection with his election as an active member; it was published in 1887 as “Ocherk fiziko-geograficheskikh uslovy Evropeyskoy Rossii v minuvshie geologicheskie periody” (“Sketch of the Physical Geographical Conditions of European Russia in Past Geological Periods”). In 1893 Karpinsky, with S. N. Nikitin and F. N. Chernyshev, compiled a new geological map of European Russia on the scale of 1:2,500,000. In 1894 he published “Obshchy kharakter kolebany zemnoy kory v predelakh Evropeyskoy Rossii” (“The General Character of the Movements of the Earth’s Crust Within the Boundaries of European Russia”). These three works represented a generalization of the tremendous amount of material on the geology of Russia which had been accumulated by the end of the nineteenth century. Karpinsky attempted, on the basis of the available factual material, to present a sketch of the ancient oceans and dry land and their changes in the course of geological history, and to explain the character of the movement of the earth’s crust.

Karpinsky’s work in palegeography was based on the principle that all geological phenomena are stages in the historical process of the development of the earth and can be understood only in relation to associated phenomena. Karpinsky proposed to distinguish two main periods in the history of the earth: the prehistoric-prepaleozoic, which, he believed, could not be deciphered; and the historical, from the Cambrian to today, for which paleogeographical reconstruction was possible. In 1880 he attempted to determine the location of dry land and sea for the Russian platform in the Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, and Triassic periods. In 1887 and 1894 he did the same reconstruction for the whole “historical” period.

The history of the development of the section under consideration can be clearly seen on the paleogeographical maps attached to Karpinsky’s works. In the Cambrian period the western part of the Baltic massif slowly broke away and the sea entered Scandinavia. In the Devonian the dry land at first rose again, with the continental red sandstones on its surface; then the advance of the sea flooded almost the whole Russian platform. In the bays of the Devonian seas organic sediment accumulated, leading to formation of great oil deposits. In the Carboiniferous period the sea contracted, and the tropical vegetation on its shores turned into coal deposits. At the end of this period the Urals rose, and the outlines of the ocean basins were drawn into a north-south alignment by this movement. A period of drought began in the Permian period. The map shows a closed basin in the salty lagoons of which rock and potassium salts were deposited.

The continental conditions continued in the Triassic period. The marine transgression began again only in the Jurassic period, as a consequence of the sinking of the Baltic massif in the upper Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. A broad basin came into existence, extending along an east-west axis. Seas of the Tertiary period are shown on other maps.

Finally the southern seas took their present outline. The northern Russian platform was covered with ice, under the weight of which this region slowly sank and a northern transgression occurred. After the melting of the ice, the Baltic massif again rose, and the northern seas took their present form.

Karpinsky’s construction was later confirmed by the research of Soviet geologists. Only minor corrections were made in his maps; the map of the lower Silurian alone has been substantially modified. Developing Karpinsky’s ideas, Soviet geologists produced analogous paleogegraphic constructions for earlier geological periods not investigated by Karpinsky and introduced greater detail into his sketches. In addition the areas of the continents and continental deposits were studied, since Karpoinsky’s descriptions dealt for the most part with ocean basins.

Karpinsky’s paleogeographic work was closely connected with his tectonic conclusions. In works on the geological structure of European Russia (1880, 1883) he showed that in the structure of the platform there were two clearly distinguished elements: the folded base of crystalline rock and a cover of sedimentary deposits. Until Karpinsky’s research Murchison’s idea of the existence of an anticlinal fold, “a Devonian axis” between the basin near Moscow and the Donets basin, was accepted. Karpinsky showed that there was no such axis but that there were lower Devonian strata from north to south. This conclusion had great significance for the determination of the depth of the Kursk beds of magnetic ore. Especially important was Karpinsky’s discovery of the belts of sedimentary rock in the south of Russia (1883) displaced parallel to the Caucasus. Karpinsky called this folded region, not expressed orographically, which also involves the Donets basin, a “vestigial range.” His work on this newly defined tectonic structure become widely known. Suess accepted Karpinsky’s view, and in his Das Antlitz der Erde he called the lines bounding this structure “Karpinsky lines.” The study of the vestigial range occupied many Soviet geologists, including D. N. Sobolev and A. D. Arkhangelsky. N. S. Shatsky proposed that this structure originated with the intrusion of neighboring folded zones into the body of the platform massif—a process similar to that proposed for the formation of the Wichita system in the United States.

The articles “Ocherk fiziko-geograficheskikh uslovy Evropeyskoy Rossii v minuvshie geologicheskie periody” (1887) and “Obshchy kharakter kolebany zemony kory v predelakh Evropeyskoy Rossii” (1894) were important contributions to tectonics. Karpinsky developed a method of using paleogeographic analysis to obtain tectonic information, using the structures of the outlines of the basins, not at the point of maximum transgression but only the outline of the part that was most submerged and thus preserved from later denudations. This method of studying the position of “mean basins” combined with the analysis of paleogeographic maps made possible a clearer representation of the movement of the earth’s crust and of the history of the tectonic development of the Russian platform.

The 1887 work was descriptive. At the end Karpinsky concluded that the distribution of oceans is closely connected with displacement processes. The tectonic pattern of the platform, its fold trends, and the sequence of their formation were also described. In the 1894 work, which was a continuation of the first, conclusions were drawn from the factual material presented in the first. Karpinsky saw the contraction of the crust because of the cooling of the earth as the reason for all the tectonic movements— that is, he subscribed to the contraction hypothesis and considered it to be among the “most successful achievements of science.” He distinguished two types of structure in the earth’s surface: the “plicate,” in which folds are formed, and the “disjunctive,” where displacements and settling occur. The second type of structure is the platform, the region of plains with undisturbed accumulations of strata. From his research on this type of structure on the Russian platform, Karpinsky concluded that high and low portions of the platform arose from oscillations of the earth’s crust. Analysis of paleogeographic maps showed that basins in different geological periods were elongated sometimes in an east-west, sometimes in a north-south, direction. Consequently the oscillations occurred in these directions. Only in the early Paleozoic era did basins reach the Baltic shield. Near it other parts of the platform rose and fell. Thus since earliest geological times the northeast of the Russian platform has remained dry land almost continuously, while since the upper Devonian the southeast has been sea. In the southern and central parts of the Russian platform east-west depressions have predominated; in the eastern part, north-south depressions.

This was connected with the orogenic process in neighboring geosynclinal regions, since in the times of mountain-forming movement in the Urals during the Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian periods, depressions extended by these movements in a north-south direction predominated on the platform. In the Jurassic, upper Cretaceous, Paleocene, and Eocene, the elongation was east-west, corresponding to intense activity in the Caucasus. The formation of all other dislocations of the platform—gentle folds, displacements, and so on—depended directly on these oscillations and appeared especially when there was a shift of the north-south and east-west axes at the intersection of gently sloping synclinal and anticlinal curves. With the formation of mountain ranges belts of depressions were formed in the foothill areas. The association of orogenic motion in geosynclines with oscillations of the platform is a basic regularity discovered by Karpinsky.

In the second edition of his works, published in an anthology in 1919, and in the article “K tektonike Evropeyskoy Rossii” (“Toward a Tectonics of European Russia”; 1919) Karpinsky expanded his basic tectonic and paleogeographical conclusions with data obtained through further study of the geological structure of Russia. In particular he placed great importance on the depressions at the edges of the Russian platform, which served as a stop to tangential pressure.

Karpinsky’s works in tectonics were of major importance for Russian geology. These short articles represented not only a synthesis but also a methodology for research on the platform. The paleogeographic method he proposed was extremely important for the clarification of the geological structure and the history of the development of a large part of the earth’s crust. After the translation and publication of “Obshchy kharakter kolebany zemnoy kory v predelakh Evropeyskoy Rossii” in Annales de géographie (1896) Karpinsky’s ideas became widely known and greatly influenced the development of geology. His views were developed by A. D. Arkhangelsky, N. S. Shatsky, and V. V. Belousov.

To learn the geological history of any part of the earth’s crust it is necessary to know not only the direction of the orogenic movement but also the character of the fauna that inhabited the seas in various geological periods. But not all organic forms are obvious, and the geological chronicle often remains incomplete. Precisely because of this Karpinsky took a lively interest in paleontology, especially the identification of mysterious forms. In this area he wrote substantial general works of major importance: on the ammonoids, on the characteristics of the fossils of the family Edestidae, and on the study of the Devonian algae, the charophytes.

Exceptionally important was Karpinsky’s “Obammoneyakh artinskogo yarusa i nekotorykh skhodnykh s nimi kamennougolnykh formakh” (“On the Ammonoids of the Artinsk Stage [Permo-Carboniferous] and Certain Carboniferous Formations Similar to Them”;1891) and his further works on this subject (1896, 1922, 1928). Karpinsky related ontogenesis and phylogenesis to the historical development of organisms. The morphology of the shells of the ammonoids is extraordinarily complex, so that the sequence of various stages is very noticeable. Careful research enabled Karpinsky to construct the genealogical tree of the ammonoids and thus to determine their phylogenetic relationships. The detailed method of research had been used before Karpinsky; the novelty of his work consisted in the fact that the method of studying the ontogenesis of the ammonoids was applied to the study of the fauna of a whole geological horizon (the Artinsk Stage).

Karpinsky was also interested in the origin of the geometrical regularity of the ammonoids’ spiral shells. In his opinion this mathematical regularity was necessitated by economy of matter and energy, because such regular forms also occur in other organisms, such as the foraminifers and cephalopods.

Karpinsky’s research on the ammonoids and the application of the ontogenetic method are considered classic. Many of his contemporaries noted the great value of his work, including A. A. Chernov, A.A. Borisyak, J. Perrin Smith, E. Haug, and K. von Zittel. For his research Karpinsky received the Cuvier Prize of the French Academy.

Also important was Karpinsky’s research on the upper Paleozoic fossil sharks of the family Edestidae, especially of the genus Helicoprion. In 1899 “Obostatkakh edestid i o novom ikh rode Helicoprion” (“On the Remains of the Edestidae and the New Genus Helicoprion”) was published, and he often returned to this question (in the period 1903–1930 he published ten articles on Helicoprion). The fossil remains of Helicoprion were preserved in strange forms: flat spirals with separated turns.

These remains were studied before Karpinsky bymany scientists, including E. Hitchcock, J. S. Newberry, L. Agassiz, R. Owen, H. Woodward, and K. von Zittel. There were, however, contradictory opinions on their origin. Before Karpinsky’s research the idea was widespread that these remains were ichthyodorulites—spines from the backs of sharklike fishes. Through careful analysis Karpinsky showed the unsoundness of this hypothesis and suggested that the fossil forms were the dental apparatus of Helicoprion. In his opinion, “the teeth of the middle row of the edestid, forced out of the mouth cavity, did not fall away but, closely touching the teeth moving in behind them, were gradually moved to the ends of the jaw” (“Ob ostatkakh edestid i o novom ikh rode Helicoprion,” p. 64). In continuing his investigations, Karpinsky concluded that the inner teeth of the spiral were smaller because they belonged to a younger animal of smaller size; then, in proportion to the animal’s growth, the teeth became bigger. Knit into an arc, the teeth went beyond the limits of the mouth and formed an organ of defense or attack, similar to what can be observed in the sawfish (Pristis).

Karpinsky’s research was carried out with great thoroughness. He subjected the fossil remains to detailed morphological and comparative anatomical study, compared them with the remains of other fossil and contemporary animals, studied the rock in which the fossil was found and the process of fossilization, and took into account paleogeographical data on the specific part of the earth, the stratigraphic position of the horizon, and the geological history of the time at which the animals lived. This thoroughness made Karpinsky’s conclusions indisputable and ensured the success of his hypothesis. All other suggestions concerning the origin of the remains of Helicoprion proposed before and even after the appearance of Karpinsky’s work were gradually discarded, and it has retained its significance.

Of great interest is Karpinsky’s research on Devonian algae, the so-called charophytes, which were long considered mysterious. The small spherical or ellipsoid fossils of the little bodies were described by various researchers as seeds, spores, fish eggs, echinoderms, foraminifers, and so on. Becoming interested in these forms, Karpinsky conducted a thorough study in terms of comparative morphology, paleontological history, evolutionary development, and the processes of fossilization. As a result of these investigations in 1906 he published “O trokhiliskakh” (“On Trochiliscids”). He showed that the mysterious fossils were lime shells of sporophydia oogons, belonging to Devonian algae. He made a thorough study of the anatomy and taxonomy of contemporary charophytes and showed their closeness to the extinct Devonian forms; both had developed from common ancestors These ancient forms were distinguished from the contemporary by their living in brackish and ocean waters. The development of lime shells was connected with their adaptation to the environment and thus could be explained in terms of natural selection. Karpinsky showed that the charophytes had a long evolutionary history and that their ancient forms were far more varied than the modern forms.

Karpinsky’s work on trochiliscids is a classic in paleobotany. Karpinsky was interested in this subject for many years, as his articles published in 1909, 1927, and 1932 show. Further investigations of these interesting fossils confirmed all of his conclusions.

A comparison of Karpinsky’s paleontological works demonstrates that they are united by the desire to discover the unknown pages of organic development in past geological periods. He approached this project as a Darwinist.

Karpinsky’s works in stratigraphy are related to his paleontological, tectonic, and paleogeographic research. Deposits of all geological ages have developed on the Russian platform, and they were carefully studied by Karpinsky. In “Zamechania ob osadochnykh obrazovaniakh Evropeyskoy Rossii” ( “Notes on Sedimentary Formations of European Russia”; 1880), Karpinsky solved tectonic and paleogeographic problems and also made important stratigraphic generalizations: the deposits of the Carboniferous period were described more precisely and the Triassic age of the rock on the east of the Russian platform was established. On the basis of his research on the ammonoids of the Artinsk Stage (1891) the possibility of determining the stratigraphic position of these strata was demonstrated: they are transitional between the Carboniferous and the Permian systems. Karpinsky’s proposal for the classification of sedimentary formations of the earth’s crust was accepted at the Second International Geological Congress at Bologna in 1881. Karpinsky did stratigraphic research on the eastern slope of the Urals for the compilation of the geological map published in 1884. In 1909 he gave a general characterization of the Mesozoic deposits of the Urals and studied the stratigraphy and geological structure of many other regions of the country.

Karpinsky’s geological research always had a practical cast, even though some problems he studied appeared to be of only theoretical importance. The paleogeographic maps he compiled, and his tectonic and stratigraphic research, served as a basis for finding useful fossils. Many of Karpinsky’s works were devoted to the study of deposits and theoretical questions of ore formation.

In 1870 Karpinsky published an article emphasizing the possibility of finding rock salt in the Donets coal basin. This prediction was confirmed by drilling. In 1881 he published a long summary work on the deposits of useful fossils in the Urals. His research on the deposits of coal in the eastern slope of the Urals were of great importance, and the results were published in 1908 and 1909, and in 1913 in the Proceedings of the Twelfth International Geological Congress in Toronto. Later works were devoted to the origin of deposits of platinum. All these works influenced the development of Russian industry.


I. Original Works. Karpinsky’s works are listed in full in Aleksandr Petrovich Karpinsky. Bibliografichesky ukasatel trudov (“. . . Bibliographical List of Works”; Moscow-Leningrad, 1947); they were collected in Sobranie sochineny (“Collected Works”), 4 vols. (Moscow-Lenin-grad, 1939–1949). His most important works are “Ob Avgitovykh porodakh derevni Muldakaevoy i gory Kachkanar na Urale” (“On the Augitite Rocks of the village of Muldakaeva and Kachkanar Mountain in the Urals”), St. Petersburg, 1869; “O petrograficheskikh zakonakh” (“On Petrographic Laws”), ibid., 2, , no. 4 (1870), 63–79; “O vozmozhnosti otkrytia zalezhey kamennoy soli v Kharkovkoy gub” (“On the Possibility of Discovering Deposits of Rock Salt in Kharkov Province”), ibid., 3, no. 9 (1870), 449–466; “Zakony sovmestnogo nakhozhdenia polevykh shpatov” (“Laws of Association of Feldspars”), ibid., 3, no. 7 (1874), 46–60; “Zamechania ob osadochnykh obrazovaniakh Evropeyskoy Rossii” (“Notes on Sedimentary Formations of European Russia”), ibid., 4, nos. 11–12 (1880), 242–260; Zamechania o Kharaktere dislokatsii porod v Yuzhnoy polovine Evropeyskoy Rossii (“Notes on the Character of Rock Dislocations in the Southern Half of European Russia”; St. Petersburg, 1883); Geologicheskaya karta vostochnogo sklona Urala (“Geological Map of the Eastern Slope of the Urals” St. Petersburg, 1884); “Ocherk fiziko-geologicheskie uslovy Evropeyskoy Rossii v minuvshie geologicheskie periody” (“Sketch of the Physical-Geographical Conditions of European Russia in Past Geological Periods”), in Zapiski Imperatorskoi akademii nauk (“Notes of the Academy of Sciences”), 55, app. 8 (1887), 1–36; “Ob ammoneyakh artinskogo yarusa i nekotorykh skhodnykh s nimi kamennougolnykh formakh” (“On the Ammonoids of the Artinsk Stage and Certain Carboniferous Formations Similar to Them”), in Zapiski S.-Peterburgskogo mineralogicheskago obshchestva (“Notes of the St. Petersburg Mineralogical Society”), 2nd ser., 27 (1891), pp. 15–208; “Obshchy kharakter kolebany zemnoy kory v predelakh Evropeyskoy Rossii” (“The General Character of the Movements of the Earth’s Crust Within the Boundaries of European Russia”), in Izvestiya Imperatorskoi akademii nauk, 5th ser., 1, no. 1 (1894), pp. 1–19; “Ob ostatkakh edestid i o novom ikh rode Helicoprion” (“On the Remains of Edestidae and the New Genus Helicoprion”), in Zapiski Imperatorskoi Akademii nauk, 8, no. 7 (1899), 1–67; “Mezozoyskie uglenoskii otlozhenia vostochnogo sklona Urala” (“Mesozoic Coal Deposits of the Eastern Slope of the Urals”), in Gornyi zhurnal, 3, no. 7 (1909), 53–86; “O trokhiliskakh” (“On Trochiliscids”),;in TrudyGeologicheskago komiteta, n.s. no. 27 (1960). 1–166; “K tektonike Evropeyskoy Rossii” (“Toward a Tectonics of European Russia”), in Izvestiya Rossiiskoi akademii nauk, 6th ser., 13, nos. 12–15, pp. 573–590 (1919); and Ocherk geologicheskogo proshlogo Europeyskoy Rossii (“Sketch of the Geological Past of European Russia”; Petrograd, 1919).

II. Secondary Literature, On Karpinsky or his work, see A. A. Borisyak, “A. P. Karpinsky,” in I. V. Kuznetsov, ed., Lyudi russkoy nauki. Geologia i geografia (“Men of Russian Science. Geology and Geography” Moscow, 1962), pp. 46–53; and V. A. Obruchov, “Akademik Aleksandr Petrovich Karpinsky,” in Izvestiya Akademii nauk SSSR, ser. geolog., no. 3, pp. 3–7 (1951); ibid., no. 1 (1947) was dedicated to Karpinsky.

Irina V. Batyushkova

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