Nikolaev, Viktor Arsenievich

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(b. 6 December 1893, Nizhnii Novgorod (now Gorky), Russia; d. 25 September 1960, Leningrad, U.S.S.R.)


Nikolaev’s father, Arsenii Ivanovich, was a shop assistant; he died in 1910. His mother, Ekaterina Petrovna Nikolaeva, survived her husband by twelve years. In 1911 Viktor Nikolaev finished technical school with honors and then left for Petersburg, where he easily passed entrance exams to the Faculty of Geology and Exploration at the Mining Institute. The institute was very popular with young people and only one in twenty applicants was admitted. Nikolaev’s interest in nature, shown already in his childhood, became pronounced in his college years when he concentrated on natural sciences, particularly geology. The leading professors at the Mining Institute, including E. S. Fedorov, petrographer and crystallogarpher; Ivan Vasilievich Mushketove, author of a major textbook in physical geology; and Karl Ivanovich Bogdanovich, a prominent specialist in the theory of mineral deposits, noticed the talented student and paid special attention to him.

Nikolaev graduated from the Mining Institute in 1918 with the diploma of the first degree, having completed the eight-year program at the institute in seven years, and got the degree of mining engineer. During his studies Nikolaev had to earn his living. In 1914 he applied for a job as technician-hydro-geologist at the Department of Soil Improvement of the Ministry of Agriculture. The next summer, attracted by the romance of geological trips, he took part in the geological expedition to a largely unexplored eastern part of the northern Tien Shan. There he studied Paleozoic volcanics, and afterward used the data obtained in his senior thesis, which contained the first detailed petrographic description of these rocks. A year later, in the same expedition, Nikolaev studied previously unknown glaciers of the Dzhungar Alatau river basins. In 1917 he worked in the north of the country, along the Murmansk railroad, studying the magmatic and metamorphic rocks. He paid special attention to alkaline rocks, in which he remained interested for many more years.

After graduating from the Mining Institute, Nikolaev worked for the first two years (1918–1919) in the Urals, in the Zlatoust mines region. In 1919 and 1920 he was at the administration of the Kemerovo mines of the Kuznets coal basin, and in 1920 he joined the Geological Committee in Petrograd, with which he remained associated until 1949. He was married and had four children, two sons and two daughters.

In addition to his work at the Geological Committee, which later became the All-Union Scientific Research Geological Institute (VSEGEI), and at the Laboratory of the Precambrian of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (1951–1960), Nikolaev devoted much of his energy to teaching. Between 1925 and 1932, he read the course of petrography at the Leningrad Mining Institute and between 1947 and 1960 he was head of a department there. From 1933 till 1945 he also lectured at the Central Asian Industrial Institute in Tashkent. In 1935 Nikolaev became professor and in 1937 he received the degree of doctor of science, geology, and mineralogy. In 1946 he was elected corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Nikolaev’s research concerned mostly regional geology, magmatism, tectonics, and metallogeny of Central Asia. In his early works on magmatic rocks of the Tien Shan he classified them on the structural and mineralogical basis and provided evidence of processes leading to their secondary alteration. In his research he rejected the prevailing view that the rock alteration was caused by weathering and proved that it was induced by postvolcanic factors.

At the start of his activity at the Geological Committee, Nikolaev was working at the geological mapping of Turkestan, with the scale of 1:420,000. He compiled the hydrogeological map for the bigger part of this region over the right bank of the Zeravsham River. He was, however, increasingly attracted by high mountainous regions, which he had visited as a student, and so, in the early 1930’s, he went to the Pamirs to examine exposures of magmatic rocks.

Owing to this research, by the end of the 1930’s Nikolaev had become a leading expert in the petrology and geology of this complex region. Thorough examination enabled him to establish the Paleozoic age of granitic intrusives and thus totally disprove the then prevalent idea that this region belonged to the Alpine fold zones. Most of the typical features of the magmatism of the Pamirs outlined by him were confirmed in later research by other geologists.

Nikolaev paid special attention to the tectonics of the vast Tien Shan and Pamirs area. His studies led to a number of interesting conclusions about the general structure and evolution of mobile zones of the earth’s crust. Drawing from the results of his geological surveys as well as from data of other geologists, Nikolaev outlined the structural division that broke the Tien Shan into two zones—the northern and the southern. He proved that his dividing line was of primary order and traced it for 1,200 kilometers from the Khantengrimassif to northwestern spurs of Karatau. He further showed the absence of transitional facies between these two distinctive zones, concluding that either such facies had never existed or they had been covered by the southern zone thrust northward over land that had emerged there in Caledonian times. The Tien Shan structural division outlined by Nikolaev was sound evidence of a deep fault. His scheme of the Tien Shan structural-facies zonation later became the basis for the tectonic zonation throughout eastern Central Asia.

Expanding on his idea of the internal organization of the Tien Shan, Nikolaev extended his conclusions to the structure and evolution of structural-facies zones in mobile belts of the earth’s crust. He distinguished inner and outer geosynclinal zones and inner and peripheral geoanticlinal zones. In addition, he discussed smaller units successively exposed to various stages of geosynclinal evolution. From his analysis of the geologic history of the earth’s crustal mobile belts, Nikolaev concluded that the period of Alpine tectonogenesis was uniquely characterized by the evolution of tectonic zones.

These significant theoretical conclusions in tectonics resulted from Nikolaev’s ongoing investigation of magamatic rocks. From the very start of his scientific career he won a high reputation as a keen and precise petrographer who possessed a thorough knowledge of the laboratory techniques of rock examination. He would always study samples himself, and not only his own collections made on expeditions in the Tien Shan and Pamirs. He gave no less thorough treatment to samples given to him by geologists who worked in other regions. This undoubtedly contributed to the breadth of his petrologic outlook.

In the last decades of his career Nikolaev concentrated on the theory of magmatism and metamorphism. Working on problems of physicochemical petrology he aimed at analyzing petrological processes on the basis of thermodynamic law. In particular, he expanded the theory of silicate systems with volatile components and that of petrologic systems with various phases under differential pressure.

He also showed the significance of phase equilibria studies for magmatic and metamorphic petrogenesis, and he calculated metamorphic reactions for systems including water and carbon dioxide.

The studies of the magmatic process led Nikolaev to the delineation of its major stages. He pointed out three formative factors affecting hydrothermal solutions: (1) migration of gaseous phase into the intruded rock; (2) cooling of gaseous phase left after the melt crystallization; (3) effect of the water-rich residual solution from the crystallizing melt at stages after distillation.

Prominent in Nikolaev’s academic works are his ideas on the formation of granite. He disproved granitization as an explanation of the genesis of all granites because he believed that ideas of the uniformity of granite formation were invalid, as deep metasomatic granitization could not be extended to subsurface zones. Critical of the “basic front,” Nikolaev argued against the idea of the formation of subsurface granitoid intrusions by in situ metasomatic granitization.

Nikolaev developed and disseminated his scientific beliefs not only through his own publications but also in papers and books written by a group of authors under his leadership. In this respect, the collective work Major Problems in the Theory of Magmatogenic Ore Deposits (1955) is of special prominence since it brought Nikolaev the Lenin Prize in 1958. In 1955 he was also elected president of the All-Union Mineralogical Society and occupied this position until his death. In 1959 Nikolaev had a myocardial infarction and exudative pleurisy and never fully recovered. After a year of serious illness he died at the aga of sixty-six.


I. Original Works. “O vazhneishei strukturnoi linii Tian-Shania” (“On the Most Important Structural Line of the Tien Shan”), in Zapiski Vserossiiskogo mineralogicheskogo obshuchestva, 62, no. 2 (1933), 347–354; Shchelochnye porody reki Kaindy v Talasskom Alatau (“Alkaline Rocks of the Kainda River in Talass Alatau”; Moscow, 1935); “O nekotorykh chertakh stroeniia i razvitiia podvizhnykh poiasov zemnoi kory” (“On Some Features of the Structure and Evolution of Mobile Belts of the Earth’s Crust”), in Izvestüa Akademü nauk, Seriia geologicheskaia, no. 2 (1953), 19–38; ed., Osnovnye problemy v uchenii o magmatogennykh rudnykh mestorozhdeniiakh (“Major Problems in the Theory of Magmatogene Ore Deposits”; Moscow, 1955); ed., Metodicheskoe rukovodstvo po geologicheskomu kartirovaniiu metamorficheskikh kompleksov (“Methodical Guidebook on Geological Mapping of Metamorphic Complexes” Moscow, 1957); and Osnovy teorii protsessov magmatizma i metamorfizma (“Fundamentals of the Theory of Processes of Magmatism and Metamorphism”), written with V. V. Dolivo-Dobrovolskii (Moscow, 1961).

II. Secondary Literature. E. N. Goretskaiia and R. V. Dolivo-Dobrovolskii, “Viktor Arsenievich Nikolaev (1893–1960),” in Vydaiushchiesia uchenye Geologicheskogo Komiteta (Leningrad, 1982), 190–211; and S. P. Solovev, “Tvorcheskii put V. A. Nikolaeva” (“Life and Work of V. A. Nikolaev”), in Zapiski Vserossiiskogo mineralogicheskogo obshchestva, 90, no. 2 (1961), 129–135.

V. V. Tikhomirov

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Nikolaev, Viktor Arsenievich

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