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Shatskiy, Nikolay Sergeyevich


(b. Moscow, USSR, 28 August 1895; d. Moscow, 1 August 1960), geology, geotectonics, history of geology.

Shatskiy was born in Moscow on 28 August 1895. At an early age he showed great interest in and a natural flair for earth sciences. In his early twenties he was already a prominent geologist, leading geological investigations into the Southern Volga regions, the geography around Moscow, the northern Donets Basin, the Caucasus and the Cisbaikal and Transbaikal regions. Shatskiy developed the method of comparative tectonic maps, led geological investigations into, and contributed to the history of geology.

Early Years Established as an academic, Shatskiy published his first paper in 1922 and went on to become one of the foremost authorities on geotectonics in the USSR.

His career path was as an academic, though he retained an enthusiasm for practical fieldwork throughout his life. From 1922 to 1932 he was an exploration geologist before joining the Moscow Geological Exploration Institute as a lecturer. By the end of the 1940s he was head of the Tectonic Department at the Geological Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. From 1940 onward, supervising a team of geologists, he guided the compilation of all USSR and related tectonic maps, including the maps of USSR and neighboring countries, the International Tectonic Map of Europe, which was only completed after his death, the Tectonic Map of Eurasia, and the Tectonic Map of the Artic Regions, edited by Shatskiy and again published after his death.

However, as committed as he was to the practical observation and study of geology in the field, he was one of the school of geologists who felt that the study of the history of geology was equally important to the understanding of the subject. This enabled him to take a broad view of geological interpretation, crossing the more specialist subject boundaries, and led him to make many incisive deductions that stood the test of time. Unlike many of his generation throughout the world who became progressively more specialized, Shatskiy’s method of studying geological problems predated the rise of the much wider studies now termed Earth Systems Science.

Shatskiy established theories and techniques new to the study of geology in USSR in the 1930s and 1940s in the areas of stratigraphy, lithology, and tectonics, believing that tectonics almost always related to all areas of geological investigations. For this reason, the investigations he led were often large and comprehensive affairs, crossing specialist boundaries and often were at odds with more focused studies undertaken by his contemporaries. However, on many occasions the more specific studies often yielded results that linked them directly into the broader interpretations defined by Shatskiy’s work.

Work on Geotechtonics A strong leader in the field of geotectonics, Shatskiy’s ideas and notations became standard and generally were accepted in the USSR from the 1930s through to 1960, when he died. However, the development of new instruments and hence new techniques during the 1960s enabled new types of data, in particular geophysical data, to be gathered both on land-masses and on the ocean floor. This resulted in allowing later studies to develop different concepts of structures in the lithosphere and to develop a clearer understanding of their formation. Most significantly, the new hypothesis of horizontal motion of lithospheric plates over long distances giving rise to the generation of tectonic structures replaced the global concept of vertical motion as the explanation for dislocation in the earth’s crust and with it, the need to re-examine and re-evaluate Shatskiy’s findings.

However, many of Shatskiy’s scientific findings did provide a valuable base for future studies. In his early works during the 1920s and 1930s he correctly identified the formation of fold structures, indicated their relationship to basement faults, gave convincing proofs of the regional tectonic stratification of the crust, revealed in fold regions tectonic breccias accompanying large formational overthrusts, and showed the importance and need for their study. At the same time he was the first in Russia to use the method of comparative tectonics in studying structures. This was a significant step forward in bringing together formerly incompatible theories of horizontal and vertical plate movement, as global geological findings helped to inform the development of geological concepts.

In his later works Shatskiy elaborated successfully and more broadly on the methodology of combined tectonic investigations. In Russia he is credited with the introduction into practice of this method of tectonic mapping and the method of comparative tectonics. All this allowed him to perform a tectonic zoning of the vast area of Russia and its contiguous regions, and revealed and substantiated the transformation of geosynclinal regions into platform ones and showed the dynamics of this process.

Regarding morphotectonic and geohistoric concepts, Shatskiy’s comparative methods enabled him to identify a number of new, earlier unknown structural forms on ancient and young platforms. He gave exact names to these forms and they became the basis of a fairly large body of tectonic terminology on platforms in the USSR. For example, he was the first to elaborate on the idea of inherited development of many platform structures and to reveal in them the lower stages of the Riphean group of deposits, corresponding to a long cycle of tectonic development, which terminated in a structure that he termed the Baikal folding.

Shatskiy’s generic concepts were determined in many respects by the regional morphology and tectonic position of the investigated structures. Following on from the specifics of their structure and development, and resting on purely geologic methods of investigation, he made conclusions that those methods available at the time allowed for. In fold regions he explained the origin of deformations by tangential stresses and horizontal displacements of appreciable amplitude. In platform regions, to the study of which he devoted the greater part of his life, he explained the origin of structures by vertical movements appearing either on mantle compaction or on the migration of matter from below upward. In the last days of his life Shatskiy did not exclude horizontal displacements along large fractures from controlling the subsidence of the crust, a particularly enlightened view considering that the means to substantiate these insights did not become available to Russian geologists until after his death.

The passion Shatskiy had for the subject, together with his belief that historical study was critical in the understanding of geological development, meant that his extensive reading allowed him to apply a broad perspective to observations in the field. This meant that, where findings from individual specialist studies when applied globally would be contradictory, Shatskiy would appreciate their significance as regional findings within a global development.

For example, the hypothesis of the tectonics of lithospheric plates, being originally global, finally grew into individual geodynamic models with differing degrees of accuracy, depending on the factual bases and the ideas used in treating the kinematics and dynamics of tectogenesis in certain regions.

The contradictions between fixism and mobilism were smoothed owing to the increased understanding and awareness of the various tectonic pressures at platform boundaries, which allowed for acceptance of both horizontal and vertical movement resulting variously in upthrusts, folding, and magma intrusions, depending on the particular geography and the directional movement of the masses.

Ahead of his time, Shatskiy was correct when, with foresight as a first-class specialist in platforms, he developed for platform regions diverse relations between vertical movements and structures and in fold regions, when explaining their origins did not exclude either major horizontal displacements or tangential stresses.

Shatskiy contributed greatly to the history of geological knowledge in the USSR by his vivid descriptions of the life and scientific activities of his internationally renowned contemporaries; natural scientists and prominent geologists such as Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, R. I. Murchison, A. Gressly, A. P. Karpinskiy, A. D. Arkhangelskiy, and V. A. Obruchev. His descriptions are noted for their profundity and depict both the image of the scientists, their propensities and aspirations, and the state of the art as they made remarkable discoveries that both corroborated or contradicted accepted knowledge in Russia at the time.

Well respected in his lifetime, Shatskiy on 29 September 1943 was admitted as a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, becoming an academician of the Society ten years later in the Division of Geological and Geographical Sciences. From 1994 to the present, a prize in his name is awarded by the Division of Geology, Geography, Geochemistry, and Mining Sciences for the best research works in tectonics each year.

In recognition of his life’s work, the Soviet Antarctic Expedition named a 2,705 meter hill in the Weyprecht Mountains in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica after Shatskiy—Shatskiy Hill—during the remapping of the area in 1960 and 1961. There is also a crater on Mars named in Shatskiy’s honor.



“A Contribution to the Problem of the Origin of the Romanian Gypsum and Rocks of the Isachkovskiy Hill in the Ukraine.” Byul. MOIP Otd.Geol. 9, nos. 3–4 (1931): 136–349.

“Notes on the Tectonics of the Tertiary Piedmont of the Northeastern Caucasus.” Byul. MOIP Otd.Geol. 5, nos. 3–4 (1927): 321–369.

“On Comparative Tectonics of North America and East Europe.” Izv. Acad. Sci. USSR Ser. Geol. no. 4 (1945a): 10–20.

“On Neocatastrophism: A Contribution to the Problem of Organic Phases and on Folding.” Probl. Sov. Geol. 7, no. 7 (1937a): 532–551.

“On the Oldest Deposits of the Sedimentary Cover of the Russian Platform and Its Structure in the Late Paleozoic.” Izv. Acad. Sci. USSR Ser. Geol. no. 1 (1952): 17–32.”

On the Tectonics of Central Kazakhstan.” Izv. Acad. Sci. USSR Ser. Geol. no. 5–6 (1938): 737–765.

“On the Tectonics of the East European Platform.” Byul. MOIP Otd. Geol. 15, no. 1 (1937b): 4–27.

Outlines of the Tectonics of the Volga-Ural Oil-Bearing Region and the Adjacent Part of the Western Slope of the Southern Urals. Moscow: Moscow Society of Naturalists (MOIP), 1945b.

“Principal Features of the Tectonics of the Siberian Platform.” Byul. MOIP Otd.Geol. 10, nos. 3–4 (1932): 476–509.

Selected Works in 4 Volumes, vol. 1. Moscow: Nauka, 1963.

Selected Works in 4 Volumes, vol. 2. Moscow: Nauka, 1964.

Selected Works in 4 Volumes, vol. 3. Geologic Formations and Sedimentary Mineral Deposits. Moscow: Nauka, 1965a.

Selected Works in 4 Volumes, vol. 4. History and Methodology of Geology. Moscow: Nauka, 1965b.


Poliakova, N.B., with Pushcharovskii, and Iurii Mikhailovich. Nikolay Sergeyevich Shatskii, 1895–1960. Moscow: Nauka, 1991.

Suvorov, A. I. “Nikolay Sergeyevich Shatskiy and the Present Time (In Commemoration of his Centennial Birthday).” Geotectonics, English Translation 29, no. 4 (1996): 271–280.

J. R. Cribb

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