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Viktor Efimovich Khain 1914 - 2009

Khain Honorary Fellow Viktor Efimovich Khain, who died on 24 December 2009 at the age of 95, was an admired and respected Professor in the Department of Dynamic Geology of the Geology Faculty of Moscow State University, an Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and one of the leading geologists of our time. His scientific interests embraced a wide range of geological and general natural history topics including problems of general geology, comparative planetology, the influence of close and far space on the Earth’s evolution, the origin of life, deep subsurface geology, the evolution of the Earth’s tectonosphere, the theory of geological formations, general geotectonics, problems of regional and oil geology, Precambrian geology, neotectonics, structural geomorphology, palaeogeography, history and philosophy of geological science, and geological education.

A dedicated naturalist and geologist, his studies took him to many regions of the former Soviet Union, including the Caucasus, the Yenisei Range (Siberia) and the Tien Shan mountains (Kazakhstan). He examined folded areas in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australia, and took part in sailing expeditions in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as the Caribbean and Mediterranean. The Caucasus was Viktor Efimovich’s geological ‘motherland’. His first paper, in 1937, was entitled ‘Geological studies and search for oil in the Lagich mountains [South-eastern Caucasus]’, and the promising young geologist’s unconventional way of thinking immediately drew the attention of the geological community. In 1940, he gained his PhD on ‘Jurassic and Cretaceous Facies of the South-eastern Caucasus’ and, in 1947, his DSc on ‘Geology and Oil-bearing capacity of the South-Eastern Caucasus’. In 1945, he was appointed lecturer in geotectonics at the Azerbaijani Industrial Institute where, in 1949, he was awarded a Professorship.

At various stages of his scientific career, Viktor Efimovich returned to the geology of the Caucasus which was the proving ground for his theoretical interpretations. From 1954, he began to work at Moscow State University, first as Head of Section in the Earth Sciences Museum and, from 1960, as Professor in the Department of Dynamic Geology. In 1961, together with A. B. Ronov and V. D. Nalivkin, he published the ‘Atlas of lithological-paleogeographical maps of the Russian Platform and its geosyncline margins’, followed by four volumes of the ‘Atlas of lithological-paleogeographical maps of the USSR’ (1968) and, much later, by two volumes of the ‘Atlas of lithological-paleogeographical maps of the world. Late Precambrian and Palaeozoic. Mesozoic and Cenozoic’ (1984-1989).

In 1966, Viktor Efimovich was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, allowing him even closer collaboration with the institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was always interested in oil geology, and together with I. O. Brod and V. V. Veber was justifiably considered to be a founder of the concept of oil-bearing basins. Later in life, he studied the problems of oil-bearing geology in association with geodynamics, and recognized the global oil-bearing belts on our planet, introducing a new classification of oil-bearing basins based on the tectonics of lithosphere plates. He showed patterns in the global distribution of oil-bearing deposits across continents and oceans, and the relationship between oil-bearing basins and rift formation.

As early as 1956, Viktor Efimovich had joined the international project on tectonic mapping and, from 1972, he became the Secretary General and, from 1984, President of the Subcommission on tectonic maps of the world, and Chairman of the National Commission on Tectonic Maps at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Tectonic mapping became the main focus of his research.

From 1977 to 1996, he took an active part in the compilation of five international tectonic maps. He combined the production of global tectonic models and palaeogeographic atlases with a fundamental five-volume series Regional Geotectonics (1971-1985) for which he was awarded the State Prize of the USSR. His three-volume monograph Historical Geotectonics (1984-1988), coauthored with his former pupils N. A. Bozhko, K. B. Seslavinsky and A. N. Balukhovsky, was a logical continuation of this work. The 1970s were critical years in the transformation of scientific ideas for many geologists. In the semi-popular Russian natural history magazine Priroda, Viktor Efimovich wrote an article entitled ‘Is a scientific revolution in geology really happening?’ in which he responded to the public discussion that started in Geotimes between V. V. Beloussov and J. T. Wilson; he supported the latter. This was the beginning of a new stage in the debate between the so-called ‘fixists’ and ‘mobilists’, which was particularly intense in Russia, and he became convinced of the soundness of the principles of plate tectonics based on his experience of geodynamic interpretations in the Caucasus.

In 1987, Khain was elected Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and, in 1992, he was awarded the highest award of the Academy of Sciences (Gold Karpinsky Medal) for a series of works on historical geotectonics and palaeogeography. In 1993, he won the Moscow University First Degree Lomonosov Prize for a series of papers on ‘Global tectonics of the Earth’. In 2000, he published the monograph Tectonics of continents and oceans, which was awarded the A. D. Arkhangelsky Prize. Viktor Efimovich was an inspired and excellent teacher who began teaching at his alma mater – Azerbaijani Industrial Institute. At the Geology Faculty of Moscow State University, he taught courses on geotectonics, regional geology, and the history and methodology of geological sciences. As recently as Spring 2009, he gave several lectures to the Masters students on major problems of geology. As well as many hundred papers, he wrote text-books for many major geological courses including General Geotectonics (1985), Geotectonics and Basic Geodynamics (1995, 2005), Historical Geology (1997, 2006), Geology and Geochemistry of Oil and Gas (2004), Regional Geotectonics (2004), History and Methodology of Geological Sciences (1997, 2004, 2008) and Planet Earth, from Core to Ionosphere (2007).

During his 60-years of teaching, he supervised 67 PhD students, and 25 DScs were among his pupils.

Viktor Efimovich was well known and recognised outside of Russia. He was an Honorary Doctor at Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, honorary member of the European Academy, foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan and foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia. His awards include the Paul Fourmarier Prize and Gold Medal from the Royal Academy of Belgium, Gustav Steinmann Medal from the German Geological Association, the Prestwich Medal from the Société Géologique de France and three prizes of the Moscow Society of Nature Explorers. He was also a member of the editorial boards of many Russian and foreign journals. His scientific activity and participation were amazing. In the last seven years, he published seven text-books, three monographs, and over 50 papers on the most up-to-date and acute problems of geology. His monograph Major problems of modern geology (2003) contained the philosophy and ideas of a scientist who, for over 70 years, was witness to and participated in the evolution of many major concepts in the geological sciences. In 2008, he delivered a plenary talk at the international meeting in Baku (Azerbaijan) and lectured in the USA.

Viktor Efimovich was not only an outstanding scientist, but also had a sparkling, exciting personality. He was interested in various fields of science and life – from continental drift to world politics, from the problem of the origin of life to the music of Mussorgsky and Wagner, from scientific debates to parties with friends. Those who knew him were enthused and amazed by his alertness, activity, zest for life and benevolence, as well as his constant attention and care about the work of his colleagues, especially young researchers. The many friends and colleagues of Viktor Efimovich express their sincere condolences to his family, and will always retain heartfelt fond memories of him.

Anatoly Ryabukhin (Moscow State University) on behalf of colleagues, students and friends of Viktor Khain. Translated from the Russian by Svetlana Nikolaeva (HOGG). Reproduced from the HOGG Newsletter, where it first appeared.