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Boris Sergeevich Sokolov 1914-2013 (long version)


Distinguished geologist and palaeontologist, an expert on fossil corals and the “Godfather” of the Vendian Period.

Boris Sergeevich Sokolov, a Russian Academician and an Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society, geoscientist, naturalist, philosopher and historian, died in September 2013 at the age of 99. He did not live to his centennial birthday by only several months.

Academician Boris Sergeevich Sokolov is undoubtedly one of the personalities in the field of the Earth Sciences of the second half of the 20th century. He had a very broad range of interests, including paleontology, stratigraphy, regional geology, paleogeography, facies analysis and the nature of the biosphere as well as history of science. “I have always been indifferent to trends, my path always guided by my curiosity – and it was a zigzag path that delved into many different disciplines”, Boris S. Sokolov said in 1992. He is well known globally for his outstanding work on fossil corals and stratigraphy of the Upper Precambrian, which changes the foundations of the modern biostratigraphy. B.S. Sokolov is the author of more than 600 scientific works, including twelve monographs. Fifteen paleogeographic maps of the Precambrian and early Paleozoic of the Russian Platform with scale 1: 5 000 000, were published in 1960 under his supervision.

Boris Seregeevich was born in Vyshny Volochyok, a beautiful provincial town in the Tver Region and he cherished a deep-felt gratitude to his small Motherland all his life: “All this wonderful nature left a strong imprint on my character and formed my path as a future naturalist”, B.S. Sokolov wrote. Boris graduated from the Leningrad University in 1936. In the early years of his career Sokolov distinguished himself as a talented geologist and a manager of a major research project in Central Asia and China. His contribution to understanding of the geological structure of this vast Asian region formed a firm base for assessing the oil-and-gas prospects in this region. In the 1950s he compiled five volumes on the “Paleozoic Tabulates of the European part of the USSR”, which became a classic resource and inspired research on fossil corals globally leading to a series of workshops and international projects. Sokolov was the first scientist to carry out an in-depth analysis of large groups of Paleozoic corals and provided a detailed classification that reflected their evolution, stratigraphic and geographic distribution, having a marked impact on the ideas about the history of their development.

In the mid-1950’s, Boris S. Sokolov was focused on the study of core material from the deep drilling program on the Russian Platform and he made a major discovery. This is considered a great achievement in the understanding of global stratigraphy during the 20th century. Sokolov recognized a new geological system, which he called the Vendian: “It overlays the Riphean and represents an up to now unrecognized sequence” – B.S. Sokolov wrote. The discovery of the Vendian Period had a major impact on the understanding of evolution of life and geostructures through the Late Precambrian despite of that the IUGS preferred the name Ediacaran.

In the last period of his long life Boris Sergeevich thought more and more on the biosphere and its evolution and had a deep interest in the history of science and local history; and he recommended “to those who would devote their lives to science to continue to seek an understanding of the past history of your science”.

Boris S. Sokolov’s contributions in the development of science in Russia, and globally cannot be overstated. In 1975 he held the post of Academician in the Department of Geology, Geophysics, Geochemistry and Mining Sciences of the Academy of Sciences. He established the Department of Paleontology and Stratigraphy at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Siberian Branch of the Academy of Sciences at Akademgorodok, as well as the only Laboratory of Precambrian Paleontology in Russia, based at the Paleontological Institute in Moscow. He led several pioneer research programs in the field of Earth Sciences and several international projects within the International Geological Correlation Program of IUGS and UNESCO. B.S. Sokolov was long-standing chairman of the of the Interdepartmental Stratigraphical Committee of the Russian Federation, the President of the All-Russian Paleontological Society, and the Vice President and President of the International Paleontological Association an a member of commissions of the IUGS Commission on Stratigraphy. His open-minded and democratic manner made him very popular in all those organizations, especially in hard discussing ones like the Silurian - Devonian Boundary Committee etc. His name is associated with the establishment of a paleontological school, which received international recognition. More than 50 Doctors and Candidates of Science were trained under his supervision.

B.S. Sokolov was a Laureate of the Lenin Prize, a Hero of Socialist Labour, and was awarded with many USSR orders and medals. He was also awarded the A.P. Karpinsky Gold Medal accompanying his international Karpinsky –Schweitzer prize (Hamburg Foundation). He was elected as a member of the Geological Societies of many countries. His great contribution to science and to the Academy is noted by his receiving the M.V. Lomonosov Large Gold Medal, the highest award of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Till the last days of his life Boris Sergeevich remained active in his research, kept fruitful interaction with the Academy and scientific community, shared his experience and friendship with the colleagues, supported young and talented scientists. His advice to the new generation is, “Self-inspection, healthy doubt and curiosity are the guiding lights of innovation and new discovery!”

Mikhail A. Fedonkin, Dimitri Kaljo, Alexei Yu. Rozanov, Sergey V. Rozhnov, Ekaterina A. Serezhnikova