Aleksandr Karpinskii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Karpińskii, Aleksandr Petrovich


Born Dec. 26, 1846 (Jan. 7, 1847), in the settlement of Tur’inskie Rudniki, present-day city of Krasnotur’insk, Sverdlovsk Oblast; died July 15, 1936, in Moscow. Russian and Soviet geologist and public figure. Son of a mining engineer. Graduated from the Mining Institute in St. Petersburg (1866). In 1869 he became a junior scientific assistant at the institute; from 1877 to 1896 he was a professor. He took an active part in the organization of the Geological Committee (1882), in which he initially was the senior geologist. From 1885 to 1903 he was its director and, from 1903 to 1929, honorary director.

In 1886, Karpińskii was made junior scientific assistant at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences; in 1889, academician extraordinary; and in 1896, regular academician. In 1916 he began to perform the duties of vice-president of the Academy of Sciences, and on May 15, 1917, he became its first elected president. Under his leadership the work of the Academy of Sciences was reorganized. Karpińskii played a major role in organizing the study of the nation’s productive forces.

Karpińskii’s scientific activities were distinguished by their diversity. He compiled summary geological maps of the Urals and the European part of the USSR. His works on tectonics, paleogeography, and paleontology are particularly well known. He was the first to reveal the basic features of the tectonic structure of the Russian Platform, pointing out (in 1880) the presence of a crystalline folded base and sedimentary mantle in its structure and distinguishing (in 1883) a zone of dislocated sedimentary rock in the south of Russia. Later (1887 and 1894), using the method of tectonic analysis with paleogeographic constructs that he had developed, Karpińskii showed that the strike of the structures created by the oscillatory movements of the earth’s crust within the Russian Platform in the early Paleozoic age was parallel to the Baltic Shield and, later, to the system of ranges of the Greater Caucasus or the Urals. Only after Karpińskii’s works did the phenomena of transgressions and regressions acquire a true scientific explanation in geology.

Karpińskii’s monograph On the Remains of the Edestides and Their New Genus, Helicoprion was published in 1899; his monograph On the Trochiliscs, in 1906. In this thorough research, Karpińskii proved that the trochiliscs and other forms close to them were not animals (foraminifers or coelenterates), as earlier researchers had thought, but rather the calcified sporophidiums of higher thallophyte plants (charophytes).

Karpińskii was one of the first in Russia (1869) to use the microscope in studying rock. At the eighth session of the International Geological Congress in Paris in 1900, he presented a paper on the principles of classification and nomenclature of rock, pointing out that in the classification of igneous rocks, their mineralogical composition and structure should be of primary significance. Karpińskii’s research in geology and petrography was closely tied to practical geology. His general geological works, in particular his geological and paleogeographic maps, were the basis for extensive practical forecasts in prospecting for minerals. Karpińskii was awarded the Konstantin Medal of the Russian Geographic Society (1892) and the Cuvier Prize of the French Academy of Sciences (1922) for his works. In 1946 the Academy of Sciences of the USSR established the Karpińskii Prize and Gold Medal, awarded for outstanding work in the area of geology.

Karpińskii was a permanent representative of Russian geological science at international geological congresses (beginning with the second session of the congress in Bologna in 1881). He participated in the compilation of the geological map of Europe and the standardization of the graphic legends in geology. He was chairman of the Organizing Committee and president of the seventh session of the International Geological Congress (St. Petersburg, 1897). From 1899 through 1936 he was president of the Mineralogical Society. Karpińskii performed a great deal of scientific and organizational work on various commissions. A city in Sverdlovsk Oblast (RSFSR), a volcano on Paramushir Island (Kuril Islands), a mountain in the Northern Urals, and the Geological Museum of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Leningrad have been named after Karpińskii. He was buried in Red Square beside the Kremlin wall.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939–49.


Lichkov, B. L. Karpińskii i sovremennost’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Aleksandr Petrovich Karpińskii: Bibliograficheskii ukazateT trudov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Beliankin, D. S. “Petrograficheskie issledovaniia A. P. Karpinskogo i ego napravlenie v petrografii.” In Ocherki po istorii geologicheskikh znanii, fasc. 1. Moscow, 1953.
Borisiak, A. A. “Aleksandr Petrovich Karpińskii.” In Liudi russkoinauki [book 2]. Moscow, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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