Andrey Kapitsa dies in Moscow

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Andrey Kapitsa, an outstanding Russian geographer, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Professor Emeritus at Moscow State University, died in Moscow on August 2nd, aged 80.

Andrey Kapitsa was born on July 9th 1931 in Cambridge, U.K. The scientist’s whole life was inextricably linked to first Soviet and then Russian geographical science. A graduate of the Moscow State University’s Faculty of Geography, Mr Kapitsa was a member of the Russian Geographical Society. He took part in four Antarctic expeditions undertaken by the Soviet Union between 1955 and 1964, and headed the 1967-1969 Eastern African expedition of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. From 1965 to 1970 Andrey Kapitsa was the Dean of M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Faculty of Geography. He also served as the Chairman of the Far-Eastern Research Centre of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences’ Presidium, and was the founder and first Director of Pacific Institute of Geography.

In 1953 Andrey Kapitsa graduated from the Moscow State University’s Faculty of Geography. After his graduation the promising young geographer was invited to work at the Laboratory for Experimental Geomorphology attached to the Faculty of Geography. In 1958 he successfully defended his PhD thesis, “Morphology of the Eastern Antarctic ice cap”, and only seven years later, in 1965, the scientist completed his doctoral dissertation, “Subglacial relief of Antarctica”.

In cooperation with other scientists, Andrey Kapitsa made one of the most remarkable geographical discoveries of the 20th century – a vast lake beneath the Antarctic ice, near the polar research station Vostok.

Mr Kapitsa’s research interests revolved around various environmental issues and sustainable nature resources management. The geographer was among the first to challenge the theory of anthropogenic causes of the “greenhouse effect” and the “ozone holes”. Later, a team of scientists under his leadership proved that Antarctic ozone hole anomalies had a natural origin.

In 1987 the scientist set up within the MSU’s Faculty of Geography the Department of Sustainable Nature Resource Management, which laid the foundation for subsequent development of this new scientific branch.

Professor Kapitsa also introduced new areas of learning into the MSU’s geography curriculum, including courses of lectures dedicated to such themes as “Introduction into sustainable nature resource management”, “Current issues in the field of  sustainable nature resource management”, and “Sustainable nature resource management – applying geographical methods to environmental studies”.

Andrey Kapitsa’s numerous students always noted that he was a companionate and sympathetic person, not only happy to advise on scientific research, but also eager to help get through a difficult period in life.

During his prolific career as a scientist and university professor Mr Kapitsa received many government awards, including the State Prize, as well as honorary titles, such as Professor Emeritus at Moscow State University; Honorary Employee of the higher education sector; and Meritorious Scientist of the Russian Federation. For his contribution to the Atlas of Antarctica, Mr Kapitsa was awarded the U.S.S.R. State Prize and MSU’s D.N. Anuchin Prize.

In the past decade Kapitsa published a series of research papers dedicated to methodological aspects of studying industrial pollution and ecosystems stability in the Russian Arctic. These publications resulted into a monograph entitled “A methodology for assessing the state of Arctic ecosystems transformed by human activities”. At about the same time, together with A. Gavrilov, he put forward a theory of a natural origin of the Antarctic ozone hole anomalies. Together with O. Sorokhtin he carried out a series of studies dedicated to geopolitics of global climate change.

The lying-in-state ceremony for Andrey Kapitsa will take place on Thursday, August 4th, in the foyer of the Moscow State University’s Community Centre (Dom Kultury).


Lake Vostok, named after a polar research station, is one of the largest subglacial lakes in Antarctica. The total surface area of the lake is estimated at 15.5 thousand km², which is 15 times bigger than the surface area of Moscow and two times smaller than the surface area of Lake Baikal. Lake Vostok is hidden some 4,000 metres beneath the Antarctic ice cap. Its estimated depth is over 1,200 metres.

Scientists believe that water temperature in Lake Vostok is too hot for Antarctica; it may reach at least 10 degrees Celsius in the deepest regions. In fact, water in the lake is heated by subterranean geothermal springs, and this gives scientists a reason to assume that the lake might be inhabited by ancient organisms, which have developed and evolved in isolation from the rest of the world.

Russian Geographical Society