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SSA Medal Citation for Tanya Rautian by Peter Molnar

The Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov allegedly once said: “Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.” We have no evidence that he knew today’s Reid Medal recipient, Tat’yana Glebovna Rautian, or Tanya as most of us call her, but she typifies all elements of that aphorism.

Born in Leningrad and a teenager during its siege by Nazi Germany, Tanya went on to study physics at the University of Leningrad. She then moved with her new husband, Vitaly Ivanovich Khalturin, to Garm, Tajikistan to establish a seismograph, which grew into a network of them, while they reared their five daughters. As some of you know, her talents include choosing a remarkable husband.

So, imagine a curious seismologist, with no access to, or even knowledge of, the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. What does she do in a setting, where household water has to be bucketed from an irrigation channel behind the house, and diapers are not even a concept? Everyone here would agree that to quantify our knowledge of local earthquake activity and risk, we first must decide how to quantify the sizes of earthquakes themselves. So, before giving birth to the last two of her five daughters, Tanya had devised her “energy scale,” or “Rautian’s K-scale,” which resembles Richter’s magnitude scale, but offered a direct measure of the energy radiated by an earthquake as seismic waves. Soviet seismologists promptly adopted her formalism for quantifying earthquakes, and she is sometimes called the “Charles Richter of the Soviet Union.”

Like Richter’s Magnitude, her K-scale bore witness to years of study of earthquakes at different distances and in different environments. As a by-product of that experience, according to Garm legend, she learned how to locate felt earthquakes in real time from the timing between P and S waves and the spectral characteristics of their audible signals.

Her curiosity reached beyond seismology. Folks in Garm raised much of their food. Curious about what is innate, and what is learned, she switched the eggs laid by a duck and by a young hen. The hen showed no surprise when infant ducklings hatched beneath her, until they dove into a pool along the irrigation channel, but the hen soon adapted, wading knee deep to oversee swimming lessons. Frustration, if not dismay, came the following year, when her newly hatched chicks wanted no part of a swim. Such experiments continued for a few years, until earthquakes and seismograms offered too many questions

As seismologists in the west gradually developed digital recording, Tanya gained access to remarkable analogue data. A collection of seismometers, sensitive to different periods, sent signals that were band-pass filtered to allow optical recording of a set of simultaneous wavelets centered at different periods: a continuously recorded spectrum of the ground motion. With these data, she and Khalturin first attacked the seismic coda, and in 1978 they published a paper in the BSSA that had Kei Aki nearly dancing in the hallways at MIT. In the early 1980s, during an informal conversation with Scott Phillips when he was a student, Aki told him: “There are many good scientists in the Soviet Union, and the best is Tanya Rautian. Please get to know her work.”

The seismic source attracted Tanya’s curiosity most, in particular the spectral content of both body waves and the coda. She found that despite many exceptions, the amplitude spectrum could be treated as three segments separated by two corner frequencies. The low-frequency part, of course, scaled to the seismic moment, and the lower corner frequency scaled to dimensions of the entire rupture. Her higher corner frequency, however, showed no relationship to the size of the earthquake, whether measured with the moment, her K, or the value of the lower corner frequency. She interpreted it in terms of small regions of localized stress accumulation where the rupture nucleated or broke through barriers.

In the early 1990s she brought this experience to the United States, and with Khalturin, Paul Richards, and others, she applied it to the problem of discriminating earthquakes from nuclear explosions.

For periods, Tanya served as Vice-Chief of the Complex Seismological Expedition in Garm and as the Vice Director of the Tajik Institute of Seismology and Earthquake Engineering in Dushanbe, tasks that would have challenged anyone in the Soviet Union’s hierarchical system, especially a woman. She managed her tasks, almost surely, because of her commitment to avoiding deception and to standing up for human rights. That commitment reached its nadir in 1991 shortly after Boris Yeltsin stood on tanks in Red Square to prevent a coup d’état. She wrote a letter to Yeltsin and other leaders in Moscow and gathered signatures to it. It began: “The staff of the Seismological Expedition of Institute of Physics of the Earth of the USSR Academy of Sciences that is conducting research in the territory of Tajikistan is deeply offended by the unlawful actions of the self-proclaimed ‘State Committee of the State of Emergency…’” and it continued in the same no-nonsense tone. Needless to say, this act of insubordination would have cost her more than the Reid Medal, if that “State Committee” had gained power.
Conversations with Tanya invariably consist more of questions than opinions. She looks more for doors to scientific inquiry that can be opened, than to drawers of them that can be shut. She epitomizes how seismology benefits when curiosity does not become subordinate to ideology or to wisdom received uncritically, but remains pure.

Peter Molnar

Department of Geological Sciences

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

University of Colorado at Boulder

Boulder, Colorado 80309-0399

Photo of Tanya Rautian in the mid 1950s examining the chronometer used for timing of seismographs in Garm.

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<< Maya Khalturina. A strange question about Garm from Brian Tucker.Tatyana Rautian Acceptance Speech for SSA Reid Medal>>

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Многоуважаемую Татьяну Глебовну от всего сердца поздравляю с полученной наградой. Думаю она заслуживает большего. Почему бы нам всем вместе не написать в АН Российской Федерации о представлении Глебовны на достойную правительственную награду.
Алишо, 27.08.2011

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