in memoriam - Prof. S.V. Zonn (1906-2002)

On June 22, 2002, S.V. Zonn, Honorary Member of IUSS and Russia’s oldest soil scientist, died at the age of 96. His merits were acknowledged in Russia and abroad. He maintained correspondence with people living and working on all the continents of the earth. As a teacher of numerous soil scientists from different countries and as academic advisor of a whole army of doctors and candidates of science, he is widely recognized in our country and abroad as a diversified investigator, energetic scientist, and steadfast organizer. His name is associated with the successes of Russian forest science and a broad knowledge regarding the developments in tropical soil sciences. The thorough knowledge of soils of all continents (except Antarctica) allowed Zonn to put forward many original hypotheses about geography, classification and genesis of soil formation. Almost a coeval of the century, Sergey Vladimirovich went all the way with it from the very beginning to the end, survived all storms of this hard and sometimes scary period. He passed all the trials but stayed himself. Most likely it was the fresh air of the Caucasus where he studied, and the eminence of his teachers, Prof. A.M. Pankov and Academician L.I. Prasolov, that allowed Sergey Vladimirovich to overcome all setbacks.

He graduated at the Highlands Agricultural Institute in Vladikavkaz in 1929. Despite all difficulties, he managed to remain a responsive and friendly person, always ready to help anybody who needed in it. In 1929, Zonn started his research activities under the leadership of one of the forerunners of biogeocenology, the talented R.I. Abolin. At this time, Zonn took interest in problems of soil reclamation in the Northern Caucasus.

From 1931 to 1939, Sergey Vladimirovich studied the soils of the Caucasus, Crimea and Buryatia heading expeditions of the Leningrad division of the All-Union Institute of Fertilizers, Agrochemistry and Agropedology. There L.I. Prasolov became his teacher.

Due to Prasolov’s petition, Zonn was accepted as a candidate of agricultural sciences in 1937 without presenting a dissertation. Since 1939 he had worked in the All-Union Institute of Crop Science, at that time lead by N.I. Vavilov. During this period, Zonn studied soils at Aral, Karakum, Turkmeni and Balkash research stations. In 1939, still working at AUICS, Zonn started to teach a class on Foundations of Quaternary Geology with Soil Science at the Leningrad Mining Engineering Institute. At the beginning of the Second World War he was in Leningrad. Thus, he experienced the whole horror of the blockade. Seriously ill, he was evacuated in 1942 along the icy Road of Life (over the ice of the Lake Ladoga) to Kazan. 180 cm tall, he weighed that time just 40 kg. Gradually he regained his health, and in 1943 Zonn resumed his studies of soils of his native Caucasus. The research carried out before World War II and partially during the war resulted in two monographs: Soils of Dagestan (1940) and Experience of Natural—Historical Regionalization of Dagestan (1946). These works contain one of the best descriptions of Dagestan’s soils and their most accurate soil maps. In 1943, the Academician V.N. Sukachev established the Forest Institute at the Science Academy. At that time this was the only barrier to the anti-cientific doctrine of Lysenko. Sukachev did not only argue against it in publications but also hired opponents of anti-scientific concepts of biology dismissed from other institutes. Invited by Sukachev in 1945, Zonn managed to organize one of the most interesting laboratories in the Institute of Forest the Laboratory of Forest Soil Science. It provided young people with the opportunity to study, to become a doctor or a candidate of sciences. Its numerous scientific investigations essentially created the modern image of forest soil science. D.F. Sokolov, V.N. Mina, V.S. Frolova, E.A. Kuzmina made up the initial mainframe of the laboratory. Zonn’s students (T.F. Urushadze, O.G. Tarasashvili, M.V. Vaichis, R.I.Shleinis, I.I. Sudnitsyn, N.A. Vznuzdaev, A.P. Sapozhnikov, and many others) represent the heritage of the school. His contribution to the development of the school itself as well to a science of forest soils was also prominent. Zonn’s book Influence of Forest on Soil (1954) became an important stage for rising forest soil science. After V.N. Sukachev left the Laboratory of Forest Science (formerly the Forest Institute), Zonn moved to the Institute of Geography of the Academy of Sciences, while simultaneously heading the department of soil science at the University of People’s Friendship. Since 1972 Zonn directed studies on the use of aerospace methods in geography at the Institute of Geography. His book Steppes of the Russian Plain represents one of results of the joint work of collaborators of the institute. In the course of his long life, Zonn’s work was many times crowned by prestigious awards. Nevertheless, as it was said by N.A. Nekrasov ‘wild outcries of bitterness’ sometimes are more honorable for a real scientist. Thus, in 1948 the soil scientist Zonn was dismissed from the Moscow Forest Technology Institute (MSTI) as Weissmaninst-Morganist. Being neither a breeder nor a geneticist he never participated in genetic discussions. However, in Leningrad he was closely linked to N.I. Vavilov, and while working in the MSTI he collaborated with V.N. Sukachev. Therefore it was his scientific origin that caused the hatred of ignorant followers of “new biology”. At that time these persecutions cost many people’s lives. Moreover, being the head of the expedition on field-protective forest planting, he widely applied Sukachev’s ideas despite all Lysenko’s attempts to influence the expedition with regard to his own methods of forest strip planting in steppe. Works organized by Zonn in Tellerman, Derkul, Dzhanibek developed into powerful research stations functioning until present. As a real soil scientist and researcher, Zonn, was always ready for field work. His expeditions covered not only all the country but great parts of the world. Ukraine, the Baltic countries, Middle Russia, the Precaspian, the Tien Shan, Kamchatka, and the Far East, China, Tibet, Bulgaria, Cuba, Columbia, Syria, Egypt, and New Zealand is by far not the full list of places where he studied soils. It is very important that he concluded these researches by comprehensive scientific articles and monographs. His familiarity with tropical soils allowed him to write a remarkable textbook on tropical soil science. If one opens any issue of the journal Pochvovedenie, one can easily find a reference to Zonn’s works.

There is not one monograph which could escape citing his articles. His impact on the scientific work of his colleagues is due to the relevance of the problems touched on in his articles, the thoroughness of his investigations, and his deep knowledge of a problem. His deliberate attitude to classical heritage should be mentioned especially. Not only did he often use materials of his teachers as well as works of his aspirants in articles, but he also devoted articles and books to them. His biographic sketches about V.N. Sukachev, V.V. Dokuchaev, I.P. Gerasimov are worth to be noted. We should be grateful to Professor Zonn for his revival of a bright image of Glinka. Zonn’s book made us recall the teacher of all our soil scientists. Constantly directing the youth to learn the scientific heritage of our teachers, Zonn published his two-volume book The History of Soil Science in the 20th Century. This book resurrected many names, showed the historical development of soil science in Russia and recalled our glorious history.

Zonn devoted much of his time to the Russian Soil Science Society. As the Vice-President of the Society he did a lot to sustain the authority of Russian soil scientists within the country and abroad. His international prominence allowed him to solve many problems arisen during various international discussions on soil science. For many years Zonn was the Vice-Editor of the journal Pochvovedenie. There is hardly another soil scientist in Russia who was so deep in the heart of social and scientific life for such a long time, who discovered new horizons in science, helped new scientists and scientists of different regions. His merits were often rewarded by scientific and state awards. He was awarded the State Prize of the Soviet Union of 1952 for the monograph Mountain Forest Soils of the Northwestern Caucasus (1950), he received the Dokuchaev and the Vilyams prizes, and the Dokuchaev Gold Medal. In 1953 he was chosen to join the Order of the Labor Red Banner and later he received a number of medals: 30 Years Victory of World War II, 40 Years Victory of World War II, 50 Years Victory of World War II, medals of the 800-year Anniversary of Moscow and Chinese-Soviet Friendship. He was bestowed the titles: Honorable Researcher of the Institute of Forest Economy of the People’s Republic of China, Honorable citizen of Dagestan, Merit of Science of Kalmykia.

Among the numerous Russian soil scientists now working in independent states who studied under the guidance of Prof. Zonn we may mention L.Y. Reintam, T.F. Urushadze, M.V. Vaichis, R.I. Shleinis, T.A. Romanova, B. Dzhafarov and A.P. Travleev. In 2001, together with his son Igor, S.V. Zonn published a book about the environmental impact of military activities, particularly in Chechnya. The book bravely raises the most acute problems.

Zonn lived a long and full life, under the motto of work. He worked until his very last minute.

The memory of S.V. Zonn will be preserved in the books that he wrote, in the students he supervised, in the issues of the journal Pochvovedenie that he prepared. We lost an outstanding researcher, who noticeably predetermined the progress of our science. We express sympathy to the family of S.V. Zonn and to Russian soil science.

L. Karpachevskii


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Page created: 13.02.2015 | Page updated: 15.02.2015

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