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 Vasily Dokuchaev

Born:   March 3, 1846
Deceased:   November 8, 1903

a world-known naturalist, Russian geologist and soil scientist


Vasily Vasilievich Dokuchaev is a world-known naturalist, Russian geologist and soil scientist, who is famous for laying the basis for modern Russian genetic soil science school.

Vasily Vasilievich Dokuchaev is born in 1846. While a boy, Vasily Dokuchaev has a chance to get secondary education in religious school of Smolensk, and he grabs the opportunity. After finishing his secondary training, the boy decides to continue studying, and is admitted to Saint Petersburg’s state university to the faculty of physics and mathematics, where he spends 25 years of his long and fruitful scientific life. Vasily Dokuchaev enters 1870 as a keeper of geology laboratory, and in 1871 Dokuchaev graduates from the faculty, however, science has already penetrated his blood, and he is offered a position of professor at the mineralogy department of mentioned university in 1883.


Dokuchaev’s scientific activities are mainly concentrated on studying modern tertiary formations, known as alluviums, and soils of European part of Russia. His first scientific work comes off the press in 1869 – it is a geological description of the river Kachka banks. Between 1871 and 1877 the scientist organizes several expeditions to northern and central parts of Russia and south of Finland, aimed at studying geologic structure of river valleys, as well as the way and the time they were formed, and, of course, he doesn’t forget about rivers’ geologic activities. The research results in the fundamental work called “Various ways of formation of river valleys in European Russia”, where Dokuchaev suggests his own hypothesis for river valley formation – he thinks that valleys form under conditions of ravine and gully activity. Mentioned work becomes Vasily Vasilievich’s Master Thesis in 1878.

1883 is the year, when Dokuchaev publishes his “Russian Chernozem”, a monograph, which made Russian scientist world famous. “Russian Chernozem” is Dokuchaev’s Doctor Thesis, which he defends in 1883 – the work contains detailed and scrupulous facts on territories, common for this particular soil, its origin, chemical composition, classification principles and analysis techniques, in other words, the way Dokuchaev states the facts is what later scientists will call genetic soil science.


In 1882 Dokuchaev accepts an offer of Nizhniy Novgorod’s authorities, who ask him to supervise complete research of the region in aspects of geology, soil science and natural history for more adequate land use in future. It takes the scientist six years to finish this work, and result is 14 volumes of “On land evaluation in Nizhniy Novgorod province”, supplied with soil and geology maps. Two more years the scientist spends in Poltava province, doing the same work, and in 1892-1893 Dokuchaev heads research activities in Russian southern steppes, where naturalists perform full set of geology and soil science studies. Dokuchaev’s theory on latitudinal and vertical zones is the key concept of Russian physical geography school. He also, in the 1890s, set up at the Kharkov Institute of Agriculture and Forestry, the first department of soil science in Russia.

It’s Dokuchaev’s initiative to establish soil commission and museums of natural history in Nizhniy Novgorod and Poltava. Vasily Vasilievich’s works are mainly published in proceedings of Saint Petersburg’s Society of Naturalists and Emperor’s Free Economic Society. Among his most eminent works are following articles and monographs: “Ravines and their importance” (1876), “Cartography of Russian soils” (1879), “Russian steppes: before and after” (1892) and others.

Vasily Vasilievich Dokuchaev dies in 1903 and is buried at Smolenskoe cemetery in Moscow. Russian central museum of soil science is named after him.

    Economy Faculty of Saint Petersburg University

Kizilova Anna

Tags: Russian science Russian scientists geology   

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