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ВОСПОМИНАНИЯ / E. Zaltsberg.

Valery Mironenko: a pioneer of modern Russian hydrogeology

Professor Valery Mironenko, a towering figure in the field of hydrogeology, was one of the first Russian hydrogeologists who married groundwater with computer modeling and in this regard was among the founders of modern Russian hydrogeology. Valery died on 26 January 2000, at the age of 64.

Valery was born in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) on 1 March 1935. His father was a president of Leningrad University, and in the late 1940s he was appointed as Minister of Education of Russia. His mother was an Assistant Professor at the same University. The whole family became a victim of one of the last waves of Stalin's terror. In 1949, Valery's parents were arrested in connection with the so-called Leningrad affair, completely fabricated by the KGB and skillfully orchestrated by Stalin. One year later, Valery's father was executed, and his mother was sent to Siberia. Valery was allowed to stay in Leningrad, where he attended high school. However, he got only a short break, for in 1952 he was arrested as "a son of the people's enemy," imprisoned in "A Big House" (the nickname of the KGB headquarters in Leningrad), and eventually exiled to the remote Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia.

After Stalin's death in 1953, Valery returned to Leningrad and entered the Mining Institute. Two years later he entered the faculty of mathematics and mechanics at Leningrad University. Valery graduated from the Mining Institute in 1958 and from the University in 1960. Therefore, his higher education was a perfect combination of natural and exact sciences.
Valery started his scientific career at the All Union Institute of Mining Mechanics and Mining Surveying in Leningrad, where he headed the hydrogeological laboratory. His early research involved evaluation of the efficiency of horizontal drainage wells, various aspects of dewatering of mineral deposits, an assessment of the stability of quarry and pit slopes with regard to dewatering operations, and rock deformation under the influence of deep dewatering. In the course of this research, Valery visited hundreds of pits and mines in all regions of the former USSR. He collected a unique database on mining dewatering, which was used in developing new principles and schemes in mining hydrogeology. Valery summarized these investigations in two fundamental monographs published in the 1970s; a few years earlier, in 1967, he received a PhD degree in hydrogeology.

In 1972, Valery was appointed as Professor at the Mining Institute in Leningrad. Here, he conducted original research and studies in the field of aquifer-test interpretation, and he published (together with V.M. Shestakov) two monographs on this subject; these instantly became "table books" for several generations of Russian groundwater specialists. Gradually his interest switched to the fields of contaminant hydrogeology, groundwater protection, and environmental hydrogeology.
Starting in the early 1970s, Valery pioneered the widespread use of modern computer techniques, especially numerical modeling, in solving complex hydrogeological and environmental problems. Using numerical modeling, Valery studied factors that control the development of contaminant plumes in various hydrogeological settings, their three-dimensional migration, and the monitoring network required to delineate and predict such migration. He also proposed numerous innovative field tests and their interpretations for evaluating groundwater-contaminant parameters.

In 1990, Valery was elected a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the whole history of the Academy, Valery was only the second hydrogeologist honored with its membership (the first one was Professor G.N. Kamensky). Not only Valery's scientific achievements but also his institutional creations were significant. In 1997, he established and headed the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Geoecology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Soon after, he founded The Hydroecological Center at St. Petersburg University, which attracted many bright hydrogeologists.

Valery loved to teach hydrogeology and to nourish promising new talents. In Russia and abroad, students and young scientists highly regarded his lectures and seminars. To them he was a rock on which they could rely for clear guidance and advice given with warmth and humor. As a teacher, Valery strongly believed that both geological and mathematical training were important for hydrogeologists, and the courses he delivered were a good combination of geology, hydrogeology, mathematics, and computer science. Valery insisted that computer modeling should be introduced at the earliest possible stage of hydrogeological training, and he promoted vigorously the inclusion of modeling in students' curricula. Under Valery's supervision, 35 candidate and 5 doctoral theses were prepared and defended by his former students before the High Scientific Certification Board.

I had the privilege to talk to Valery on several occasions when he visited Toronto, and each time I was amazed by the wide range of his interests. His heart and soul were always with the Russian reformers, and he spoke of democratic reforms with great expectation and enthusiasm. Knowing the financial hardship experienced by Russian scientists, I asked him one day whether he would like to emigrate to the West. "Never," he replied without any hesitation: "I witness historical changes occurring in Russia, and I want to participate in them. It is a great excitement to live in Russia these days; it would be too boring to me to live abroad."

Valery could easily switch conversation from politics to arts, demonstrating a deep knowledge of classical and modern paintings and music. He was often seen at art shows and exhibitions in St. Petersburg and abroad, talking with artists and discussing their works. He loved American literature; his favorite American writer was W. Faulkner, and he read his novels in English. However, Valery's "true love" was hydrogeology, and he devoted most of his time to hydrogeological research, study, and teaching. His scientific achievements are impressive: he is an author (or coauthor) of hundreds of articles, nineteen monographs, and three text books. At various times he was a member of the Editorial Boards of Hydrogeology Journal and Advances in Water Resources Journal.

His former students work and teach at many Russian Universities, government agencies, and consulting companies. His publications are highly regarded and widely referred to by hydrogeologists and environmentalists alike, and this is the best memory of such an extraordinary man of many talents.

E. Zaltsberg,
in Hydrogeology Journal (2000) 8:654-655.


Санкт-Петербургское отделение Института геоэкологии РАН
+7(812) 324-12-56, annik@hgepro.ru