04 April 2017

In Memory of Oleg Fedorovich Vasiliev

IIASA was saddened by the news of Oleg F. Vasiliev's death on 7 March 2017. He led the Resources & Environment Area and was Deputy Director at IIASA from 1977-1981. Below alumni Jesse Ausubel and M. Bruce Beck pay tribute to his memory.

Oleg Vasiliev at IIASA

Oleg Vasiliev at IIASA

Tribute to Oleg Vasiliev

by M. Bruce Beck, London, 5 May 2017
1977-1982, 1996, 2006-2007 IIASA Research Scholar
2008-2009 IIASA Institute Scholar
2012-2013 IIASA Guest Research Scholar

In July, 2015, Jesse Ausubel invited me to send congratulations to Oleg Vasiliev on the occasion of his 90th birthday. And in my response to Jesse, I see I was fortunate enough to have sent my congratulations likewise a decade earlier. So when I received Jesse’s next email (at the end of March), I just knew Oleg must have died. I did not need to open the email. Ah, how time passes ... Now, reading Jesse’s “In Memoriam”, replete with the names of those amongst whom I worked with in REN, it is like being taken back to another time — and one of which I have such treasured memories. 

It would have been October 1976 when I first met Oleg. Courtesy of David Maidment (working with Janusz Kindler) — or perhaps it was Matthew Dixon (working with Andre Bykov in the Secretariat), or perhaps, somehow even, Andras Szöllösi-Nagy — I had been invited to a workshop on Real-time Monitoring and Control of Water Resources Systems. The workshop was to be combined with the opportunity to explore whether I might come to IIASA on a more permanent (aka “one-year-renewable-contract”) basis. Oleg must have interviewed me and (thank God) decided I was worthy of being appointed as a Research Scholar. I duly arrived in October, 1977. 

But what I recall with much greater clarity is how Oleg comported himself when he was obliged — as he frequently was — to host a meeting with myself, Sacha Leonov, Igor Schwytov, and probably Gennady Golubev, to discuss crafting a Research Plan. This was not Oleg’s cup of tea, I could tell. He would, I suspect, have “ordered” Sacha to go and generate some words (they spoke in Russian, so I could not be sure). Other topics would have circulated around the four or five of us and, then, sensing victory, with an impish smile flickering across his face, Oleg would turn to me and say:

“Bruce, ... please, ... concretesize elastic research plan for me!”

The game was we needed to convince the Directorate that we would be doing something quite specific, but its specificity needed to be such that we might be able, in the event, to do whatever we wanted. ’Twas ever thus! But I loved that expression and the concept: of concretesizing the elastic. 

I cannot claim I had a close working relationship with Oleg. Jesse’s tribute to him has been quite a revelation for me. Oleg’s background predisposed him towards the view of models as “the bigger the better”. I hailed from close to the opposite end of the spectrum. It seemed to matter forty years ago (actually, it does today too). More importantly, Oleg did not go on those marvelous weekend skiing trips organized by Silfver Newton. These were great opportunities to meet colleagues in a (much) more relaxed setting. They were occasions too for married couples to have the opportunity to “fall out” over something coming up on a T-bar (probably the uneven weight distribution), there to arrive at the top arguing in front of Roger and Carla Levien, Brian and Susan Arthur, perhaps Monica de Janosi, Ann Wadia too, all patiently waiting for us to join the group and ski down. 

The closest Penny and I got to socializing with our Russian colleagues was when we succeeded in having Sophie Boitsova come to dinner with us (in Baden). When asked what we might prepare for her, Sophie replied without hesitation “Bread!”. Oh, and how one could enjoy that in Austria! We last saw Sophie at her wedding in Atlanta in 1996. 

Thus it was as a result of the “distance of perspective” between myself and Oleg that I appreciated him for his tolerance: in granting me the freedom to learn so much, as I pursued what interested me. 

Besides being Deputy Director, Oleg’s grand project was the preparation and publication of a state-of-the-art series in “Mathematical Modeling of Water Quality”. It began in 1979 (led by Gerry Orlob). I was the young squirt given the privilege of acting, in effect, as secretary of the endeavour. It came to fruition in 1983, in a book of the same name, in the Wiley International Series on Applied Systems Analysis. And besides this grand project, Oleg was somehow sufficiently inspired to appoint three persons to my 5-person task with the same birthday: Pam Hottenstein, Sacha, and myself! 

But already by 1980 Oleg had been whisked away, from one day to the next, in what I was told had been a black Mercedes, not to be seen again (by me, at least) until the 35th Anniversary IIASA Conference in 2007. There I was delighted to find Oleg’s name on the list of participants (quite unexpected for me). And it would have been in one of those vast and impressive halls of the Hofburg where I was able to thank him for what he done for me — for the freedom he had granted me. His need of a walking stick revealed how by that time he was suffering from the war wounds he had acquired more than half a century earlier. My mission (and it was a determined one) was to assure Oleg of how he (and my experience at IIASA) had come to define how I saw the world in my professional life. No other institution with which I have been affiliated has had anything close to the same impact. Oleg, crucially, had renewed my contract in 1978 and 1979 (and Janusz had followed through, likewise, in 1980 and 1981), so that I was able to enjoy to the utmost all that IIASA had to offer. To be there for those five years was my great good fortune (and a surprisingly long contract in those days). Indeed, in one of IIASA’s weekly or monthly “News and Notes” leaflets from the 70s/80s, if not Options (circa 1992), I am on record as having made this observation, as I sat in my office in the Park Wing, two grand doors down from Oleg’s office. “The grass”, I thought to myself, “is greenest here”. And it was! 

In memoriam: thank you, Oleg.

Oleg Vasiliev, 1925 - 2017

by Jesse Ausubel, New York City, 29 March 2017
1979 YSSP, 1980-1981 IIASA Research Scholar

As chief of IIASA’s Resources and Environment (REN) group, Oleg Vasiliev served as my boss during 1979-1980. In the spring of 1979, Oleg visited Washington DC for meetings at the National Academy of Sciences, where I was a resident fellow working with the Climate Research Board. The secretary of the US National Member Organization, Harry Tollerton, was assisting Oleg to meet his schedule but one day, perhaps because of illness, was unable to fulfill the duties. I gladly substituted for Harry. I had met Oleg a couple of times during the prior year at technical meetings in Laxenburg and Geneva about climate, where Oleg’s impressive expertise on hydrology and the flow of the great Siberian rivers was most welcome. Oleg had performed brave and influential studies opposing Moscow plans to reverse the flow of some of the rivers to irrigate new lands in Central Asia for Soviet agriculture. Among several possible harms, diminishing freshwater flow into the Arctic Ocean would have changed the salinity of the Arctic water, its patterns of freezing, and potentially global climate. During our day in Washington, Oleg and I developed a rapport which concluded with his encouraging me to apply to spend the summer of 1979 in IIASA’s Young Scientists Summer Program. IIASA accepted my application. I arrived in June expecting to stay for three months but remained about two and a half years.

Within days of my arrival, Oleg was giving me rides back to Vienna at high speed in his light green Mercedes. We talked openly about environmental problems and other matters as well. Siberia fascinated Oleg. He had helped to found and build the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk. He loved the green mountains of the Altai, the vast birch-covered plains of the center, and the frozen north, and struggled to harmonize environment and development, which called for massive generation of hydropower, immense operations to mine gold, diamonds, and other minerals, and abrupt creation of industrial cities. Oleg took seriously the nascent issue of global warming, encouraged my work in the area, and connected me to outstanding Soviet academicians, including meteorologist George Golitsyn and geographer Victor Kovda. Work in our small “climate task” flourished, and Oleg read and commented carefully on my draft articles before they would become IIASA working papers. In 1980 Pergamon Press published the proceedings of a far-sighted REN conference on “Climatic Constraints and Human Activities.”

When not talking shop, we often talked about history, sometimes in Oleg’s apartment in Vienna, with the television playing at high volume. Oleg’s bravery was not only scientific. He had served in some of the deadliest fighting in World War II, the immense armored clashes of the Kursk Offensive. Seriously injured, he was sent back to Moscow for medical treatment, during which time he accomplished much study of math and engineering. Oleg was among the very few people to earn both the highest medals for courage in the Great Patriotic War and election as a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He always maintained the upright posture of a soldier and, except for thick eyeglasses, looked more like a trim cadet than a scientist. Among Oleg’s many remarkable qualities was the absence of anger or prejudice toward Germany.

Oleg’s integrity and sincerity created good morale in the REN group. While maintaining high standards, he always tried to help members of the group and treated with equal importance all our subjects, including air quality, fresh water supply and demand, arid lands, soil erosion, and climate. Among members of the group were (in alphabetical order) Andy Anderson, Bruce Beck, Valentin Chernyatin, Kurt Fedra, Gennady Golubev, Janusz Kindler, Eli Runca, Laszlo Somlyody, Ken Strzepek, and Nicolay Vorontsov. Anna John, Sofia Boitsova, and Raimo Ruottu handled administrative matters with good humor and minimal bureaucracy. Marilyn Brandl, Liz Jaklitsch, and Judy Pakes cheerfully provided support (and good English) as well. Oleg liked to rise to the challenge of writing and speaking in English, which was not always easy, and of course at this time IIASA was still establishing many procedures, so there were moments of confusion, as well as dust from the completion of the renovation of the Silberkammer.

Although Oleg also served as Deputy Director of IIASA, his position at IIASA and life in Vienna were abruptly terminated when his daughter and son-in-law sought to emigrate from the USSR in the spring of 1980. Oleg returned to the Siberian Branch, and Janusz Kindler ably and gracefully assumed REN leadership. Tragedy would deepen not long after when Oleg’s beloved son died in a whitewater rafting accident in the Caucasus mountains. His daughter Svetlana did finally move to Texas, where she raised a son, Vanya, who would suffer a fatal cancer at quite an early age. Svetlana later returned to help the family in Novosibirsk. Oleg’s wife Alla passed away in 2012.

Oleg and I remained in quite regular contact, which became easier with Glasnost. In the Soviet time, he hosted me with great pride for lunches at the House of Scientists in Moscow. I visited Novosibirsk several times, and saw the amazingly beautiful Altai region.  Oleg came several times to the USA and stayed as my guest at The Rockefeller University. Our final meeting was in 2012 in Russia. IIASA was always a favorite subject, probably the brightest time in Oleg’s life, and I believe he did return for the 35th anniversary celebration of IIASA at the Hofburg in 2007. In August 2015, the Institute for Water and  Environmental Problems organized a 90th birthday celebration. Below is a summary of Oleg’s career prepared by this institute.

It was a privilege to know and work for Oleg and a pleasure to recall him. Oleg exemplified the mission of IIASA. Vechnaya pamyat.

Oleg Vasiliev, left

Professor Vasiliev is a well-known expert and authority on such fields  as computational and experimental issues of environmental fluid mechanics and hydraulics; hydrology and ecology of lakes, reservoirs  and river systems; mathematical modelling of hydrological processes  and water quality; system modelling of surface and ground waters  interaction; water resources and water quality management in river basin scale; environmental impacts assessment for water resources and  hydropower projects.


For more than 40 years Prof. Vasiliev has been working in Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1959, he became at a head of Laboratory (since 1971 - Department) of Applied Fluid Mechanics, Institute of Hydrodynamics, Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Novosibirsk). From 1977-1980, he was a Deputy Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA,  Laxenburg, Austria) and Leader of the IIASA Research Area "Natural  Resources and Environmental Protection". Then from 1980-1987, he led the Laboratory of Hydrophysics and Ecology of Water Bodies, Lavrentyev Institute of Hydrodynamics, Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of  Sciences (Novosibirsk).


In 1985-1987, Prof. Vasiliev was appointed as the Director-Organiser, and in 1987-1995 served as Director of the Institute for Water and  Environmental Problems, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Barnaul/Novosibirsk). Since October 1995 he is a Councillor of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


As a noted scientist, Prof. Vasiliev is a member of the boards of international and Russian journals, and his professional and honorary memberships are listed beneath:

* Full Member (Academician) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 1994

* Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1970

* International Association for Hydraulic Research (IAHR)

* International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS)

* Russian Geographic Society (at the Russian Academy of Sciences)

* Russian National Committee for the International Union of

Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (IUTAM)

* Russian National Committee of the International  Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP)

* Russian National Committee of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD)

* UNESCO Scientific Advisory Board on the Aral Sea (SABAS)

* Honorary Member of Hungarian Hydrological Society (1979)

* Honorary Doctor of Engineering, University of Karlsruhe, F. R. Germany (1985)

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Last edited: 09 May 2017


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