Andre Rossfelder: Marine geologist shares passion for exploration


Andre Rossfelder, an award-winning writer and marine geologist, served in the French Resistance and was a paratrooper cadet in World War II. He was awarded the French Military Medal and the War Cross. He earned a doctorate in geology and has explored North Africa and the Mediterranean.

After immigrating to the United States, he pursued marine research for 30 years, first on the deep ocean and then in the subtropical Pacific where he conducted mineral exploration surveys of more than 60 atoll and islands.

Rossfelder is a fellow of the Explorers Club and a member emeritus of the Marine Technology Society.

In addition to scientific papers and patients, he has published in French, four novels, a geological treatise and a volume of recollections. He won a literary prize from the Academy Goncourt and just published his first book in English, “In Pursuit of Longitude: Magellan and the Antemeridian.”

What brought you to the coast?

Back in 1956, I decided to upgrade my diplomas and get a doctorate in science. I was a young geologist in Algeria, my family homeland, and a devoted scuba diver. Submarine geology was in its infancy. Scripps Institution of Oceanography with Roger Revelle and professor Francis Shepard was one of the very few top places to be.

So, I came to La Jolla where I spent a few months. After returning to my country, living through the Algerian War and the exodus of the French Algerians, I spent a few years with the United Nations in Rome. At the first opportunity — a job offer from Francis Shepard? I was back to La Jolla in January 1965 and took residence here.

What makes this area special to you?

The ocean, beaches, climate ... but most of all, the memory of La Jolla in the mid-’50s and late ‘60s; it’s a true jewel, not only for its quaint charm of a small American village far away from the tumults of the Old World, but also for the civility and friendliness of its people.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, substract or improve in the area?

Subtract the glitz, recover the modest charm. For starters: revive the Cove Theater, El Sombrero’s guitar evenings, and C&M Market’s frittatas.

Who or what inspires you?

The sea with its endless images — above, along and below.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

As he was close to my mind for the past few years, I would invite Fernando de Magallanes and call on a few friends or acquaintances to join: Albert Camus, writer; Jacques Soustelle, historian; Jacques Cousteau, oceanographer; William Moran, geologist.

I would also ask Tim Joyner, Magellan biographer; Bob Lloyd Fisher from SIO and the Explorers Club; and Ray Ashley from the San Diego Maritime Museum to come. There still is so much that we do not know about the life and mind of the Great Navigator as the 500th anniversary of his Voyage approaches.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

Trying to finish “The Bounty” of Caroline Alexander. Next will be the work of Edward Rice on the 19th century explorer Sir Francis Burton.

What is your most-prized possession?

I have no memorabilia left from my time in the Resistance and in WWII or from my ancestors, but plenty of memories. Also my wife, Marjorie, and I have our old rescued-dog Bungee.

What do you do for fun?

Unfortunately, an unexpected illness is presently keeping me homebound but, when fall will come, my wife and I hope to resume some social life — at least attending Explorers Club dinners and some events of the Maritime Museum.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

“Greatest” can only be in my own eyes. Finding the underwater phosphate deposit of Mataiva Atoll in the Tuamotu is high in my mind for the long course I achieved from concept to discovery and the adventures on the way. However my new 500-pages “In Pursuit of Longitude: Magellan and the Antimeridian” came first because I endeavored to write it in English, a language that I did not speak before I was 40.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Loyalty, solidarity, compassion, standing by your word, remaining true to your own... These, unfortunately, are good intentions that propel you in front of all the challenges of life and history. This was the theme of my last French book, “Le Onzième Commandement.” It’s easier to stay with the old French motto of William of Orange: “Point n’est besoin d’esperer pour entreprendre, ni de reussir pour perseverer.” (No need for hope to move ahead, nor for success to persevere.)