Cheruvari Karunakaran was born on 6th May 1917 at Thalasseri in Kannur District of Kerala State. He had his education in Chennai and then in Banaras Hindu University from where he took his Masters Degree in Geology in 1938. He started his career as a geologist in the Mineral Survey Department, Uttar Pradesh. He served as a lecture in Geology in the Presidency College, Madras (now Chennai), and latter took charge of the newly created Geology Department in Andhra University, Waltair. Through his inspiring classes, he
earned a reputation as an outstanding teacher who could instill academic enthusiasm in his students.
Prof. Karunakaran was appointed as an officer in the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in the year 1948. He became Deputy Director General of the GSI in charge of the Southern Region in 1968, and the Director General on April 3, 1974. After superannuation in 1975, he was appointed as Officer on Special Duty in the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, and later became a Technical Member of the Kerala State Planning Board. He established the Centre for Earth Science Studies in 1978 and was its first Director. The various positions he has held include: Member, Governing Body of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Vice Chairman, ESCAPE International, President, Indian Geophysical Union, President, Institute of Indian Peninsular Geology and President, Indian Academy of Geosciences. Prof. C. Karunakaran passed away in Chennai on May 28, 1999.
Prof. Karunakaran had several outstanding achievements to his credit. He led the first joint scientific expedition to the Great Nicobar Island in 1965, which received worldwide attention. He pointed out in his report that Pygmalion Point (now Indira Gandhi Point) and not Kanyakumari, is the southernmost part of India. He organized a scientific expedition to the Zemu Glacier in Sikkim, where geophysical methods to measure the thickness of ice were used for the first time in India. Prof. Karunakaran conceived and formulated the idea of an Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica, which he submitted to the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi. A person of wide interests, Prof. Karunakaran’s knowledge of orchids was well recognised. He was an expert diver, and held the diving record with the Cochin Naval Base for his age group. He has won several awards including the Coggin Brown Memorial Gold Medal, Professorship and Gold Medal of Andhra University and membership of the Explorer’s Club.
A multidisciplinary institute that brings together all disciplines of earth science under one roof was Prof. Karunakaran’s dream. He held extensive discussion with scientists in many leading research centers around the world about his dream. The product of his vision has evolved into a leading institute in the country.