Eduard Suess

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Eduard Suess (August 20, 1831, London – April 26, 1914, Vienna) was a geologist who was an expert on the geography of the Alps. He is responsible for hypothesising two major former geographical features, the supercontinent Gondwana (proposed 1861) and the Tethys Ocean.

Born in London to a Jewish Saxon merchant, when he was three his family relocated to Prague, then to Vienna when he was 14. Interested in geology at a young age, he published his first paper (on the geology of Carlsbad, now in the Czech Republic) when he was 19.

By 1857 he was a professor of geology at the University of Vienna, and from there he gradually developed views on the connection between Africa and Europe; eventually he came to the conclusion that the Alps to the north were once at the bottom of an ocean, of which the Mediterranean was a remnant. While not quite correct (mostly because plate tectonics had not yet been discovered — he used the earlier geosyncline theory), this is close enough to the truth that he is credited with postulating the earlier existence of the Tethys Ocean, which he named in 1893.

In volume two of his massive, three-volume Das Antlitz der Erde[1] Suess set out his belief that across geologic time, the rise and fall of sea levels were mappable across the earth, that is, that the periods of ocean transgression and regression were correlatable from one continent to another. Suess postulated that as sediments filled the ocean basins the sea levels gradually rose, and periodically there were events of rapid ocean bottom subsidence that increased the ocean's capacity and caused the regressions.[2] This became known as the theory of eustasy (eustacy).

His other major theory involved glossopteris fern fossils occurring in South America, Africa, and India (as well as Antarctica, though Suess did not know this). His explanation was that the three lands were once connected in a supercontinent, which he named Gondwanaland. Again, this is not quite correct: Suess believed that the oceans flooded the spaces currently between those lands, when in fact the lands drifted apart. Still, it is so similar to what is currently believed that his naming has stuck.

Suess is considered one of the early practitioners of ecology. He published a comprehensive synthesis of his ideas in 1885-1901, entitled Das Antlitz der Erde (translated as "The Face of the Earth"), which was a popular textbook for many years. In this work Suess also introduced the concept of the biosphere, which was later extended by Vladimir I. Vernadsky in 1926.[3]

He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1895 and he won the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1903.

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