Eduard Suess

Eduard Suess

Eduard Suess, 1869
Born (1831-08-20)August 20, 1831
London, England
Died April 26, 1914(1914-04-26) (aged 82)
Vienna, Austria
Resting place Marz, Austria
47°43′6.991″N 16°24′57.932″E / 47.71860861°N 16.41609222°E / 47.71860861; 16.41609222
Nationality Austrian
Fields Palaeogeography, tectonics
Alma mater University of Vienna
Doctoral students Melchior Neumayr
Johann August Georg Edmund Mojsisovics von Mojsvar
Wilhelm Heinrich Waagen
Albrecht Penck
Known for Biosphere, Gondwana, Tethys Ocean, Das Antlitz der Erde, Eustatic Theory, Sima, sial
Notable awards Wollaston Medal (1896)
Copley Medal (1903)
Spouse Hermine née Strauss
Children 5 sons, 1 daughter

Eduard Suess (German pronunciation: [ˈeːduaʁt ˈzyːs]; August 20, 1831 – April 26, 1914) was an Austrian 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 in 1861) and the Tethys Ocean.


Eduard Suess was born on August 20, 1831, in London, England, the oldest son of Adolph Suess, a Lutheran Saxon merchant,[1] and Eleonore Zdekauer. When he was three, his family relocated to Prague, and then to Vienna when he was 14. He became interested in geology at a young age. While working as an assistant at the Hofmuseum in Vienna, he published his first paper—on the geology of Carlsbad (in present-day Czech Republic)—when he was 19. In 1855, Suess married Hermine Strauss, the daughter of a prominent physician from Prague. Their marriage produced five sons and one daughter.[1]

In 1856, he was appointed professor of paleontology at the University of Vienna, and in 1861 was appointed professor of geology. He gradually developed views on the connection between Africa and Europe. Eventually, he concluded that the Alps to the north were once at the bottom of an ocean, of which the Mediterranean was a remnant. Suess was not correct in his analysis, which was predicated upon the notion of "contractionism"—the idea that the Earth is cooling down and, therefore, contracting. Nevertheless, he is credited with postulating the earlier existence of the Tethys Ocean, which he named in 1893.[2] He claimed in 1885 that land bridges had connected South America, Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica. He named this ancient broken continent Gondwanaland.[3]

Suess published a comprehensive synthesis of his ideas between 1885 and 1901 titled Das Antlitz der Erde (The Face of the Earth), which was a popular textbook for many years. In volume two of this massive three-volume work,[4] 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 correlateable from one continent to another. His theory was based upon glossopteris fern fossils occurring in South America, Africa, and India. 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.

Eduard Suess, circa 1890

In his work Das Antlitz der Erde, Suess also introduced the concept of the biosphere, which was later extended by Vladimir I. Vernadsky in 1926.[5] Suess wrote:

One thing seems to be foreign on this large celestial body consisting of spheres, namely, organic life. But this life is limited to a determined zone at the surface of the lithosphere. The plant, whose deep roots plunge into the soil to feed, and which at the same time rises into the air to breathe, is a good illustration of organic life in the region of interaction between the upper sphere and the lithosphere, and on the surface of continents it is possible to single out an independent biosphere.

He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1895. He received the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1896 and he won the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1903. Suess died on April 26, 1914, in Vienna. He is buried in the town of Marz in Burgenland, Austria.


Suess is considered one of the early practitioners of ecology. The crater Suess on the Moon and a crater on Mars are named after him. His son, Franz Eduard Suess (1867–1942), was superintendent and geologist at the Imperial Geological Institute in Vienna.[6]



  1. 1 2 Kemp, J. F. (1914). "Science: Edward Suess". The Nation. New York: New York Evening Post. 98 (2553): 671. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  2. Edward Suess (March 1893) "Are ocean depths permanent?," Natural Science: A Monthly Review of Scientific Progress (London), 2 : 180- 187. From page 183: "This ocean we designate by the name "Tethys," after the sister and consort of Oceanus. The latest successor of the Tethyan Sea is the present Mediterranean."
  3. Eduard Suess, Das Antlitz der Erde (The Face of the Earth), vol. 1 (Leipzig, Germany: G. Freytag, 1885), page 768. From p. 768: "Wir nennen es Gondwána-Land, nach der gemeinsamen alten Gondwána-Flora, … " (We name it Gondwána-Land, after the common ancient flora of Gondwána … )
  4. Suess, Eduard (1885-1909). Das Antlitz der Erde. F. Tempsky, Vienna, OCLC 2903551, Note: volume 3 was published in two parts.
  5. Smil, Vaclav. 2002. The earth's biosphere : evolution, dynamics, and change. MIT.
  6. Geological Maps of Europe Archived December 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
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