Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess, 1869
Born(1831-08-20)20 August 1831
London, England
Died26 April 1914(1914-04-26) (aged 82)
Vienna, Austria
Resting placeMarz, Austria
47°43′6.991″N 16°24′57.932″E / 47.71860861°N 16.41609222°E / 47.71860861; 16.41609222
Alma materUniversity of Vienna
Known forBiosphere, Gondwana, Tethys Ocean, Das Antlitz der Erde, Eustatic Theory, Sima, sial
SpouseHermine née Strauss
Children5 sons, 1 daughter
AwardsHayden Memorial Geological Award (1892)
Wollaston Medal (1896)
Copley Medal (1903)
Scientific career
FieldsPalaeogeography, tectonics
Doctoral studentsMelchior Neumayr
Johann August Georg Edmund Mojsisovics von Mojsvar
Wilhelm Heinrich Waagen
Albrecht Penck

Eduard Suess (German: [ˈeːduaʁt zyːs]; 20 August 1831 – 26 April 1914) was an Austrian geologist and 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 20 August 1831 in London, England, the oldest son of Adolph Heinrich Suess,[1] a Lutheran Saxon merchant,[2] and mother Eleonore Friederike Zdekauer.[3] Adolph Heinrich Suess was born on 11 March 1797 in Saxony and died on 24 May 1862 in Vienna;[4] Eleonore Friederike Zdekauer was born in Prague, now part of the Czech Republic, which once belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire.

When Eduard Suess was an infant, 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 (now Karlovy Vary in the 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.[2]

In 1856, he was appointed professor of paleontology at the University of Vienna, and in 1861 was appointed professor of geology.[5] 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.[6] He claimed in 1885 that land bridges had connected South America, Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica, which he named it Gondwanaland.[7]

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,[8] 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, c. 1890

In his work Die Entstehung der Alpen, Suess also introduced the concept of the biosphere, which was later extended by Vladimir I. Vernadsky in 1926.[9] 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 American Philosophical Society in 1886[10] and 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.[11] Suess died on 26 April 1914 in Vienna. He is buried in the town of Marz in Burgenland, Austria.


Suess is considered one of the early practitioners of ecology. Suess Land in Greenland, the lunar crater Suess, as well as the crater Suess on Mars, are named after him.[12][13]

Franz Eduard Suess

His son, Franz Eduard Suess (1867–1941), was superintendent and geologist at the Imperial Geological Institute in Vienna,[14] who studied moldavites and coined the term tektite. The asteroid 12002 Suess, discovered by Czech astronomers Petr Pravec and Lenka Kotková in 1996, was named in his honor.[15]



  1. ^ "Edward Suess" (PDF). Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b Kemp, J. F. (1914). "Science: Edward Suess". The Nation. 98 (2553): 671. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  3. ^ "Eduard Suess and the Study of Tectonics". 20 August 2017. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  4. ^ J. Mentschl. "Sueß, Adolph Heinrich (1797–1862), Fabrikant". Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon ab 1815 (online) (in German). Vol. 14. Austrian Academy of Sciences. pp. 31–32.
  5. ^ "Eduard Suess | Austrian geologist". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ 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 ... )
  8. ^ Suess, Eduard (1885–1909). Das Antlitz der Erde. F. Tempsky, Vienna, OCLC 2903551, Note: volume 3 was published in two parts.
  9. ^ Smil, Vaclav. 2002. The earth's biosphere : evolution, dynamics, and change. MIT.
  10. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  11. ^ Geikie, Arthur (4 May 1905). "Scientific Worthies. XXXV.—Eduard Suess". Nature. 72 (1853): 1–3. doi:10.1038/072001a0.
  12. ^ "Eduard Suess". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. USGS Astrogeology Research Program.
  13. ^ "Eduard Suess". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. USGS Astrogeology Research Program.
  14. ^ "Czech Geological Survey". Archived from the original on December 12, 2007.
  15. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2007). "(12002) Suess". Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (12002) Suess. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 774. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_8490. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3.
  16. ^ Gregory, John Walter (29 June 1905). "Review of The Face of the Earth (Das Antlitz der Erde) by Eduard Suess, trans. by H. B. C. Sollas, vol. i, 1904". Nature. 72 (1861): 193–194.

Further reading