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.
Suess was born in London to a Lutheran Saxon merchant and his Jewish wife, and 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. Suess was not correct; his analysis 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. He claimed in 1885 that there had once been land bridges connecting South America, Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica. He named this ancient broken continent Gondwanaland.
In volume two of his massive, three-volume Das Antlitz der Erde', 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.
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.
Suess, considered one of the early practitioners of ecology, 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.
- "... 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" - Eduard Suess
- Schuchert, C (June 1914). "EDUARD SUESS". Science 39 (1017): 933–935. doi:10.1126/science.39.1017.933. PMID 17812397.
- Laudan, R (January 1983). "Geological Thought from Hutton to Suess". Science 219 (4582): 280. doi:10.1126/science.219.4582.280. PMID 17798269.