Alfred Gabriel Nathorst

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Alfred Gabriel Nathorst

Dr Alfred Gabriel Nathorst HFRSE FLS FGS (November 7, 1850 in Väderbrunn outside Nyköping[1] – January 20, 1921 in Stockholm) was a Swedish Arctic explorer, geologist and palaeobotanist.


He was born in Väderbrunn in Sweden.

Nathorst’s interest in geology was awoken by Charles Lyell’s ‘’Principles of Geology‘’ and, at the age of 21, Nathorst visited Lyell in England in 1872.[2]

Nathorst was employed at the Geological Survey of Sweden in 1873-84. He was then appointed professor, by royal decree on the 5 December 1884, and was simultaneously made curator of the new “Department of Archegoniates and Fossil Plants" at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. He remained on the post until his retirement in 1917.

Nathorst visited Spitsbergen in 1870 and participated in 1882-83 in the 2nd Dickson Expedition ("Den andra Dicksonska Expeditionen till Grönland"[3]) led by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. He led an expedition on the ship Antarctic to Bear Island and Svalbard including the isolated Kong Karls Land in 1898. The following year (1899), Nathorst led an expedition to Greenland. This second expedition had as the dual purpose of geographical mapping and of searching for survivors of S. A. Andrée's Arctic balloon expedition of 1897. The Andreé expedition was not found, however. The two expeditions are described in two volumes "Två somrar i Norra Ishavet" (in Swedish).

Starting with macrofossil deposited in glacial clay found in Scania in 1871, Nathorst investigated postglacial development in flora and vegetation. He also researched on plant remains from older geological eras, such as palaeozoic and mesozoic from the Arctic and tertiary from Japan. These investigations made him an internationally acknowledged authority on palaeobotany.

Nathorst had a scientific dispute with Eugen Warming over the history of the flora of Greenland. Warming adhered to the hypothesis that part of the flora had survived the last glaciation[4] - the nunatak hypothesis, while Nathorst advocated the view that the entire flora had immigrated anew after the glaciation[5][6] - the tabula rasa hypothesis. Disputes with similar antitheses have later been repeated for other areas by other combatants.

He was elected member of a large number of learned societies, including the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1885). He died on January 20, 1921.


A number of plant, animal and fungal species have been named to his honour, e.g. Saxifraga nathorstii (Dusén) Hayek (East Greenland saxifrage) and a suite of fossil plant species, Williamsonia nathorstii Carruthers (a fossil dragonfly) and Laestadites nathorstii Mesch. (a fossil fungus).

Nathorst Land in East Central Greenland is named after him. On Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Nathorst Land and Nathorstbreen are named after him.[7][8] Also Alfredfjellet, a mountain at the island of Bjørnøya, is named after him.[9]


  1. ^ Bergshammar, (D), C:4, s. 166
  2. ^ Seward, A. C. (1921) Alfred Gabriel Nathorst. Botanical Gazette 71 (6): 462-465.
  3. ^ Nordenskiöld, A.E. (1885). Den andra Dicksonska Expeditionen till Grönland, dess inre isöken och dess Ostkust utförd år 1883 under befäl af A. E. Nordenskiöld [The second Dickson Expedition to Greenland, its inner Ice Desert and its East Coast conducted 1883 under command of A. E. Nordenskiöld] (in Swedish). Stockholm: F. & G. Beijers Förlag. 
  4. ^ Warming, E. (1888) Über Grönlands Vegetation. Englers Botanische Jahrbücher, 10.
  5. ^ Nathorst, A. G. (1892) Kritische Bemerkungen über die Geschichte der Vegetation Grönlands. Englers Botanische Jahrbücher, 14: 183-221.
  6. ^ Warming, E. (1891) Geschichte der Flora Grönlands: Antikritische Bemerkungen zu A.G. Nathorsts Aufsatz. Englers Botanische Jahrbücher, 14.
  7. ^ "Nathorst Land (Svalbard)". Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  8. ^ "Nathorstbreen (Svalbard)". Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "Alfredfjellet (Svalbard)". Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  10. ^ IPNI.  Nath. 

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