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“ungeheuere Eismeer” (Bernhardi, 1832)


Albrecht Reinhard Bernhardi (1797–1849), a professor of forestry at Dreissigacker (Meiningen) in Germany, proposed in 1832 that a “colossal sea of ice” (“ungeheuere Eismeer”) extended from Polar regions and had been responsible for the erratics and moraines of the North European Plain: "the polar ice reached as far as the southern boundary of the tract of land which is now covered by that rocky debris [and] in the course of millennia, gradually melted away to its present extent . . . that Nordic debris must be compared with the walls of rock debris that surround almost every glacier . . . or in other words are nothing other than the moraines, which that colossal Arctic sea of ice during its gradual withdrawal bequeathed us." He further speculated that Alpine glaciers might have had a similar extension at this time: "If this hypothesis is correct, it would also apply to the mysterious occurrence of similar rocky debris in other areas, such as the Jura mountains, etc.. Even the eternal snow and glaciers of the Alps had, in those long-past times, a far greater extent, descending into valleys now entirely ice-free. It was thus possible that rock debris from its original site in the Alps though separated by deep valleys and even lakes. . . arrived at their present sites . . ."  


This was a true ice age and, in support of his idea, he referenced Esmark’s geological work in Norway and Cuvier's work on fossil fauna as evidence for climate fluctuations in the past ("the temperature dropped suddenly").  He marshaled a good deal of this evidence because the general thinking was that Earth was warmer in the past and had been only gradually cooling (later, both Jean de Charpentier and Louis Agassiz had to work around within this frame as well). He acknowledged the work of others, such as Johann Hausmann (1782-1849) in Northern Europe, and Francois-Joseph Hugi (1796-1855) in the Alps. However, while it is possible that some researchers were aware of his ideas, no one found his article in German important enough to translate it or publish a report of it in French or English as was the case with many other papers such as Esmark’s, which was published in translation in Edinburgh.



Apparently unaware of Bernhardi’s work and relying on his own fieldwork, the German botanist Karl Friedrich Schimper (1803–1867) incorporated glaciation into lectures he gave in Munich in 1835-1836. It was Schimper who coined the term “Ice Age” (“Eiszeit”) in 1837. (Robert Jameson, in Edinburgh in the late 1820’s, had also lectured on the possibility of a period of extended ice cover, following his publication of Esmark’s glacial hypothesis.)


Van Veen (2008) reviews the further development of ideas in Germany through the 1870s.


“Ice Age” (“Eiszeit”) appears in print for the first time
(Schimper 1837).





1. Bernhardi and Schimper had no explanation as to the cause of an "ice age." How did this compare to the prevailing "diluvual" hypotheses?

2. In general, on the basis of fossil evidence and theory, it was believed that Earth had been cooling over time. Does this argue for, or against glaciation in the past?




Bernhardi, R. 1832 Wie kamen die aus dem Norden stammenden Felsbruchstücke und Geschiebe, welche man in Norddeutschland und den benachbarten Ländern findet, an ihre gegenwärtigen Fundorte? Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie Geologie und Petrefaktenkunde p.257-267 Heidelberg, Georg Reichard [How did the deposits and erratics which one finds now in Northern Germany and the neighboring countries come to be there from the north?] http://books.google.com/books?id=Nvg3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA257


Schimper, F.  1837 Auszug aus dem briefe des herrn Dr Schimper ueber die eiszeit, an Pr. Agassiz, President der gesellschaft.  Actes de la Société helvétique des sciences naturelles, réunie à Neuchâtel, p.38-51 http://books.google.com/books?id=e_taAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA38 [Extract of a letter on The Ice Age from Dr. Schimper to  President Agassiz of the Swiss Society for Natural History]


Van Veen, F.R. 2008 Early ideas about erratic boulders and glacial phenomena in The Netherlands Geological Society, London, Special Publications; 2008; v. 301; p. 159-169 http://sp.lyellcollection.org/cgi/content/abstract/301/1/159


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