S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Penck, Prof Friedrich Karl Albrecht (physical geography, geomorphology)

Born: 25 September 1858, Leipzig, Germany.
Died: 7 March 1945, Praha (Prague), Czech Republic.

Albrecht Penck (PhD), German geographer, was professor of geography at the University of Vienna and one of the founders of geomorphology [the study of the physical features of the earth's surface]. His first scientific paper, published when he was only 19, dealt with "Nordische Basalte im Diluvium von Leipzig" and appeared in the Neues Jahrbuch f?r Mineralogie, Geologie und Palaeontologie (Stuttgart, 1877). An early major publication by him was Das Deutsche Reich (Vienna, 1887, 618p). In 1889 he reaffirmed a conjecture by the French geologist J.E. Guettard (1715-1786) that erosion without upheaval of the earth's surface will eventually lead to complete levelling of the surface. Another of his major works, Die morphologie der Erdoberfl?che (The morpholoy of the earth's surface), with E. Br?ckner as co-author, appeared in two volumes in 1894.

Early in his career Penck began a thorough study of Alpine glaciation and at the young age of 24 published Die Vergletscherung der deutschen Alpen... (Vienna, 1882). Several of his later publications, particularly during 1901-1909, dealt with the physical geography and palaeo-climatology of the Alps during the Pleistocene. By that time he had moved to the Institut f?r meereskunde (Institute for Oceanography) at the University of Berlin. In addition to his books he published many papers, pamphlets and lectures.

By 1905 Penck was a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Vienna, a Kaiserlich-K?niglicher Hofrath (privy counsellor), an honorary member of the Geological Society of London, an honorary corresponding member of the Royal Geographical Society, and a corresponding member (from 1901) of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1905 he attended the joint meeting in South Africa of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science. At a special graduation ceremony of the University of the Cape of Good Hope on 17 August 1905 he and several other prominent visiting scientists were awarded honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) degrees. Penck delivered two papers at the joint meeting, one on "Changes of climate as shown by movements of the snow-line and upper tree-limit since Tertiary times" (Cape Town, 17 August), the other on "Glacial deposits of the Alps" (Johannesburg, 30 August). The first paper was included as "Climatic features of the Pleistocene Ice Age" in the Addresses and Papers... published after the meeting (Vol. 2, pp. 1-9), and also appeared in the Geographical Journal (1906). Dealing mainly with the paleo-climatology of Europe, it included a brief discussion of the work of Siegfried Passarge* on climate changes in the Kalahari during the Pleistocene and earlier times. After the meeting Penck accompanied the delegates on an excursion to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he made a study of the Victoria Falls. This study resulted in a paper, "S?dafrika und Zambesif?lle", published in the Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Aertze in 1906. Another paper based on his visit was entitled "Der Drakensberg und der Quathlambabruch", published in the Sitzungsberichte der K?niglich Preusischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin (1908). "Quathlamba" is one of the local names for the Natal Drakensberg, so the title means "The Drakensberg and the Drakensberg fault".

Penck was elected an honorary member of the Geological Society of South Africa.

List of sources:
Addresses and papers read at the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science held in South Africa, 1905 (Vol. 2). Johannesburg: SAAAS.

British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905. London: John Murray, 1906.

Debus, A.G. (ed.) World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

Hall, A.L. Bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Proceedings of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1915, Vol. 18, p. xiii-xix and 1920, Vol. 23, p. xii-xvi: Lists of members.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

University of the Cape of Good Hope (1899-1918) and University of South Africa (1918-1987). [Register of honorary degrees conferred]. Unpublished register, University of South Africa Archives, Pretoria.

Venter, R.J. Bibliography of regional meteorological literature. Vol. 1. Southern Africa, 1486-1948. Pretoria: Weather Bureau, 1949.

Compiled by: C. Plug