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Thumbnail of Willem van Bemmelen (source)
Willem van Bemmelen
(14 Apr 1904 - 19 Nov 1983)

Dutch geologist whose book, Geology of Indonesia (1949) and his studies of the regional geology of Indonesia drew attention to the significance of island areas in the development of the Earth's crust.

Reinout Willem van Bemmelen

R.W. van Bemmelen
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R.W. van Bemmelen

Reinout Willem van Bemmelen was educated as a mining engineer but later on preferred being a geologist, with a bias towards volcanology. He was also known for his dedication to geoscience, his tenacity and resilience, as well as being an inspiring teacher.

His studies of the regional geology of Indonesia led to recognition of the importance of island areas in the development of the Earth's crust. Long before others even thought about compiling an article on this archipelagos, he published his biggest contribution, the Geology of Indonesia (1949). Still often cited, this book covers broad aspects of the regional geology of Indonesia, which is prolific in terms of hydrocarbon and other mineral resources. Indonesia is part of the volcanic “ring of fire” and one of the most complex geological settings in the world because it lies at the junction of three major tectonic plates (Pacific, Indian-Australian, and Eurasian). Van Bemmelen also researched continental drift and the winds of the equatorial stratosphere, but did not embrace the theory of tectonic plates.

As late as 1972 he still discounted global tectonic plates as an explanation for crustal features. Instead, he proposed his own Undation Theory. In a book, Geodynamic Models, an Evaluation and a Synthesis, he explained the structure of the Earth's crust in terms of “undations,” crustal upwarps and downwarps from 10,000 to 1 km across, produced by vertical movements of material in the upper mantle. His theory was descriptive, rather than mathematical, and based on the observable geographical and geological land forms. Thus wave-like undations account for the uplift of mountains, and basins are a downwarp. To explain continental drift and seafloor spreading within his theory, he merely attributed the effects to the gravitational slumping and lateral sliding of a bulging undulation. In his book, his detailed descriptions included the origin of the Alps and the cordillera of the Americas, the formation of associated rifts, and petrologic processes in terms of large to small undations.

Year  Age  Events

1904  0  Born on 14 April
1912  8  Decided to become a volcanologist
1920 16  Left Batavia for Holland
1927  23  Graduated as a mining engineer; obtained doctorate in technical science cum laude
1930 26 Married Lucie van der Bos
1932 28 Field mapping in Java and Sumatra
1933 29 Studied soil mechanics
1940 36 Became chief of the volcanological survey of Netherlands East Indies
1942 38 Interned by Japanese
1946 42 Evacuated to Holland
1949 45 Finalized his book, Geology of Indonesia. Became associate professor in the University of Utrecht
1950 46 Consultant to Bataafshe Petroleum Maatschapij. Reappointed as a professor in Economic Geology at the University of Utrecht
1954 50 Finalized his book Mountain Building
1961 57 Became ordinary professor in the University of Utrecht
1970 66 Received van Waterschoot van der Gracht Medal
1983 79 Passed away due to cancer

Picture and timeline information courtesy of F. Hasan Sidi.

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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