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    Alfred de Quervain

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0632                                                                                                                  

    (William H. Hobbs)


            Alfred de Quervain (1879-1927), distinguished Swiss scientist and Green–

    land explorer, was born at Uebeschi near Thun, Switzerland, June 25, 1879. He

    was graduated from the Gymnasium of Bern, and later studied science at the

    Universities of Neuch a â tel, Bern (geography with Ed. Br u ü ckner), and Strassburg,

    (meteorology with Hergesell). In 1898 he was a student of the upper atmosphere

    with the famous Tesserenc de Bort at Trappes near Paris, and the following year

    carried out important registrir-balloon studies in Russia during the winter months.

    In 1902, when he received his doctor's degree at Bern, de Quervain's thesis was

    on the subject "Elevation of the atmospheric isotherms in the Swiss Alps and

    their relation to the higher limits." He had been able to show by registering

    balloon ascents that between February and November the midday isotherms were

    bent upward over the central high Alps.

            At the close of his student life, de Quervain was made Assistant at the

    Astronomical Observatory in Neuenburg, Switzerland, but was shortly afterward

    called to Strassburg, to the then Central Bureau for study of the upper atmos–

    phere, where he carried out extensive research till 1905. In 1906 he was called

    to Zurich as Assistant in the Central Swiss Meteorological Institute, and was

    soon afterward advanced to Adjunct and Acting Director, a place he was to hold

    until his death a quarter of a century later. He thoroughly reorganized this

    winter bureau.

            As an inventor de Quervain was to devise with the physicist A. Piccard the

    002      |      Vol_XV-0633                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Alfred de Quervain

    de Quervain-Piccard universal seismograph for the study of distant earthquakes.

    This instrument had a 21-ton pendulum and was able to register all three com–

    ponents of the earthquake motion. Three Swiss stations were equipped with this

    type of instrument by 1924 and the country took a high place in international

    earthquake investigation. De Quervain also devised a portable form of seismograph.

    When the railroad was constructed to the Jungfraujoch (3,740 meters), he was able

    to induce the Swiss government to establish an observatory for geophysical, astron–

    omical, and physiological investigations.

            Dr. de Quervain's great interest in meteorological and especially upper-air

    studies led him in 1909 to undertake a Swiss expedition to Greenland in company

    with colleagues Stolberg and Bäblers. This expedition was based on the Karajak

    Glacier in West Greenland near Gödhavn. Here extensive daily pilot balloon

    ascents were carried out, and de Quervain with Stolberg made a penetration over

    the inland ice for a distance of about 100 kilometers. (A. de Quervain and A.

    Stolberg, Durch Grönlands Eiswüste , Strassburg, 1911, 180 pp.). He then saw the

    great advantage for science of an expedition to cross Greenland in the south–

    central position, and planned a second and larger expedition for the summer of

    1912. On this expedition de Quervain was accompanied by the Swiss aerologists

    Dr. P. L. Mercanton, Dr. A. Stolberg, and Dr. W. Jost. With them he carried out

    extensive pilot balloon ascents in various colonies on the West Greenland coast.

    Then, leaving Mercanton with Stolberg and Jost, to further pursue these researches,

    de Quervain, with three companions (Hössly, Fick, and Gaule), set out on the cross–

    ing of the island to Angmagssalik on the east coast. This was the first crossing

    ever to be made in the central sector of Greenland. The outfit consisted of 4

    Nansen sledges and 25 dogs. The load was 55 pounds per dog, and the distance to

    be covered 650 kilometers. The party left the western edge of the inland ice on

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    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Alfred de Quervain

    June 20th, the ice divide on July 8th (where sailing began), the eastern border

    of the inland ice on July 21st, and the colony of Angmagssalik was reached on

    August 1st.

            As earlier explorers had learned, the most difficult part of the journey

    was the climb to the divide in the face of fierce head winds and drifting snow.

    The descent from the divide to the east coast was relatively easy, for the wind

    was always to the rear, and with sail raised on the sled a brake had to be used

    to keep the sled from overrunning the dogs. Even then the daily runs were from

    two to three times as long as those on the ascent. On both sides of the divide was a

    central area of the island, within which the air temperature was much lower and

    the daily range of temperature on the average three times as great as outside it.

    This central area had been entered suddenly at an elevation of 1,900 meters on

    the western flank of the inland ice, and the party emerged from it quite abruptly

    at the elevation of 2,250 meters on the eastern flank. Outside this central cold

    area the average daily air temperature was throughout close to 0° C., whereas

    the average daily value within it was −10° C.

            This discovery and transaction of the core of the glacial anticyclone of

    Greenland was of the highest importance to science, and was in the following year

    to be confirmed on a transaction of the island somewhat farther to the north by

    J. P. Koch and Alfred Wegener. The scientific report on the de Quervain expedi–

    tion appeared in 1920 ("Ergebnisse der schweizerischen Grönlandexpedition 1912-13,

    von Prof. Dr. Alfred de Quervain und Prof. Dr. P. L. Mercanton," Denkschr. d.

    Schweizerischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft
    , vol. 53, 402 pp. (4 [ ?] to ), many plates

    and figures).

            Dr. de Quervain was a member of many scientific commissions, including that

    of glaciers. His publications in scientific fields comprise no less than 75 titles.

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    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Alfred de Quervain

    Dr. de Quervain was one of the most distinguished of Swiss scientists, in the

    fields of geography, meteorology, and seismology. He was elected to membership

    in many scientific societies, both Swiss and foreign, and the recipient of many



    Billinger, R. Verhandl. Schweiz. Naturf. Ges ., vol. 108, pp. 32-41 (with

    portrait and full bibliography).

    Brückner, Eduard Gerland's Beiträge, Geophysik . vol. 16, pp. 341-343.


    William H. Hobbs

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