Forel, Francois-Alphonse (1841 – 1912) Swiss Professor of Medicine

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Francois-Alphonse Forel (1841 1912)
Swiss professor of medicine

Francois-Alphonse Forel created a legacy by spending a lifetime studying a lake near which he lived. As the recognized founder of the science of the study of lakes, limnology Forel meticulously observed Lake Geneva. His observations not only contributed directly to the modern-day ecological and environmental direction. He helped to uncover the mysteries of the seiche movements caused by wind or air pressure and that occur in lakes.

Forel was born in Morges, Switzerland on February 2, 1841. As a professor of anatomy and physiology at the University of Geneva, (also known as Lake Le man) he spent most of his time investigating the life and movement of the lake near his home, world-famous Lake Geneva. To that purpose he created the word "limnology" referring to the study of lakes. On April 2, 1869, he found a nematode worm 40 meters down in the lake. That discovery was the beginning of his lifelong work. Before publishing his first major work, Forel recruited help in describing the types of algae and invertebrate animals he had found. A preliminary study he published in 1874, La Faune Profonde des Lacs Suisses, (The Bottom Fauna of Swiss Lakes), provided the basis for his later work.

When his book on the lake, Le Le man, was published Forel himself noted there that, "This book is called Limnological Monography. I have to explain this new word and apologize, if it would be necessary. The aim of my description is a part of the Earth, that's geography. But the geography of the ocean is called oceanography. But a lake, as big it is, is by not means an ocean; its limited area give it a special characteristic, which is very different of the one of the endless ocean. I had to find a more modest word to describe my work, like the word limnography. But, because a limnograph is a tool to measure the water level of lakes, I had to fabricate the new word limnology . The limnology is in fact the oceanography of the lakes. " A second book, Handbuch der Seenkunde (Handbook of Lake Studies) also became a standard work in the study of lakes. According to Ayer Company Publishersthe publisher that reprinted the work in 1978Forel realized that his original work was an encyclopedia which might not hold the interest of students. He published his handbook to be used as the first textbook for the study of limnology.

Forel died on August 7, 1912. In 1970 his work was honored when the F.-A. Forel Institute was founded in his honor by Professor Jean-Pierr Vernet who directed the laboratory until 1995. The institute became a part of the Earth Sciences department of the University of Geneva in 1980, and plays a vital role in the International Commission for the Protection of Lake Geneva's water (CIPEL). The active research that occurs through the institute includes limnology, environmental geochemistry, ecotoxicology , and quaternary geology. It is also the home of the secretariat of the Center of Earth and Environmental Sciences Studies (CESNE) and the Diplome d'etudes en sciences naturelles de l'environment (DESNE).

One of the other ways in which Forel has been honored is the use of his name added to a device known as the Forel-Ule Color Scale. According to the Marine Educatin and Research Program at Occidental College, the scale is ued in marine studies, and consists of a series of numbered tubes (from 1 to 22) that contain various shades of colored fluids that range from blue (lowest numbers) through green, yellow, brown, and red (highest numbers).

[Jane Spear ]



Forel, Francois-Alphonse. Le Leman. (Reprint) Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1969.

Forel, Francois-Alphonse. La Faune Profonde des Lacs Suisse. (Reprint) Manchester, NH: Ayer Company Publishers.

Forel, Francois-Alphonse. Handbuch der Seenkunde. (Reprint) Manchester, NH: Ayer Company Publishers, 1978.


Korgen, Ben. The Seiche Newsletter. ldquo;Bonanza for Lake Superior,rdquo; February 2000.


F/-A. Forel Institute. "Dr. F.-A. Forel." History. [cited July 2002]. <>.

Marine Education and Research Program, Occidental College. "Water Cooler." Equipment and Methodology. 2002 [cited July 2002]. <>.


F.-A. Forel Institute, 10 route de Suise, Geneva, Switzerland +4122-950-92-10, Fax: +4122-755-13-82, Email: [email protected], <