(b. Paris, France, 7 February 1700; d. Paris, 24 January 1773)
Buache studied with and continued the work of Guillaume Delisle. Initially charged with classifying the maps, plans, and journals in the Naval Archives, he was appointed chief royal geographer in 1729. The next year the Royal Academy of Sciences elected him assistant geographer, a post created for him and held by him until his death. In 1755 Buache was appointed geography tutor to the children of the duke of Burgundy. For their use he had a globe built and atlases compiled; these items are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Buache’s Essai de géographie physique…, presented to the Academy in 1752 and published soon afterward, contains most of his ideas as well as new methods, some of which later exerted great influence. He abandoned descriptive work and began theoretical study of the structure of the globe, of which, he believed, the mountain chains are the “bones.” At the same time Buache brought out the Carte physique et profil du canal de la Manche, in which he showed the underwater configurations by means of contour lines designating ten-fathom intervals.
Buache’s theory of submarine basins and “backbones,” which was based on the Carte, became well known. However, Dainville has pointed out the prior use of such hydrographic contour lines by the Dutch engineer Nicolas Cruquius, who in 1729 made quite an accurate map of the underwater contours of the mouth of the Meuse. Buache must have known of this map through his work in the Naval Archives. Whatever the case may be, after Buache hydrographers perfected the presentation of underwater contours; the technique was later applied to land contours.
In Considérations… sur les nouvelles découvertes au nord de la Grande Mer (1753) Buache went so far as to posit the existence of Alaska and a connection between America and Asia—“because of the direction of the capes, the mountains, the rivers, and the glaciers.”
Although his theories on river basins, basins on the ocean floor, and such were at times overgeneralized, and thus hindered the progress of geography, Buache’s work as a whole constituted a definite contribution to cartography.
I. Original Works. Buache’s works are Parallèle des fleuves des quatre parties du monde (Paris, 1751); Essai de géographie physique… (Paris, 1752); Carte physique et profil du canal de la Manche (Paris, 1752); Considérations géographiques et physiques sur les nouvelles découvertes au nord de la Grande Mer, 3 vols. (Paris, 1753); Mémoire sur les différentes idées qu’on a eues de la traversée de la Mer glaciale arctique et sur les communications ou jonctions qu’on a supposées entre diverses riviéres (Paris, 1754); Cartes et tables de la géographie physique ou naturelle (Paris, 1754); and Mémoire sur le comète qui a été observé en 1531, 1607, 1682… (Paris, 1757). Available in MS is “Mémoires et notes sur les tremblements de terre,” Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, Dept. des Manuscrits, f. fr. n. acq. 20236–20237.
II. Secondary Literature. Works on Buache are H. Balmer, Beiträge Geschichte der Kenntnis des Erdmagnetismus (Aarau, Switzerland, 1959); F. de Dainville, “De la profondeur à l’altitude. Des origines marines de l’expression cartographique du relief terrestre par cotes et courbes de niveau,” in Michel Mollat, ed., Le navire el l’eéconomie maritime du moyen-âge au XVIIIe sieècle principalement en Méditerranée (Paris, 1958), pp. 195–213; L. Drapeyron, Les origines de la reforme de l’enseignement géographique en France. Les deux Buache (Paris, 1888); Grandjean de Fouchy, Histoire de l’Acadèmie des sciences, 11 (Paris, 1772), 135; F. Hoeffer, in Nouvelle biographie générale, VII (Paris, 1855), cols. 676–678; F. Marouis, in Dictionnaire de biographie française, VII (1956), cols. 591–592; and Poggendorff, I, 323–324.