Inglada, Vicente

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(b. Alicante, Spain, 9 January 1879; d. Madrid, 7 January 1949)

geophysics, mathematics, seismology, seismometry.

Inglada was one of the founders of mathematical seismology. He developed and simplified the formulas for the calculation of the hypocenter in nearby earthquakes. His scientific contributions also included the formulation of the calculation of epicentral coordinates.

Early Life and Education . Inglada’s rise from the placid Mediterranean littoral to the heart of the prestigious Geophysical Observatory of Toledo can be understood as a reflection of the social change experienced by Spain after the loss of the overseas colonies (Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico) in 1898. His hometown, Alicante, had sent numerous fellow citizens as soldiers to Spain’s overseas dominions, and so Inglada fixed his gaze on the army. His father Rafael Inglada, a maritime shipping agent, and his mother Antonia Ors, readily agreed; Vicente, after a brilliant career at his home school, went to Toledo to study at the Infantry Academy. The seat of the legendary Alcázar fortification heightened not only Inglada’s dedication to a technical-military vocation, but also his devotion to mathematics. The range of facilities, libraries, and tutorship opened his mind, and soon he was feeling as allured by military tactics and strategy as by the subject of topography—presented in the officer course instituted by the government as a result of the overseas confrontations. Inglada certainly faced the possibility of being sent to war: In Cuba, the war against the United States was at its zenith; in the Philippines, the Tagals had mutinied (1896). All this provoked preoccupation and uncertainty in him: on the one hand, it prompted him to continue his military career, but on the other, it made him doubt whether he could earn a livelihood in the alluring borderland between military art and the exact sciences.

The balance remained unaltered for a time. The colonel of Inglada’s regiment appreciated his intelligence and recommended that he carry on his studies at the Escuela Superior de Guerra (military higher school) in Madrid. In 1898 Inglada joined this academy, where he encountered Joaquín Fanjul, Manuel Goded, and José Moscardo—all of whom were to have leading roles in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)—and Arturo Mifsut, a professor of astronomy and geodesy, who was to provide Inglada with both a model and an audience. This military science faculty instilled in Inglada a special character and preparation, partly as a consequence of the rigorous admission exams and partly because of the amalgam of theoria and praxis (four theoretical courses and three practical) that it espoused. However, Spain’s military debacle in 1898, embodied by the losses of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, closed many doors. In this dark time, a post in the topographical commission for the island of Minorca appeared in 1906 as a glimmer of hope. The 480 days of topographical tasks probably decided Inglada’s future, as this experience led to his being named an engineer in the geographical engineer corps in 1907.

Work at the Institute . From 1907 to 1910 Inglada worked at the Spanish Geographical and Statistical Institute, serving in diverse topographical commissions and cultivating studies of extraordinary range, including the techniques of geology and geodesy, the preparation of cartographical maps, meteorology, magnetism, gravimetry, and what was to become his specialty, seismology. Inglada, named a captain of general staff (and the best in his year), acquired a mass of technical expertise, up-to-date geophysical methods, and a virtuoso mastery of differential equations for the calculation of seismic foci from his fieldwork. He was appointed director of the Seismological Station of Toledo in 1910.

For Inglada, simplicity was always paramount. By 1916 the Russian Prince Boris Golitsyn had improved the precision of seismic records through a seismograph equipped with a galvanometric register, but the subsequent calculation of the depth of focus required the tortuous method of the Hungarian seismologist Radó Von Kövesligethy. In September 1919, however, Inglada inspected in person (as a governmental commissioner) the consequences of a devastating tremor: the Bajo Segura earthquake, in his native Alicante. The problem of the focal depth drew Inglada’s attention both as a seismologist and as a mathematician; he flung himself into data collection and traced the curves of equal seismic intensity (or isosists), and emerged, two years later, with the elements of the so-called Inglada formulas for the calculation of the hypocenter in nearby earthquakes. The formulas are a blend of parts of earlier formulations (from Kövesligethy), mathematical ingenuity, and observational experience. From the use of coils, pendulums, and bands of smoked paper relating to a focal location, Inglada deduced, as was well known from the classical treatises of seismology, that isosists were the intersection of the seismic waves (coming from the focus) with Earth’s surface. He visualized those curves as a succession of concentric circles around the epicenter, and, consequently, he inferred from geometrical considerations that the depth of the hypocenter was directly proportional to the difference of the radii of two consecutive isosists. Such lines, like isobars, allowed him to determine the “eye of hurricane.” Later he introduced the use of abacuses (instead of regular tables) for the calculation of focal depth of distant earthquakes. Andrija Mohorovicic, Harold Jeffreys, and Beno Gutenberg, and even Kövesligethy himself expressed their appreciation for Inglada’s skillful, sensitive, decisive simplification of these and the forgoing constructs.

Inglada’s writings were always diffused with a subtle idea: the harmonia mundi—the harmony between the different parts of Earth; the planet as a “scientific unity.” Between 1919 and 1925, while at the height of his reputation, Inglada opted to follow the theories, if not the methods, of early geophysicists: Golitsyn, Mohorovicic, and Alfred Wegener. But he found the contemporary treatises so compartmentalized that he felt compelled to pursue the unity of the sciences. “In dividing science into compartments: geology, geophysics, geodesy …, these being division of the first order, or volcanology, seismometry, gravimetry … (second order), and in cultivating each of them in isolation and exclusivity, a scientist does not even imitate the example of the outer layer of the Earth’s crust, fragmented in blocks, it is true, but in such a way that its fractured surfaces, far from separating them, serve to put them in contact with each other” (Inglada, 1923b,

p. 89). By 1925 Inglada had laid out in his books El Interior de la Tierra (1919), La Corteza Terrestre (1923a), and La Sismología (1923b) his particular conception, roughly equivalent to the twenty-first century notion of interdisciplinarity.

Return to the Academy . Just at the time of his greatest scientific reputation, Inglada, who had already published several didactic lessons on geometry, returned to academia. The internationally acclaimed mathematical seismologist became a professor at the Military Higher School in Madrid in 1923, a position he retained until 1928. Inglada was an excellent teacher, mainly because his lectures on algorithms, astronomy, geodesy, and meteorology were firmly based on his own field experiences, inquiries, and ideas. A flair for oratory (rather than for rhetoric), a prodigious memory, and an uncommon facility of speech fitted him for public lectures, and he successfully took part in erudite conferences from 1924 to 1930, informing his colleagues about “Inglada’s formulas” and the science of earthquakes. In 1927 he dazzled the Prague Assembly of the International Union for Geodesy and Geophysics, and, one year later, he was elected to the Real Academia de Ciencias of Madrid.

Inglada’s stance on geophysical questions was characterized by his receptiveness to new ideas; his attitude on sociocultural discussions, by his responsiveness to public activity. Hence it is somewhat surprising that, following the closure of the school in 1928 and his subsequent appointment as a technical secretary at the Geographical Institute, he opted for an intellectual retreat and for the total interruption of his hitherto fecund literary production. Although he is well known for his organizational works and improvements in geophysical instrumentation that occurred during the time when he was not publishing (1928–1940), Inglada displayed an equal, if not greater, talent for languages. In the 1930s he learned on

his own Basque, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, which, when added to those he had previously mastered (above all German, but also French, English, Italian, and Portuguese), completed a rich polyglot repertory. Earlier on he had demonstrated his linguistic gifts; his command of Esperanto, forged by preparing more than fifty articles and translations (including Don Quixote’s first edition) and recognized by his appointment as academician of the Esperanto language in Paris, was formidable.

Research at the National Institute of Geophysics . Only after the civil war, when Inglada became deputy director in 1941 of the newly formed National Institute of Geophysics—a center mainly devoted to applied geophysics— did Inglada return to his research. In the 1940s, he focused recent seismometrical techniques—whose existence had passed practically unnoticed in Spain during the civil war—on a wide variety of problems: the relationship between cyclones and microseismic activity; the investigation of isostasy; and in particular, the study of bathyseisms (or earthquakes of deep origin) for the understanding of Earth’s crust and core. Inglada returned to exhausting industriousness in the austere life of postwar Madrid. He took charge of the National Seismological Service, published long monographs, and scrutinized thousands of seismograms and bibliographical notes. Inglada’s meticulousness is reflected in the extreme nearsightedness of his last years.



El Interior de la Tierra según Resulta de las Recientes Investigaciones Sismométricas. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico y Estadístico, 1919.

Nuevas Fórmulas para Abreviar el Cálculo de la Profundidad Aproximada del Foco Sísmico por el Método de Kövesligethy, y su Aplicación a Algunos Temblores de Tierra. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico, 1921.

La Corteza Terrestre. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico, 1923a.

La Sismología. Sus Métodos. El Estado Actual de sus Problemas Fundamentales. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico, 1923b.

Las Observaciones Gravimétricas. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico, 1923c.

Calcul des Coordonnées du Foyer Séismique au Moyen des Heures de P’ ou P observées au Voisinage de l’Épicentre. Paris: Publications du Bureau Central Séismologique Internationale, 1927a, fasc. 5, 3–58.

“Estudio de Sismos Españoles. El Terremoto del Bajo Segura de

10 de Septiembre de 1919. Cálculo de su Profundidad Hipocentral y de la Hora Inicial de sus Sacudidas en el Foco y en el Epicentro.” Revista de la Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 23 (1927b): 1–72.

“Über die Berechnung der Herdtiefe auf Grund der Lage des Inflexions punktes der P-Laufzeitkurve.” Zeitschrift für Geophysik 3 (1927c): 317–325.

“Die Berechnung der Herdkoordinaten eines Nahbebens aus den Eintrittszeiten der in einigen benachbarten Stationen aufgezeichneten P-order P-Wellen.” Beiträge zur Geophysik 19 (1928): 73–98.

Trascendencia Científica del Fenómeno Sísmico. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico y Catastral, 1929. Read at his reception ceremony as an academician at the Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, and replied to by José Ma. de Madariaga.

La Prospección Sísmica en España. Madrid: Nuevas Gráficas, 1930. Read to the inaugural session of the 1930–1931 academic course at the Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales.

Nomogramas para la Determinación de los Ángulos de Incidencia, Distancias Epicentrales y Tiempos de Recorrido de los Rayos Sísmicos. Madrid: Talleres del Instituto Geográfico y Catastral, 1941.

“Tabelle degli Intervalli tpP – tP etsS – tS per l’Analisi dei Terremoti ad Ipocentro Profondo.” Rivista di Geofísica Pura et Applicata 3, no. 1 (1941).

“Contribución al Estudio del Batisismo Sudamericano de 17 de Enero de 1922.” Revista de Geofísica 2 (1943): 185–225; 3 (1944): 1–21, 197–227, 553–581. Also in Memorias del Instituto Geográfico y Catastral. Madrid: Instituto Geográfico y Catastral, 1943.

“Resultados de las Recientes Investigaciones Isostáticas.” Revista de Geofísica 4 (1945): 163–207.

“Curso de Sismología: Los Ciclones y la Agitación Microsísmica.” Revista de Geofísica 5 (1946): 413–432; 6 (1947): 1–30.


Anduaga, Aitor. “La Institucionalización y Enseñanza de la Meteorología y la Geofísica en España, 1800–1950.” PhD diss., University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, 2001.

———. “Earthquakes, Damage, and Prediction: The Spanish Seismological Service, 1898–1930.” Earth Sciences History 23, no. 2 (2004): 175–207.

Davison, Charles. The Founders of Seismology. Cambridge, U.K.:Cambridge University Press, 1927.

Fontserè, Eduard. “Sismología en España.” In Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada Europeo Americana, edited by José Espasa de Hijos, Vol. 70. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1923. A general but valuable treatment on Spanish seismology written by one of the greatest authorities in the matter.

Galitzin, Boris. Conferencias sobre Sismometría, translated by V. Inglada, José García Siñeríz, and Wenceslao del Castillo from the German version of O. Hecker. Madrid: Instituto Geográfico y Estadístico, 1921.

Gómez de Llarena, Joaquín. “Vicente Inglada Ors (1879–1949).” Boletín de la Real Sociedad Española de Historia Natural 42 (1949): 555–561. An authoritative introduction to Inglada’s work.

Inglada García-Serrano, Vicente. “Notas Necrológicas: Don Vicente Inglada Ors.” Revista de Geofísica 8 (1949): 63–71. A valuable obituary notice.

Macelwane, James B. “Vicente Inglada Ors, 1879–1949.”Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 39 (1949): 219–220.

Rodríguez de la Torre, Fernando. “Vida y Obra de Vicente Inglada Ors (1879–1949).” Revista del Instituto de Estudios Alicantinos 32 (1982): 13–77. This is by far the best bibliography of Inglada’s works and secondary literature.

Aitor Anduaga