Nathorst, Alfred Gabriel
NATHORST, ALFRED GABRIEL
(b. Väderbrunn, Södermanland, Sweden, 7 November 1850; d. Stockholm, Sweden, 20 January 1921)
paleobotany, geology, exploration.
His parents, Hjalmar Otto Nathorst and Maria Charlotta af Georgii, moved in 1861 to Alnarp, in Skåne, where his father had been appointed professor at the Institute of Agriculture. Nathorst was educated at Malmö and entered the University of Lund in 1868. In 1871 he enrolled at the University of Uppsala but returned to Lund, where he took his doctorate in 1874. He was docent of geology from 1874 to 1879. In 1873 he became a member of the staff of the Geological Survey of Sweden serving until 1884. He was then given the post of professor and director of the newly created Department of Archegoniates and Fossil Plants at the Swedish Museum of Natura1 History in Stockholm. Nathorst held this position until he resigned in 1917.
Nathorst showed an early inclination for the outdoors and natural science, particularly botany. In Lund, he turned to geology under the influence of N. P. Angelin, a pioneer in Swedish paleontology and stratigraphic geology. Nathorst’s first published paper (1869) was a detailed study of a Cambrian sequence in Skåne. As an officer in the Geological Survey, Nathorst made many important contributions to the knowledge of the geology of south Sweden. He discovered and described (1871) the remains of glacial plants in a freshwater clay in Skåne. This paper was the first in a series of contributions to the study of vegetational history in Sweden in postglacial times.
Nathorst’s paleobotanical investigations of the Rhaeto-Liassic flora of Skåne resulted in a number of publications beginning in 1875. Since all but one of these papers are in Swedish, they failed to win the recognition they deserved. His international reputation as a paleobotanist is based instead on his monographs of the Tertiary floras of Japan (1882, 1888) and of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic floras of the Arctic. He was not speculative, and he treated his material from a strictly morphological and taxonomic point of view. Nathorst himself assembled part of the collections that he studied.
In 1871 Nathorst took part in an expedition to Spitsbergen. He led several expeditions to Svalbard and Greenland to study the geography, geology, and biology of the Arctic. Nathorst also attempted to elucidate experimentally the origin of fossil trails and tracks (1881, 1886). Although temperamental he won friendship and respect in international circles. His enormous capacity for work explains in part the great extent and importance of his scientific output.
Nathorst’s most important works were “Zur fossilen Flora Japans,”in Palaeontologische Abhandlungen, 4 , pt. 3 (1888), 195–250; Zur fossilen Flora der Polarländer, 2 vols, in 5 pts. (Stockholm, 1894–1920); and “Beiträge zur Geologie der Bären-Insel, Spitzbergens und des König- Karl-Landes,”in Bulletin of the Geological Institute of Uppsala, 10 (1910), 257–416. The most exhaustive biog- raphy of Nathorst is by T. G. Halle, in Geologiska föreningens i Stockholm förhandlingar, 43 (1921), 241–280,
with bibliography, 281–311. See also the obituary by A. C. Seward in Botanical Gazette (Chicago), 71 (1921), 464–465.
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