Ochsenius, Carl

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(b. Kassel, Germany, 9 March 1830; d. Marburg, Germany, 9 December 1906)

geology, sedimentology.

The son of an administrator at the court of HessenKassel, Ochsenius attended the Gymnasium and the Polytechnische Schule in Kassel, where he studied mining engineering and geology. In 1851 he accompanied his professor, Rudolf Amandus Philippi, on an expedition to Chile, where he remained for twenty years. During his stay in South America, Ochsenius investigated coal, salt, guano, and sulfur deposits; served in various administrative and directorial positions; and traveled widely as a German consul.

In 1879 he married Rau von Holzhausen; they had four children. After 1871 Ochsenius settled in Marburg, where he was a private scientist and promoter of potash mining near Hannover. He began to publish reports on the observations made during his twenty years abroad. In 1884 the University of Marburg awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Ochsenius is best known for his book Die Bildung der Steinsalzlager und ihrer Mutterlaugensalze (1877). This work was outstanding for the great amount of direct observations reported, for the accuracy with which the depositional sequence of salt formation was presented, and for the vigor with which a relatively new idea on the origin of salt deposits was presented (Bischof had offered some preliminary ideas pointing in this direction in the second edition of his Lehrbuch der chemischen und physikalischen Geologie [1863–1871]). This new idea, the “bar theory” to explain thick deposits of salt, gypsum, and other evaporites, assumes lagoons separated by bars from the ocean proper. As water is lost by evaporation, evaporites precipitate in the lagoon and additional seawater is fed into the lagoon from the open ocean. With increasing evaporation, the salinity in the almost closed basin increases to the point where gypsum, rock salt, and other evaporites are deposited. The best examples, in Ochsenius’ opinion, are the basins of Kara-Bogaz-Gol and Adzhi Darya on the eastern rim of the Caspian Sea. The Stassfurt sequence of the German Zechstein also appeared to confirm his theory. The physicochemical results of van’t Hoff’s work were welcomed by Ochsenius as confirmations of his observations in nature.

The bar theory was opposed by Johannes Walther, whose “desert theory” proposed a formation of salt basins as closed evaporation basins. Both theories were confirmed by observation of present-day processes, but the bar theory was preferred by more geoscientists. Ochsenius published his last revision of this theory in 1906, the year of his death.

Ochsenius contributed other models and theories to the earth sciences, but none was as successful as his bar theory. Of his theory on petroleum formation only the close association of petroleum and salt provinces has remained confirmed. Equally well confirmed was his theory on partial uplift zones of continents, which was based on numerous observations on the Pacific coast of South America. On the other hand, his theory on coal formation was based on a too restricted observation and, consequently, today applies only to local, special modes of origin. He had tried to apply his bar theory to coal genesis in an attempt to explain the facies change coal / sandstone or coal / claystone in soft-water basins.

Ochsenius’ contributions to science are based on an enormous wealth of keenly remembered and recorded observations and on his independent, undogmatic approach. If a theory appeared to be confirmed by observations, he was not afraid to stand alone in its defense.


I. Original Works. Ochsenius’ writings include Die Bildung der Steinsalzlager und ihrer Mutterlaugensalze unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Flöze von Douglashall in der Egelnschen Mulde (Halle, 1877); Chile, Land und Leute (Leipzig, 1884); “Bedeutung des orographischen Elementes ‘Barre’ in Hinsicht auf Bildungen und Veränderungen von Lagerstätten und Gesteinen,” in Zeit-schrift für praktische Geologie,1 (1893), 189–201, 217–233; and “Theorien über die Entstehung der Salzlager,” in Deutschlands Kaliindustrie, supp. to the newspaper Industrie, 2nd ed. (1906), 1–8.

II. Secondary Literature. See the unsigned “Dr. Carl Ochsenius, der Forscher und Mensch,” in Festschrift zum 100 jährigen Geburtstage (Chemnitz, 1931), pp. 67–161; Kurt Ochsenius, “Zum 100. Geburtstag von Dr. Carl Christian Ochsenius,”, in Zeitschrift Kali und verwandte Salze,24 , no. 5 (1930), 68–70; and W. Weissermel, “Zum 100. Geburtstag von Carl Ochsenius,” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 82, no. 4 (1930), 229–236.

G. C. Amstutz