Penck Walther

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(b. Vienna, Austria, 30 August 1888 d. Stuttgart Germany, 29 september (1923)


Penck’s interest in natural science developed under the tutelage of both his father the geologist and gemorophologist Albrect Penck, and his teacher, Paul Pfurtscheller. When the elder Penck moved to the University of Berlin, Penck ebgan his undregrauated studies there, but these studits were soon interrupted when, in 1908–1909, he accompanied his father to the United States where the altter was an exchange profesor at Columbia University During this year, he traved widely with his father and met many geology, inculding G. K. Gilbert. After returning to Berlin via Hawii, Japan, China, and Siberia, Penck enrolled at the University of Heidelberg, from which he grauated; he subsequently continued his studies in Vienna.

In 1912 he was appointed geologist to the Direcion General de Minas in Buenos Aires, Where he was responsible for geological surveying and topography mapping in northwest Argentian. Aided by his monutainneering ability, he ampped sone 4,500 squrae miles of territory in less than two years and made a reconnaissance across the Andes. It was during these years (1912–1914) that Penck formalized his ideas regarding the pattern of tectonic movements. His studies of the Upper Cretaceous and Tertiary sediments flanking the Calchaqui mountains, Sierra de Famatina, and Sierra de Fiambala in the Puna de Atacama led him, like his father, to posit temporal patterns of uplift much more varied than the pattern of rapid uplift followed by long quiescence, which was accepted by W. M. Davis.

Penck believed that most tectonic movements began and ended slowly, and that the common pattern of such movements involved a slow initial uplift, an accelerated uplift, a deceleration in uplift, and, finally, quiescence. There can be no doubt that much of Penck’s geomorphic work was an attempt to provide physiographic support for the general pattern of uplift that he had previously inferred from stratigraphical evidence. The important that Penck placed on indentifying the movements of the source area from the record of sedimentation is cleraly stated in the first chapter of his Die morphologische Analyse. Few geologists would now attempt more than to suggest the occurrence of some generalized uplift on the sole evidence of the sedimentary record, and even fewer would infer the pattern of uplift in any great detail. In 1917 Joseph Barrell showed that much of the character of the sedimentary record is determined by the subsidence of the basin of the adjacent source area. Although these behaviors are often so closely linked that it is difficult to distinguish between them, the work of Barrell began to cost doubt on the simple association between the nature of sedimentation and the pattern of uplift of the source area.

The major results of Penck’s work in Argentina were not published until the end of World War I. The war broke out while he was in Germany on leave and, although his South American work qualified him for a geological post at the University of Leipzig, he served for a while in the German army in Alsace. At the end of 1915 he was appointed professor of minoeralogy and geology at the University of Constantinople. For the next two and a half years he made tectonic observations in Anatolia (where he visited the Bithynian Olympus) and did varied geological work in the region of the Sea of Marmara (where he studied the coal strata of the Dardanelles). He also served as a professor at teh Agricultural College of Halkaly. Malaria forced him to return to Germany in the summer of 1918; shortly thereafter he published the two substantial works that summarized his studies in Turkey.

Penck was unable to return to Turkey after teh end of the war, and he became an unsalaried professor at the University of Leipzig, where he also held a lectureship in topographical and geological surveying. Refusing, despite straitened financial circumstances, more lucrative posts that would have inhibited his researches, Penck studied the terrian of the German highlands, and in particular thta of the Black Forest. In 1921 he recovered some of his Turkish assets. Shortly afterward he died of cancer, survived by his wife and two small sons.

During the last years of his career, Penck developed his most influential ideas on the interpretation of landforms through analysis of the relationships between endogenetic (diastrophic) and exogenetic (erosional) processes. Of the three major publications that embodied his views, only the least important, “Wesen und Grundlagen der morphologischen Analyse” (1920), was published before his death. “Die Piedmontflächen des sudlichen Schwarzwaldes” (1925) was based upon two lectures that he gave at Leipzig in December 1921; his book Die morphologische Analyse (1924) was only part of a contemplated larger work and was assembled and edited by his father. This last, posthumously published work was not only fragmentary but also hurriedly written, full of obscure terminology, and often unclear, Apart from J. E. Kesseli’s mimeographed translation (1940) of an abstract of chapter 6, which discussed the development of slopes, Die morphologische Analyse was not translated into English until 1953. Simons, one of Penck’s later translators, wrote “I have hardly ever met more difficult and obscure language. Quite often it was difficult to tell whether he said yes or no.”

It is unfortunate that, for a period of more than twenty years, the only English interpretation of Penck’s geomorphic ideas was that available in a highly critical article published in 1932 by his major opponent, W. M. Davis. Davis concentrated on Penck’s Black Forest paper of 1925 and, besides seizing on the obvious difficulties of interpreting topographic discontinuities as the product of continuous crustal uplift, grossly misrepresented Penck’s ideas, particularly in attributing to him the postulate of the parallel retreat of one major slope element which leaves beneath itself a surface of less declivity (compare fig. 4 of Davis’ 1932 article with fig. 4 of Penck’s 1925 publication). By World War II the Davis-Penck controversy, as it was carried out in the English-speaking world, had foundered in a doctrinaire and depressingly semantic morass.

Penck believed that landforms could be interpreted through the ratios that might be expected to occur between exogenetic processes (which he believed to be of uniform type but developed at different rates in different climates) and a wide spectrum of endogenetic process. He also thought that diastrophic movement were of two amjor types, which could occur independently or together He anmed the frist type Grossfalt (“great” or “broad” fold) and state that it was produced by lateral compression with flanking synclines; this fold became narrower with time and was superficially faulted and thrusted in alter stages. Penck interprected “basin and range” structures as beloging to this type. He treated these in detail in Die morphologische Analyse, in which eh tried unsuccessfully to show that the facies of the sediemnts derived from these folds do not indicate intermittent uplift. he viewed the whole summit area of such a range as a deformed primary peneplain that was formed during slow intial uplift and correlated with unconformities in the basin.

The second type fo movement defined by Penck was regional arching. He stated that this movement was produced by differential uplift thgus, generating domas (Gewölbes) taht progressively expaned their area with time but were not necessarily assocation with flanking down-warps. Penck slighted the physiographic results of this type of movement in Die Morphologics Analse, but described them in detail in his 1925 paper on the Black Forest All popular exposition of Penck geomography views were based to some extent on his description of the landforms that might be developed on such a done the surface a donhe the surface of whcih forms a series of stepped erosional benches (Piedmontreppen) of differing age.

Where the two types fo crustal movement occur together as in the Alps, Penck thought that a more complex deforamtion was poduced in which the regional doming often outlasting the Grossfalt, was responsible for the general relief. He believed that regional up doming began with a major pahase of waxing development (aufsteigende Entwickung) in which the accelering uplift rates were generally in excess fo steam degradation and the resulting land forms were domiated by the crustal instablity. This development was followed by a general decline in the rate of uplift, during which a short period of uniform development (gleichförmieg Entwicklung), in which a short period of uniforms development (gleichformige Entwicklung) in whcih the rate of eroisen by stream overtook thosepof uplift was succeeds by a domiantly waning pahse (absteigende Entwicklung), during which the rate of uplift decreased, becoming stable as the landscape, became progressively domined by the eroisnal process fo valleys wideking. In this model the intially slow uplift would result in the formation and sbsequent elevation of a primery penelpain (Primärumpf), with convex valleys side slopes As the uplift accelerated the peneplain would be surrounded by a series fo Pedomnttreppen, each of which had orginated the a piedmiont flat (Piedmonfälche) on the slowly rising doem amrin Penck believed conex breaks fo sloves (Knickpunkte)to from on the radially draining river course during accelerating uplift leaving “one conex nick after the other . . ., belwo wach one three begins a narrow steep course (“Die Piedmont flance des südilen Schewarwaldes,” p. 90). The concen stearm reach ebtween teh conex nicks are formed formed is assocation with the Piedmontrreppan; each tends to act as an independent local baselevel for the subsequent valleys widedncing on either side of the steam course. Penck made no clear distruction betwen contiues acceleration fo uplift the mechinanies that he evoaked for the production of Piedmottrappan and Knickpunte also lakced clarity. Dauivs made much of these points and the modren geomorpholosit can only find it difficult to understan how topographics discontinuities can develop during the waxing phase of Penck model.

Penck’s imaginative wqork was nonetheless fo particular value in reparing the omossion of diastrophic causes in much of the classic geomorphic literature.


I. Original Works. The more important of Penck’s 43works include Die tektonischen Grundzüeg West kleinasiens (Stuttgart 1918); “Grundzuge der Geologie des Bospour” in Veröffentlichungen des Insutitutes fur Meereakunde an dem Univresität n.s4 (1919) 1–71; “Der Sudrand der Puna de Atacama (Nodwestgraentinien). Ein Beitrag zure Kenntnis des andien Gebrigsbildung” in nAbhandlungen der Sachsischen Akdemie der Wissenschaften Math,- Phys. K1.,37 no, 1 (1920) 1–420; “Western und Grundlagen der morphological Analyse” in Berich Sachsischen Akademie der Wissemshaften Math nat., K1., 72 (1920) 65–102; “Ubre die From Andiner Krustenbebwegungen und ihre Beziehung zur Sedimentation” in Geologische Rundscant, 14 (9123) 301–315; “Die morphological Anaylse. Ein Kapital der physikalischen Geologie” in Geographiache Abhandlungen 2dn ser., 2 (1942)1–283; this work was subsequently published separately (Stuttgart 1924) and trans. by H. Czech and K.C.Boswell as Morphological Analysis of Landfroms (London 1953)This ed,. contains a short biography of Penck (pp.vii-viii) and a list of his publ;ications (pp.352–353). See also “Die peidmontfachen des sudlican Schwarzwaldes” in Zeitschrft der Gesllschen für Erdkunde zu Berlin (9152), 83–108, with mimoegraphed trans by M.Simons, “The Piedmont-flats of the Southern Black Forest”(1961).

II. Secondary Literature. On Penck and his works are O. Ampferer, “Walther Penck” Verhandlungen derGeologischen Bundesanstalt, 4 (1924), 81–82; H. G. Backlund, “Walther Penck,” in Geologiska Foreningins I Stockholm Förhandlinger, 45(5) (1923), 445–447; J. Barrell, “Rhythms and the Measurement of Geologic Time,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 28 (1917), 745–904; H. Baulig, “Sur les gradins de piedmont,” in Journal of Geomorphology, 2 (1939), 281–304, a somewhat misguided criticism of Penck’s concept of slope development; I. Bowman, “The Analysis of Landforms; W. Penck on the Topographic Cycle,” in Geographical Review, 16 (1926), 122–132, a critical article on Die morphologische Analyse written with the approval and help of Davis; R. J. Chorley, “The Diastrophic Background to Twentieth-Century Geomorphological Thought,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 74 (1963), 953–970; R. J. Chorely et al., The History of the Study of Landforms, (Methuen-London, 1973), passim, which presents the important personal correspondence between Penck and Davis; W. M. Davis, “Piedmont Benchlands and the primarrumpfe,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 43 (1932), 399–440, a detailed attack on Penck’s 1925 publication; G. K. Gilbert, “The Convexity of Hilltops,” in Journal of Geology, 17 (1909), 344–350; and J. E. Kesseli, The Development of Slopes (Berkeley, Calif., 1940), mimeographed; F. Kossmat, “Walther Penck,” in Centralblatt fur Mineralogie, Geologie und Palaontologie, 25 (1924), 123–127.

Additional works include H. Lautensach, “Albrecht und Walther Panck,” in Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, n.s. 2 (1958), 245–250; A. G. Ogilvie, “Argentine Physiographical Studies; A Review,” in Geographical Review, 13 (1923), 112–121, a review of “Der Südrand der Puna de Atacama” and other works; A. Penck, “Biography of Walther Penck,” Foreword to Die morphologische Analyse (1924), VII-XVIII; A. Penck, “Letter Regarding ’Die morphologische Analyse,’ “ in Geographical Review, 16 (1926), 350–352, a reply to Bowman (1926); C. O. Sauer, “Landforms in the Peninsular Range of califorms as Developed About Warner’s Hot Springs and Mesa Grande,” in University of California Publications in Geography, 3 no. 4 (1929), 199–290, an attempt to apply Penck’s geomorphic notions in North America; M. Simons, “The Morphological Analysis of Landforms; A New Review of the work of Walther Penck,” in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, no. 31 (1962), 1–14, a penetrating review of many of Penck’s ideas; and indispensable in the preparation of this biographical note; H. Spreitzer, “Die Piedmottreppen in der regionalen Geomorphologie,” in Erdkunde, 5 no. 4 (1951), 294–304; Symposium, “Walther Penck’s Contribution to Geomorphology,” in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 30 (1940), 219–284; Y. -F. Tuan, “The Misleading Antithesis of Penckian and Davisian Concepts of Slope Retreat in Waning Development,” in Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, 67 (1958), 212–214; and O. D. von Engeln, Geomorphology (New York, 1942), 256–268, an exposition based on Davis (1932).

Richard Chorley