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Renard, Alphonse François


(b. Renaix [now Ronse], Belgium, 26 September 1842; d. Brussels, Belgium, 9 July 1903)

geology, mineralogy.

Renard’s education was initially religious; and it was only in 1870, upon being sent to the Jesuit training college of Maria Laach in the Eifel, that he came in contact with the sciences and became interested in geology, mostly through the spectacular volcanic phenomena in that area.

In 1874, at the age of thirty, Renard was appointed professor of chemistry and geology at the Jesuit collège at Louvain. His teaching did not interrupt his theological education, and he was ordained a priest in 1877. Renard’s growing scientific reputation led to his appointment as one of the curators of the Royal Natural History Museum at Brussels. In 1882 he abandoned teaching and devoted himself entirely to curatorial duties. In 1888, however, he accepted the chair of geology at the University of Ghent, a position he occupied until his death.

Renard’ first contribution to geology was a monograph, written with Charles de La Vallée-Poussin in 1874, on the mineralogical and the stratigraphical characters of the “plutonic” rocks of Belgium and the french Ardennes. It is actually a study of the chemical, mineralogical, and structural aspects of the chemical, mineralogical, and structural aspects of the regional metamorphism of that area. This investigation was followed by several other papers on the same processes, as revealed by the petrography of particular rock types: phyllites, garnet schists, amphibolites, and dolomites. Renard at first considered these metamoraphic rocks as the products of the mineralogical reorganization of the original sediments through intense tectonic deformation of the area. Several years later, having acquired a broader comprehension of metamorphism, he was inclined to doubt his first conclusions and to favor instead the action of contact metamorphism due to the intrusion of deep-seated igneous rocks not yet exposed by erosion. Recent studies have shown his original interpretation to be more correct.

This first group publications established Renard’s reputation throughout Europe as the unusual combination of a chemist, a petrographer, and a field geologist. It was therefore natural that upon completion of the Challenger expedition, the Petrographic investigation of the samples should be entrusted to him With Sir John Murray he published a series of preliminary papers on the collected materials; and eventually their work took its final form as the monumental Deep-Sea Deposits, a masterpiece in marine sedimentology which opened up an entirely new scientific field of oceanography.

The volume begins with a discussion of the methods of obtaining, examining, and describing deep-sea deposits. This introduction is followed by an account of the composition and geographical and bathymetrical distribution of deep-sea deposits in which abyssal red clay, radiolarian ooze, diatom ooze, Globigerina ooze, and pteropod ooze are exhaustively described. Then the organic constituents as are the examined, as are the mineral substances of terrestrial and extraterrestrial origin (cosmic dust). The volume ends with a description of the diagenetic products formed in situ on the ocean floor or within the muds, such as manganese nodules, phosphatic concretions, glauconite, and zeolites.

The development of Renard’s scientific knowledge interfered with his religious beliefs, and he resigned from the Society of Jesus in 1884. In 1901 his separation from the Catholic Church became complete when he married. This emancipation, which he said was unavoidable, resulted in bitter and undeserved polemics that saddened the last years of his life.


I. Original Works. Renard’s writings include “Mémoire sur les caractères minéralogiques et stratigraphiques des roches dites plutoniennes de la Belgique et de l’Ardenne française,” in Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique,40 (1874), also published as a book (Brussels, 1876), written with Charles de La Vallée-Poussin; “Report on the Petrology of the Rocks of St. Paul,” in Narrative, II (London, 1882), app. B, and Deep-Sea Deposits 9London,1891), both vols. of Report on the Scientific Results of the Exploring Voyage of H.M.S. Challengerg During the Years 1873–76; “Recherches sur la composition et la structure des phyllades ardennais,” in Bulletin du Musée royal d’histoire naturelle de Belgique, 1 (1882), 1–54, and 2 (1883), 127–149; “On the Nomenclature, Origin, and Distribution of Deep-Sea Deposits,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 12 (1884), 494–529, also in French as “Notice sur la classification des sédiments de mer profonde,“in Bulletin du Musée royal d’histoire naturaelle de Belgique, 3 (1884), 25–62, written with J. Murray; “On the Microscopic Characters of Volcanic Ashes and Cosmic Dust, and Their Distribution in Deep-Sea Deposits,” in proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 12 (1884), 474–495, also in French as “Les caractères microscopoques des cendres volcaniques et des poussières cosmiques et leur rôle dans les sédiments de mer profonde,” in Bulletin du Musée royal d’histoire naturelle de Belgique, 3 1884), 1–23; and “Notice preliminaire sur les sédiments marins recueillis par l’expédition de la “Belgica,’” in Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences, des letters et des beaux-arts de Beligue, 61 (1901–1902), written with Henryk Arctowski.

II. Secondary Literature. See two Publications by A. Geikie: “Obituary of A. F. Renard,” in Geological Magazine, 4th ser., 10 (1903), 525–527; and “Obituray of A. F. Renard,” in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 60 (1904), lix-lxiv.

Albert V. Carozzi

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