Schardt, Hans

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(b. Basel, Switzerland, 18 June 1858; d, Zurich, Switzerland, 3 February 1931)


Schardt was interested in natural history from the time he was a schoolboy in Basel. He entered the University of Lausanne to prepare himself for a career in pharmacy, but during his practical training at Yverdon (Vaud) he became acquainted with Eèdouard Desor and Auguste Jaccard, professors of geology at the University of Neuchâtel, who diverted his attention to the earth sciences. The structure and stratigraphy of the nearby Jura mountains provided Schardt with an excellent field for his researches, so that by the time he returned to Lausanne, geology had begun to become an increasingly important part of his studies. He received the diploma in both pharmacy and science in 1883, then, in the following year, presented at the University of Geneva a thesis entitled “étude géologique sur le Pays’d’Enhaut Vaudois,” for which he was awarded the D.Sc. He then took a job as science master at the collége at Montreux, which was admirably situated to allow him to continue his study of the Prealps. Schardt won four academic prizes between 1879 and 1891, the year in which he became a lecturer in geology at the University of Lausanne. In order to increase his knowledge of the subject, he undertook further studies, in 1892–1893, at the University of Heidelberg, where his teachers included Harry Rosenbusch.

In 1897 Schardt was called to the University of Neuchâtel to succeed Lèon du Pasquier as professor of geology and paleontology. He was given only modest means with which to create a department, and devoted a considerable amount of his time to this task, spending Sundays and holidays on field trips. He soon began to take an active part in Neuchâtel scientific circles, and published a number of his observations in the series Mèanges Gèologiques, edited by the Sociètè Neuchâteloise des Sciences Naturelles. In 1911 Schardt left Neuchâtel for Zurich, where he had accepted an appointment as professor at both the Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute and at the university. He also served as director of the university geological collections and, for several years, was concerned in organizing a department of geology and supervising the construction of new buildings to house it. He remained at Zurich for seventeen years; upon his retirement in 1928 he was succeeded by Rudolf Staub. He continued to do field research and to climb mountains until the year before he died of a stroke at the age of seventy-three.

Schardt’s research encompassed tectonics, hydrology, stratigraphy, and engineering geology. His most important work, however, lay in his discovery of the older, rootless exotic complexes of the Alps, which, floating on younger series, led him to the hypothesis concerning the great alpine mass displacements that became known as the nappe theory.

Schardt’s early research had made him familiar with the puzzling problem of the Prealps in which, from the Stockhorn in the east to the Chablais in the west, the Mesozoic series exhibits quite different facies from those of the surrounding mountains, so that it is obvious that they cannot have been laid down in the same basin. He made the complex flysch series of this region, which contains exotic blocks, the subject of his 1891 prize paper “Versuch einer Bahnbrechung zur Lösung der Flyschfrage und zur Entdeckung der Herkunft der exotischen Blöcke im Flysch”

In 1891–1893 Schardt, drawing upon his extensive knowledge of the geology of the area and influenced by the ideas of Marcel Bertrand, became convinced that the stratigraphical series of the Prealps had been deposited in basins far to the south, and had slid into their present position. This view was at a considerable variance with the geological thought of his contemporaries, and was greeted with, at best, condescension. The nappe theory found greater acceptance around 1903, when it had been developed and extended by Lugeon. It is interesting to note that it was not Schardt’s original sliding theory (nappes du charriage) that then gained currency, but rather the thrusting theory (tectonique de poussée); Schardt’s own hypothesis, as he himself had predicted, was fully accepted only after a number of years. In the meantime, Argand drew upon Schardt’s studies of Jurassic folding, thrusting, and strike-slip faults for his own theory of cover folds (nappes de récouvrement).

Schardt did other important work in the exploration of the Simplon area, where he advised on the construction of the Simplon tunnel. He made observations of the recumbent folds of this metamorphosed area and described the springs that the tunnelers encountered, showing that these waters circulated in a highly complex manner, since both hot and cold springs can simultaneously flow from the same fissure. He applied his structural knowledge and analytical methods to a number of other hydrological problems, and he distinguished a number of modes of water circulation. He was particularly interested in Karst hydrology and subterrenean exsolution, and acted as consultant to a number of European countries on improving their water supplies. Schardt further demonstrated his expertise in both hydrology and engineering geology by advising on dam sites, landslides, and related phenomena; he was also concerned with discovering the correlations among geological structure, lithology, and the regime and chemical qualities of waters.

Schardt was vigorous and tenacious, a combination that allowed him to weather the disappointing years in which his nappe theory was scorned. His students were impressed by the force of his will and by his unfailing optimism: if he had decided to take them on a field trip, it was never postponed on account of bad weather. Schardt instead looked doggedly for a rift in the clouds, and, in deepening darkness, sought fossils by the light of matches. While reserved indoors, in the field Schardt became warm and even enthusiastic. He influenced his students by his toughness and capacity for hard work; he taught in both French and German, and supervised some sixty theses. He retained his early interest in plants and their properties, probably a relic of his pharmacological studies, and although not overly fond of alcoholic beverages nevertheless liked the bitter spirits prepared from the roots of the yellow gentian plant.


I. Original Works. Schardt published almost 200 papers and nine major geological maps. His most important writings include “Théorie des plis déjetés et couchés des Dents du Midi et des Tours Saillères,” in Bulletin de la Société neuchâteloise des sciences naturelles (1890); “Sur la géologie du massif du Simplon,” ibid., 27 (1891); “L’origine des Alpes du Chablais et du Stockhorn. en Savoie et en Suisse,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences. 117 (1893); “Compte rendu de l’excursion au travers des Alpes de la Suisse occidentale,” in Computes rendus du VIe Congrès géologique international à Zurich (1896); “L’origine des régions exotiques et des Klippes du versant N. des Alpes suisses et leurs relations avec les blocs exotiques et les brèches du Flysch,” in Archives des sciences physiques et naturelles de Genève (1897); “Note sur le profil géologique et la tectonique du massif du Simplon. comparés aux travaux antérieurs,” in Eclogae geologicae helvetiae. 8 (1904); “Les causes du plissement et des chauvements dans le Jura,” ibid., 10 , no. 4 (1908); “Neue Gesichtspunkte der Geologie. Antrittsrede als Professor der Geologie an der Universität Zurich.” in Mitteilungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Winterthur, 9 (1911); “Unsere heutigen Kenntnisse vom Bau und von der Entstehung der Alpen. (Autorreferat),“in Sitzungsberichte der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich. 71 (1926); and “Zur Kritik der Wegenerschen Theorie der Kontinenten verschiebung. (Autorreferat),” ibid. (1928).

II. Secondary Literature. On Schardt and his works, see J. Leuba, “Le professeur Hans Schardt,” in Bulletin de la Société neuchâteloise des sciences naturelles, n.s. 56 (1932), 103–119; and Hans Suter, “Professor Dr. Hans Schardt zu seinem 70. Geburtstag am 18 Juni, 1928,” in Vierteljahrsschrift der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich, 73 (1928), 375–388; and “Prof. Dr. Hans Schardt,” in Verhandlungen der Schweizerischen naturforschenden Gesellschaft, 112 (1931), 411–422, All contain portraits and bibliographies, and the last contains a complete list of Schardt’s works.

Eugene Wegmann

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Schardt, Hans

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