Sprung, Adolf Friedrich Wichard

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(b. Kleinow, near Perleberg, Germany, 5 June 1848; d. Potsdam, Germany. 16 January 1909), meteorology.

The son of a schoolteacher, Sprung demonstrated an early inclination for the natural sciences and especially for chemistry, which led him to study pharmacy. He gave up a career as a pharmacist, however, because of a serious illness. Instead, he studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry at Leipzig from 1872 to 1876, in which year he received the doctorate for an experimental investigation on the hydraulic friction of salt solutions. Sprung turned his attention to meteorology when his teacher, the physicist G. Wiedemann, recommended him to the newly established naval observatory in Hamburg, the director of which, G. Neumayer, was seeking qualified young workers, “There, in the department of synoptic meteorology, Sprung collaborated closely with Wladimir Köppen, Wilhelm van Bebber, and Louis Grossman from August 1876 until the spring of 1886, In his daily concern with atmospheric conditions, Sprung became the first to apply the theorems of mathematical physics to the interpretation of meteorological processes. He thereby laid the foundations for the theory of the dynamics of the atmosphere, with which meteorology became an exact science.

Sprung’s field of study expanded when, on 1 April 1886, he was appointed director of the instrument division of the Prussian Meteorological Institute in Berlin, which had been reorganized by J. F. W. von Bezold. Six years later he became director of the meteorological-magnetic observatory in Potsdam, constructed according to his proposals, which he made into an institute of world wide importance, Most of sprung’s works on instruments occurred during this period. With the collaboration of R. Fuess, a master maker of fine instruments, he enriched the field with remarkable new designs. In his last years a nervous ailment increasingly crippled his creative powers. He died suddenly in 1909.

Sprung was one of the first to expand meteorology into a physics of the atmosphere. While in Hamburg he applied the laws of statics and of dynamics to atmospheric problems, which express themselves both in a periodic phenomena and in occurrences subject to daily cycles. He investigated the relationship of wind strength to barometric gradient (1876, 1879) and the influence of frictional resistance of the ground (1880). From the curvature of the inertial path of a particle with respect to rotating surfaces, he derived the influence of the deflecting force of the earth’s rotation on atomspheric circulation (1881). Sprung’s theorem for the effect of the sun on the direction of the wind provided an explanation for the daily period of the wind (1881, 1884). His law of areas in meteorology (1881), which stems from Kepler’s second law of planetary orbits, is still applied. In 1885 Sprung gathered all this data; combined it with ideas of Buys-Ballot, Ferrel, Guldberg and Mohn, Hadley, and others; and presented the whole in his Lehrbuch der Meteorologie, the first complete work on dynamic meteorology.

Sprung’s work on instruments was equally progressive. As early as 1877 he had developed his steelyard for the precise recording of air pressure; and in 1908 he applied its ingenious principle to the measurement of rain, snow, and humidity. He also employed the conversion of the measuring process into electrical impulses to achieve remote recording of wind and precipitation. Other measuring devices determined snowfall and precipitation intensity. Sprung’s formula for ascertaining vapor pressure from observations with the aspiration psychrometer became the basis for the calculation of the psychrometer table, which is indispensable to the networks of meteorological stations. It is still considered sufficient for practical operations, even at subfreezing temperatures.

For the International Cloud Year 1896–1897. Sprung built for the Potsdam observatory an automatic cloud instrument capable of the simultaneous photogrammetric surveying of several points and a reflector for measuring cloud motion. Only with the introduction of electronic structural elements into meteorological measuring techniques were Sprung’s designs superseded.


I. Original Works. Many of Sprung’s writings on dynamic meteorology were brought together in his Lehrbuch der Meteorologie (Hamburg, 1885). Such works include “Studied über den Wind und seine Beziehungen zum Luftdruck,” in Aus dem Archiv der Deutschen Seewarte, 2, nos. 1–2 (1879)—articles on the same topic in Zeitschrift der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Meteorologie, 17 (1882). 161–175, 276–282: and Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 11 (1894), 197–200, 384–387: “Zur Theorie der oberen Luftströmungen,” in Zeitschrift der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Meteorologie, 15 (1880), 17–21; “Die Anwendung des Prinzips der Flächcn in der Meteorologie,” ibid., 16 (1881), 57–63: “Über die bahnilinie eines freien Telichens auf der rotierenden Erdoberfläche und deren Bedeutung für die Meteorologie.”in Wiedemanns Annalen, 14 (1881), 128–149—articles on the same subject in Zeitschrift der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Meteorologie15 (1880) 1–21: 17 (1882), 75; and Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 1 (1884), 250–252; “Eine periodische Erscheinung im tägliehen Gang der Windrichlung,” in Zeitschrift der Östetreichischen Gesellschaft für Meteorologie,16 (1881), 419–424—articles on the same subject in Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 1 (1884). 15–22,65–70; 3 (1886), 223–225; 11 (1894), 252–262: and “Die vertikale Komponente der ablenkenden Kraft der Erdrotation in ihrer Bedeutung für die Dynamik der Atmosphäre,” in Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 12 (1895) 449–455.

Sprung’s articles on instrumental techniques include “Waagebarograph mit Laufgewicht nach Sprung,” in Zeitschrift der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Meteorologie, 12 (1877), 305–308; 16 (1881), 1–4; 17 (1882), 44–48; “Bestimmung der Luftfeuchtigkeit durch Assmanns Aspirationspsychrometer,” in Wetter. 5 (1888). 105—108; “Über den photogrammetrischen Wolkenautomaten und seine Justierung,” in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde. 19 (1889), 111–118; 24 (1904), 206–213; “Registrierapparate für Regenfall und Wind mit elektrischer Übertragung,” in Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 24 (1889), 344–348– also in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde. 9 (1889), 90–98; and Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 32 (1897), 385–388, written with R. Fuess; “Über die automatische Aufzeichnung der Regenintensität,” in Wetter, 22 (1905), 56–58, also in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde, 27 (1907). 340–343: and “Die registrierende Laufgewichtswaage im Dienste der Schnee, Regen- und Verdunstungsmessung,” in Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 25 (1908), 145–154.

Additional publications on climatology and maritime meteorology appeared between 1880 and 1908 in Meteorologische Zeitschrift, Annalen der Hydrographie und maritimen Meteorologie and Wetter.

II. Secondary Literature. See Richard Assmann, “Professor Dr. Adolf Sprung,” in Wetter, 26 (1909), 25–27: and Wladimir Koeppen, “Dr. Adolf Sprung, Nachruf,” in Meteorologische Zeitschrift, 26 (1909), 215–216.

J. Grunow