Staub, Rudolf

views updated


(b. Glarus, Switzerland, 29 January 1890; d. Fex, Graubünden, Switzerland, 25 June 1961)


Rudolf Staub’s father, who owned a small textile factory in Glarus, died soon after his son’s birth. His mother took over the mill; she died when Staub was twelve years old. Nevertheless he enjoyed his boyhood, especially at the high school at Trogen. At the request of his trustees, he started to study mechanical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), but upon coming of age, he switched to geology at the University of Zurich, fascinated by the structure of his native mountains. He did his Ph.D. dissertation in the Bernina Mountains with the petrologist Johann Ulrich Grubenmann; during World War I he served as one of the first army geologists. Staub was married three times and had one son and four daughters.

Rudolf Staub began his career at an exciting time for an Alpine geologist. After the discovery of nappe structures by Marcel Bertrand and Hans Schardt, Maurice Lugeon had unrevelled the Helvetic nappes; Pierre Termier had presented grand views of both the Western and the Eastern Alps; and Émile Argand, greatest of these great geologists, had applied the principle of oblique axial projection to the Penninic nappes of Valais. Staub chose the Penninic and Austroalpine nappes of Graubünden and adjacent areas of Italy as his main field of research. The Graubünden section is of special importance, because a great axial flexure exposes almost all tectonic units, from the lowest in the west to the highest in the east. Staub had two advantages over his contemporaries: he was a keen mountaineer and, having independent means, he owned a car, a luxury for a young geologist at that time. This enabled him to travel widely, not only in the Alps but also in the Apennines, Corsica, Spain, and Morocco.

Staub was above all a field geologist. He mapped the rugged and complex mountains of Val Bregaglia (1921) and of the Avers (1926). But soon he started to think about general problems of Alpine geology. His first works along these lines closely follow Argand’s ideas. In 1924 he published his masterpiece, Der Bau der Alpen. Staub produced the first modern tectonic map of the Alps and included numerous beautiful transverse sections, the latter an effort that has not been repeated since. While he relied on Argand and Termier for the Western Alps, the part on the Eastern Alps is highly original and prefigures many modern ideas.

In Der Bewegungsmechanismus der Erde (1928) Staub presented a resolutely mobilistic picture of the earth’s structure, based partly on Wegener’s and Argand’s ideas, but insisting on the somewhat mythical forces of Polflucht and Poldrift. This little-known work deserves consideration as one of the early attempts at some kind of plate tectonics.

In 1928 Staub was elected professor at the ETH and at the University of Zurich and soon became the capo (chief) of a lively group of followers. His students worked in Graubünden, the Helvetic Alps, the Tauern window, and the Molasse Basin. Staub’s interest in the Molasse was reflected in his magnificent “Grundzuge and Probleme alpiner Morphologie” (1934), a refreshing paper in which his intuitive way of reasoning and his vast knowledge of the Alps were used to reconstruct the Tertiary evolution of the chain. Papers from 1937 and 1942 on the Western Alps contain many original views on the correlation of Alpine nappes.

New tasks awaited Staub with the outbreak of World War II. As a militia captain in the Swiss army, he organized the Geological Service, where about sixty young geologists learned to cooperate with young civil engineers in building fortifications and studying water supplies. During and after the war Staub provided expert advice on the construction of large power dams in various parts of the Alps. In spite of his strong involvement in practical geology, he continued to publish on many subjects: the Southern Alps (1950), the Glarus Alps (1954, with a remarkable chapter on the history of the nappe discovery), and the origin of the Pre-alpine nappes (1958). The Bernina map (1946) completes the trilogy of his high-mountain geological cartography.

Staub’s strength was his great experience and his intuitive feeling for rocks and their large-scale structures, rather than logical reasoning. He was at his best on a peak, sipping a glass of Valtellina or Maienfeld wine and explaining the mountains he loved. His colleagues did not always find his papers easy to read: they demand a thorough knowledge of Alpine geography. Staub was an honorary member of five geological societies and recipient of the Vienna Geological Society’s Eduard Suess Medal.


I. Original Works. Der Bau der Alpen: Versuch einer Synthese (Bern. 1924); Der Bewegungsmechanismus der Erde, dargelegt am Bau der irdischen Gebirgssysteme (Berlin, 1928): “Grundzüge und Probleme alpiner Morphologie” in Denkschriften der Schweizerischen nuturforschenden Gesellschuft, 69 (1934); “Gedanken zum Bau der Westalpen zwischen Bernina und Mittelmeer,” in Vierteljahrsschrift der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich, 82 (1937), 197–336, and 87 (1942), 1–138: “Be-trachtungen über den Bau der Südalpen,” in Eclogue geologicae Helvetiae, 42 (1949), 213–408; Der Bau der Glarneralpen und seine prinzipielle Bedeutung für die Alpengeologie (Glarus, 1954); Klippendecke und Zen-tralalpenbau. Beziehungen und Probleme (Bern, 1958).

Geological maps (scale of 1:50,000) are Geologische Karte der Val Bregaglia (Bern, 1921); Geologische Karte des Avers, Piz Platta-Duan (Bern, 1926); Geologische Karte der Bernina-Gruppe und ihrer Umgebung im Ober-engadin. Bergell, Val Malenco, Puschlav und Livigno (Bern. 1946). A bibliography is in R. Hantke. “Verzeichnis der wissenschaftlichen Publikationen von Rudolf Staub,” in Eclogae geologicae Helvetiae, 52 (1959), 403–406.

II. Secondary Literature. A brief biography is by Rudolf Trümpy, in Vierteljahrsschrift der Naturforschen-den Gesellschaft in Zürich, 104 , no. 4 (1961), 503–504.

Rudolf TrÜmpy