Turner, Herbert Hall

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(b. Leeds, England, 13 August 1861; d Stockholm, Sweden, 20 August 1930)

astronomy, seismology.

Turner, the son of John Turner, an artist, gained high honors in mathematics at Cambridge and was second wrangler in 1882. He was chief assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, from 1884 to 1893 and Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford from 1893 until his death in 1930. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1897 and a correspondent of the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1908.

Turner’s fame rests considerably on his ability and energy as on organizer of international scientific projects. He was a principal coordinator of work on the astrographic chart that began in 1887 and made extensive use of the new science of photography. He was active in establishing and contributed to eclipse expeditions to the West Indies in 1886, Japan in 1896, India in 1898, Algiers in 1900, and Egypt in 1905.

Turner’s interests turned to seismology following the death in 1913 of his friend John Milne, who had been publishing regular analyses of instrumental records of great earthquakes. Turner took over this tasl, at first on a temporary basis; but the work soon became one of his major interests and culminated in the publication of the International Seismological Summary. This quarterly publication was a compendium of information derived from instrumental records on all well-recorded earthquakes over an uninterrupted period from 1918 to 1963. It included the estimated origin times, epicenters, and focal depths, as well as much auxiliarynumerical detail, and has supplied the principal source material over several decades for some of the most important research on earth quakes ad the internal structure of the earth.

In computing the origin times of earth quakes, Turner adapted Zöppritz’ tables, which gave values for the travel times of earthquake waves through the earth in terms of the distances covered. These tables, known as the Zöppritz Turner tables, were widely used into the 1930’s.

Turner held several high international offices in both astronomy and seismology. He died while presiding at a meeting of the Seismology Section of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics.


Turner’s major publication was the quarterly International Seismological Summary for the years 1918–1927, published at Oxford under his editorship. He also wrote some 180 scientific papers, most of them published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and four semipopular books, published in London: Modern Astronomy (1901); Astronomical Discovery (1904); The Great Star Map (1912); and A Voyage in Space (1915).

There is a short notice by R. A. Sampson in Dictionary of National Biography, 1922–1930.

K. E. Bullen

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