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ESS102H1 Lecture Notes - Abraham Gottlob Werner, Neptunism, Plutonism

Earth Sciences
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The Origin of Rocks: Nepunists vs Plutonists
- An early controversy on the origin of rocks related to the question of Earth’s origin
- Viewed from a quarter millennium later, this controversy is often portrayed as a battle
between the two eminent scientists and their “schools of thought”
- But: scientific controversy should not be primarily a battle between people, but between
- However: battle between 2 titanic personalities is easier to report (and to remember)
- Rocks we see originated by sedimenting or precipitating out of a primeval ocean
- Abraham Werner, Saxonia
- Rocks we see originated by cooling of molten magma
- James Hutton, Scotland
1. The Neptunists
oAbraham Cottlob Werner (1749-1817) (Freilberg, Saxonia)
Born in Silesia
Studied law and mining in Frielberg and Leipzig
In 1775 appointed professor at Bergakademie Freilberg
Freilberg (Saxonia)
Silver discovered in 1180 Bergakademie (mining academy)
founded in 1765
An inspirational and well-known teacher
“The charm of his manners and his eloquence kindled enthusiasm
in the minds of all his pupils, many of whom only intended at first
to acquire a slight knowledge of mineralogy; but, when they had
once heard him, they devoted themselves to it as the business of
their lives. In a few years a small school of mines, before unheard
of in Europe, was raised to the rank of a great university, and men
already distinguished in science studied the German language

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and came from the most distant countries to hear the great oracle
of geology.”
oCharles Lyell on Werner
His classification is linked to theory of their origin/how they formed
(Neptunist theory)
1. (hot, turbulent) primeval ocean
2. Ocean cooled and calmed; rocks precipitated out
3. Ocean drained (or was sucked) away produced further
4. Volcanic activity
Resulting rocks (oldest at bottom)
4. Volcanic rocks, lava generated by burning of coal; lava and ash,
hot springs deposits
3. “aufgeschwemmte Gebirge” (swept together mountains)
unconsolidated sands, clays, ... during final draining of continents
2. “Floetz” (stratified strata) sedimentary rocks (incl. Salt and
coal), also basalt from erosion of emerging mountains
1b. Transitional strata: limestone and dikes before emergence of
land, calm ocean
1a. Primitive strata: granite, gneiss, schist; first material to
Theory linked to observation around Freilberg, ex: layered rocks in
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