How to stir a revolution as a reluctant rebel: Rudolf Trumpy in the Alps

Şengör A. M. C., Bernoulli D.

INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF EARTH SCIENCES, vol.100, no.5, pp.899-936, 2011 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier


Rudolf Trumpy (1921-2009) was one of the great Alpine geologists of the twentieth century and an influential figure in the international geological community. He played a dominant role in the change of opinion concerning the Alpine evolution by showing that normal faulting dominated the early development of the Alpine realm from the Triassic to the early Cretaceous. This provided a convenient model for later plate-tectonic interpretations of collisional mountain belts. His further recognition of strike-slip faulting during all stages of the Alpine evolution presaged the realisation that the Alps were not built by a simple open-and-shut mechanism. Trumpy was educated during an intellectual lull, a time when simplistic models of the earth behaviour inherited from the middle of the nineteenth century became prevalent under the influence of a close-minded, positivist approach to geological problems. This period, which we term the Dark Intermezzo, lasted from about 1925 to 1965. The grand syntheses of Suess and Argand which preceded this period were viewed from this narrow angle and consequently misunderstood. It was thought that earth history was punctuated by global orogenic events of short duration taking place within and among continents and oceans whose relative positions had remained fixed since the origin of the planet. These views, summarised under the term 'fixism', were developed when the ocean floors were almost totally unknown. When data began coming in from the post World War II oceanographic surveys, the world geological community was slow to receive and digest them. Trumpy followed these developments closely, realising that his work was important in placing the geology of the mountain belts within the emerging, new theoretical framework. He adopted the position of a critic and emphasised where detailed knowledge of the Alps, unquestionably the best known mountain belt in the world, supported and where it contradicted the new ideas. His voice was listened to carefully and subsequent developments have shown his critique to have been prescient. It is regrettable that he did not publish some of the theoretical criticisms he communicated to his colleagues during scientific meetings and informal conversations. His hesitance in becoming involved in theoretical arguments in geology may have stemmed partly from his scientific upbringing during the Dark Intermezzo and partly because he genuinely believed that he was better off sticking to what he thought he knew for sure. He nevertheless stressed that it is important for geologists 'to dream'. It is often said about teachers that one should do what they say, not what they do. In Trumpy's case, it was the opposite. Both scientifically and as a human being, he was a most admirable man.