Walther Penck

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Walther Penck (born August 30, 1888 in Vienna , † September 29, 1923 in Stuttgart ) was a German geomorphologist and geologist. He was the son of the geographer Albrecht Penck .


From 1907, Penck studied mineralogy, mathematics, physics and chemistry in Berlin, Vienna and Heidelberg. In 1908/09 he was with his father in the United States when he was an exchange professor at Columbia University , where he met Grove Karl Gilbert , among others, and traveled with him back to Germany via Hawaii, Japan, China and Siberia. In 1910 he received his doctorate in geology with Wilhelm Salomon-Calvi in Heidelberg with a thesis on the geological structure of the Predazzo mountains . His beginnings were in the geology of the Alps and originally also mineralogical interests. A visit to Kilauea in Hawaii turned his interest to geology and especially volcanology, which was reflected in his dissertation. Penck conducted research in Argentina from 1912 to 1914 , where he geologically and topographically surveyed 12,000 square kilometers on the southern edge of the Puna de Atacama (a high plateau in the Andes) under difficult conditions on behalf of the Argentine Mining Administration . He carried out the first ascent of numerous six-thousanders in the Andes. In 1914 he completed his habilitation in Leipzig ( main trains in the construction of the southern edge of the Puna de Atacama ) and in 1914/15 he was a soldier in the First World War in the fighting in Alsace. In 1915 he became professor of geology in Istanbul . During the First World War, he explored the Bosporus area and the Dardanelles (including their coal deposits) and traveled through Asia Minor in 1917, visiting the Uludağ and contracting malaria. While he was on a cure in Germany in the summer of 1918, the institute he had set up burned down with all its collections in Istanbul in 1918. From 1919 he taught as a private lecturer at the University of Leipzig , but fell ill with cancer in 1922, from which he died at the age of only 35. Most recently he devoted himself to studies in particular on the Black Forest . Much of his work was only published posthumously, like his unfinished main work, Die morphologische Analyze .

Due in particular to his studies in the Andes, he developed a geomorphological model that provided for a much more variable sequence of crustal movements than the theory of William Morris Davis (1850-1934). In particular, he distinguished two types of crustal movements, first the large folds, for example in the Alps with lateral compression and synclines on the flanks, and a bulge, with a slow beginning and end of the uplift, which had been accelerated in the meantime. He also studied the latter in the Black Forest and made them responsible for the formation of the trunk stairs (Piedmont stairs). According to Penck, both main types of crustal movement could also act simultaneously. Methodologically, Penck recommended looking first in the sedimentation for clues to the crustal movement to explain the morphology. He believed, for example, to be able to infer ascending and descending developments from the valley shape (concave slopes - decreasing uplift or depression, convex slopes - increasing) and viewed climatic influences as secondary. In the United States, his work was initially overshadowed by criticism from Davis and his school (who reproduced Penck's ideas in a partially distorted way), but his main work was translated in the 1950s and his ideas were received in a more differentiated manner. Penck is considered to be the last exponent of classical tectonic geomorphology, who gave many suggestions for further research, but whose views and methods were overtaken by further research (and were partially refuted as early as the 1920s with regard to the climate influence).

In 1923 he received the Carl-Ritter-Medal from the Society for Geography in Berlin.

He was married and had two sons.


In honor of Walther Penck, the Cazadero , a six-thousander in Argentina, was renamed to Walther Penck .


  • Forces of nature in the high mountains , Stuttgart, Strecker and Schröder 1912
  • The tectonic basics of Western Asia Minor , Stuttgart 1918
  • Basics of the geology of the Bosporus , Berlin, Mittler and Son 1919 (publications by the Institute for Oceanography at the University, pp. 1–71)
  • The southern edge of the Puna de Atacama (NW Argentina). A contribution to the knowledge of the Andean mountain type and to the question of mountain formation , Abh. Sächs. Akad. Wiss., Math.-Naturwiss. Class, Volume 37, Leipzig 1920, pp. 1-420
  • The southern Puna de Atacama (Cordilleras of Northwest Argentina) , Geologische Characterbilder 21, Berlin 1921
  • The morphological analysis: a chapter of physical geology , Geographische Abhandlungen, series 2.2, 1924, pp. 1–283 and published separately by Engelhorn, Stuttgart 1924 (edited by his father Albrecht Penck, with biography of Walther Penck by Albrecht Penck)
    • English translation: Morphological analysis of landforms. A contribution to physical geology , New York, St. Martin's Press 1953 and New York, Hafner Publ. 1972 (also translated into Russian)
  • About the shape of the Andean crust movement and its relationship to sedimentation , Geologische Rundschau, Volume 14, 1923, pp. 301–315
  • Nature and basics of morphological analysis , reports from Sächs. Akad. Wiss., Math.-Naturwiss. Class, Volume 72, 1920, pp. 65-102
  • The Piedmont Surfaces of the Southern Black Forest , Journal of the Society for Geography Berlin, 1925, pp. 83-103 (Penck's work at that time sparked a debate about the development of trunk stairs)
  • Through sandy deserts up to six-thousanders. A German on a Kundfahrt , Engelhorn, Stuttgart 1933.
  • Puna de Atacama , Engelhorn, Stuttgart 1933


  • Richard Chorley: Penck, Walther . In: Charles Coulston Gillispie (Ed.): Dictionary of Scientific Biography . tape 10 : SG Navashin - W. Piso . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1974, p. 506-509 .
  • RJ Chorley The Diastrophic Background to Twentieth-Century Geomorphological Thought , Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Volume 74 1963, pp. 953-970
  • RJ Chorley et al. a. The History of the Study of Landforms , Methuen-London, 1973
  • Johannes F. Gellert The importance of Prof. Dr. Walther Penck for geomorphological research and teaching , Geographical Reports, Volume 34, 1989, Issue 1, pp. 63-66
  • Symposium Walter Penck's Contribution to Geomorphology , Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Volume 30, 1940, pp. 219-284
  • M. Simons The morphological analysis of landforms: a new review of the work of Walther Penck , Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 31, 1962, pp. 1-14
  • N. Ginsburger, "" La guerre, la plus terribles des erosions ". Cultures de guerre et geographes universitaires. France, Allemagne, Etats-Unis (1914-1921)"  [archive] , unpublished doctoral thesis, Université de Paris-Ouest-Nanterre -La Défense, 2010, 1682 p.

Web links


  1. ↑ Date of death according to Otto Ampferer's obituary
  2. The term comes from EC Abendanon, 1914, and describes folds of large amplitude with a pronounced longitudinal axis
  3. ^ Wilhelmy Geomorphology in Key Words , Volume 1, p. 22
  4. Archived copy ( Memento from July 18, 2011 in the Internet Archive )