Du Toit Alexander 18781948 South African
Geologist Alexander Du Toit, known as "the world's greatest field geologist," was an early supporter of the theory of continental drift proposed by German meteorologist Alfred Wegener. Du Toit is credited with extensive mapping of the rocks sequences deposited on the Gondwana supercontinent and was one of the first scientists to knowledgeably correlate sequences between different continents.
Alexander Du Toit was born on March 14, 1878, near Cape Town and attended school at a local diocesan college in Rondebosch and at the University of the Cape of Good Hope. He then spent two years studying mining engineering at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow, United Kingdom, graduating in 1899, and then moved to study geology at the Royal College of Science in London before returning to study surveying and mining in Glasgow. In 1901 he was a lecturer at the Royal Technical College and at the University of Glasgow. He returned to South Africa in 1903, joining the Geological Commission of the Cape of Good Hope, and spent the next several years constantly in the field doing geological mapping. This time in his life was the foundation for his extensive understanding and unrivaled knowledge of South African geology. During his first season he worked with South African geologist Arthur W. Rogers in the western Karoo, where they established the stratigraphy of the Lower and Middle Karoo System. They also recorded the systematic phase changes in the Karoo and Cape Systems. Along with these studies they mapped the dolerite intrusives, their acid phases, and their metamorphic aureoles, publishing numerous papers on the subject. Throughout the years Du Toit worked in many areas including the Stormberg area and the Karoo coal deposits near the Indian ocean. He was very interested in geo-morphology and hydrogeology. The most significant contribution of his work was the theory of continental drift. He was the first to realize that the southern continents had once formed the supercontinent of Gondwana, which was distinctly different from the northern supercontinent Laurasia. In 1927 Du Toit took a position as chief consulting geologist at De Beers Consolidated Mines in South Africa and remained there until he retired in 1941.
Du Toit received many honors and awards. He was the president of the Geological Society of South Africa, a corresponding member of the Geological Society of America, and a member of the Royal Society of London. Some of Du Toit's most famous papers and books that proved influential in the gradual acceptance of the theory of plate tectonics include his A Geological Comparison of South America with South Africa (1927) and Our Wandering Continents, (1937). In 1933 Du Toit was awarded the Murchison Medal by the Geological Society of London.
See also African geology; continental drift; Gondwana, Gondwanaland; plate tectonics.
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