Sir Charles Lyell (Nov 14. 1797- Feb 22. 1875)

Sir Charles Lyell was born in Scotland. He studied law, but later became a geologist and was most largely responsible for the general acceptance of the view that all features of the Earth’s surface are physical, chemical and biological process through long periods of geological time.

When Lyell was 19 he attended Oxford University, this being where his interest in geology was simulated by the lectures of William Buckland. He later moved to London to study law. Lyell sought relief by spending time on geological work outdoors.

Lyell began to develop new principles of reasoning in geology and began to plan his book that would stress that there are natural explanations for all geologic phenomena, that the ordinary natural processes of today and their produces do not differ in kind or magnitude from those in the past, and that the Earth must therefore be ancient because these processes work so slowly. Lyell, with Roderick Murchison, explored districts in France and Italy to prove his principles. Once he returned he set to work writing Principles of Geology.


Principles of Geology

Lyell wrote three volumes of Principles of Geology, through which he argued for the gradual change of the earth and its climate over very long periods of time. In the 19th century, geology was an emerging discipline, primarily concerned with the earth’s history. Lyell contrasted his ‘uniformitarian’ approach with the ‘catastrophism,’ for example the Biblical flood.

Lyell’s theory stated that past changes on the earth are observable in the present, for example, in the landscape, as with the volcano at Etna or in the comparison of fossil shells.


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