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4th century BC: Theophrastus (372 BC - 287 BC), Ancient Greek: wrote the work Peri Lithon (On Stones) in which he classified rocks based on their behavior when heated, different hardnesses and by other common properties like the power of attraction such as amber and magnetite.
1st century AD: Pliny the Elder (23 AD - 79 AD), Roman naturalist: wrote in his Naturalis Historia of the many minerals and metals then in practical use, and correctly noted the origin of amber.
1020: Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (9811037), Persian polymath: In his Book of Healing he provided detailed explanations for the formation of mountains and the origin of earthquakes.
1030: Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni (9731048), Muslim geologist: writings (Indica) on the geology of India, suggesting that the Indian subcontinent was once covered by a sea.
1074: Shen Kua (10311095), Chinese polymath: suggested a process of land formation based on findings of inland marine fossils, soil erosion, and the deposition of silt; and a theory gradual climate change after observing ancient petrified bamboos.
1603: Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522 - 1605), Italian naturalist: coined the term geology. The word is derived from the Greek ge, meaning "earth" and logos, meaning "study of".
1669: Nicolas Steno (1638 - 1686), Danish anatomist and geologist: established the theoretical basis for stratigraphy (law of superposition, principle of original horizontality, principle of lateral continuity).
1696: William Whiston (1667 1752), English: In his A New Theory of the Earth he suggested that the earth originated from the atmosphere of a comet and that all major changes in earth's history could be attributed to the action of comets.
1749 - 1788: Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 1788), French naturalist: in his Histoire Naturelle he attacked popular Christian concepts - from experimentation with cooling globes, he found that the age of the Earth was not only 4,000 or 5,500 years as inferred from the Bible, but rather 75,000 years.
1774: Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749 - 1817), German: suggested the Neptunism theory - an obsolete geology theory that proposed rocks formed from the crystallisation of minerals in the early Earth's oceans.
1775: Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804), German philosopher: In his General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens Kant laid out the Nebular hypothesis, in which he deduced that the Solar System formed from a large cloud of gas, a nebula (God is not the beginning) - suggesting that it was now possible to study the history of the Earth from a scientific perspective rather than a religious one.
1785: James Hutton (1726 - 1797), Scottish geologist: he theorized that the Earth must be much older than had previously been supposed in order to allow enough time for mountains to be eroded and for sediments to form new rocks at the bottom of the sea, which in turn were raised up to become dry land.
1815: William Smith (17691839), English geologist: credited with creating the first Britain nationwide geological map and began the process of ordering rock strata (layers) by examining the fossils contained in them.
1822: Alexandre Brongniart (1770 - 1847), French mineralogist: based on his trilobite (a fossil group of extinct marine arthropods) studies he made pioneering contributions to stratigraphy by developing fossil markers for dating strata.
1824: William Buckland (1784 - 1856), English: wrote the first full account of a fossil dinosaur, which he named Megalosaurus.
1830: Charles Lyell (1797 1875), British geologist: in his book Principles of Geology by which he promoted the doctrine of uniformitarianism (first suggested by James Hutton above) that states that slow geological processes have occurred throughout the Earth's history and are still occurring today.
1830s: Adam Sedgwick (1785 1873), British: proposed the Devonian period and later the Cambrian period.
1837: Louis Agassiz (1807 - 1873), Swiss: the first to scientifically propose that the Earth had been subject to a past ice age and to demonstrate glacial movements.
1839: Roderick Murchison (1792 - 1871), Scottish geologist: first described and investigated the Silurian system.
1842: Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882), English naturalist: suggested a theory for the formation of lagoon-islands, atolls and coral reefs.
1912: Alfred Wegener (1880 - 1930), German: proposed his theory of continental drift which hypothesized that the continents were slowly moving around the Earth.
1937 - 1952: Thomas Wilson Dibblee (1911-2004), American: mapped the geology of California and the first man to map the entire San Andreas Fault.
1960: Robert Dietz (1914 - 1995), American and Harry Hess (1906 1969), American: suggested the seafloor spreading theory - a process that occurs at mid-ocean ridges, where new oceanic crust is formed through volcanic activity and then gradually moves away from the ridge. Seafloor spreading helps explain continental drift in the theory of plate tectonics.
1962: Stanley Keith Runcorn (1922 - 1995), British physicist: his paleomagnetic (the study of the record of the Earth's magnetic field in rocks) reconstruction of the relative motions of Europe and America revived the theory of continental drift and was a major contribution to plate tectonics understanding.
1978: Gerald M. Friedman (19212011), German / American geologist - one of the founders of modern rock sedimentation (the study of sediments such as sand, silt, and clay). Published with John E. Sanders, in 1978, the highly cited seminal book Principles of Sedimentology. The Sue Tyler Friedman Medal was named after Friedman's wife.
Notable Scientists: Earth Sciences - Fact Monster
An Historical Who Was Who at the Peabody Museum
Profiles in Time - NOAA
List of Russian earth scientists - Wikipedia
Paleontologists and Geologists - UCMP
Famous Earth Scientists - about.com
Pioneers in Geoscience - Earth Observatory (NASA)
Kublai Khan was a notorious polluter
Giants in Geology - GSA
The Men and Women of Seismology - USGS
Profiles of Geoscientists - American Geological Institute