PerspectiveHistory of Science

Alexander von Humboldt and the General Physics of the Earth

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Science  01 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5927, pp. 596-597
DOI: 10.1126/science.1171659

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As scientists are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his On the Origin of Species, Darwin's ideas continue to shape and enrich the sciences (1). 4 May 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of another 19th-century figure—Alexander von Humboldt—whose scientific legacy also flourishes in the 21st century. Humboldt helped create the intellectual world Darwin inhabited, and his writings inspired Darwin to embark on H.M.S. Beagle. More pertinent to our time, Humboldt established the foundation for the Earth system sciences: the integrated system of knowledge on which human society may depend in the face of global climate change.