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D'Entrecasteaux, 1792: Celebrating a bicentennial in geomagnetism



The first surveys of global magnetic intensity, and especially the demonstration of its variation with latitude, are commonly credited (for example, Chapman, [1967]) to Alexander Von Humboldt, who played a major role in developing geomagnetism in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Von Humboldt made intensity measurements in South America from 1798–1803 and later encouraged the establishment of a global magnetic observatory network (see, for example, Malin and Barraclough, [1991]).

However, as pointed out by Sabine [1838] in a review of intensity measurements to that time, the earliest surviving survey of global magnetic intensity, showing it to strengthen away from the equator both north and south, was made by Elisabeth Paul Edouard De Rossel during the 1791–1794 expedition of Bruny D'Entrecasteaux. Even earlier measurements seem certain to have been made by the scientist Robert de Paul, chevalier de Lamanon (always referred to as Lamanon) of the La Pérouse expedition [Milet-Mureau, 1799], but any records are evidently lost. Lamanon died when the La Pérouse expedition was in Samoa in 1797, and both ships of that expedition were wrecked on the island of Vanikoro, presumably in 1788 [Marchant, 1967; Spate, 1988]. All such measurements were of relative magnetic intensity until a method for the determination of absolute intensity was invented by Gauss in 1832. For a recent discussion of this latter topic, see Jackson [1992].

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