Peter Ziegler


Peter Alfred Ziegler (2 November 1928 – 19 July 2013) was a
Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-indep ...

geologist A geologist is a scientist who studies the solid, liquid, and gaseous matter that constitutes Earth and other terrestrial planets, as well as the processes that shape them. Geologists usually study geology, although backgrounds in physics, chemi ...

, who made contributions to the understanding of the geological evolution of Europe and the North Atlantic borderlands, of intraplate
tectonic Tectonics (; ) are the processes that control the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. These include the processes of mountain building A mountain is an elevated portion of the Earth's crust, gene ...
s and of plate tectonic controls on the evolution and
hydrocarbon In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound , CH4; is among the simplest organic compounds. In chemistry, organic compounds are generally any chemical compounds that contain carbon-hydrogen chemical bond, bonds. Due to carbon's a ...
potential of
sedimentary basin Sedimentary basins are regions of the Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. About 29% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continent A continent is one of seve ...
s. Ziegler's career consists of 33 years as exploration geologist with the
petroleum Petroleum (), also known as crude oil and oil, is a #Latent heat of vaporization, naturally occurring, yellowish-black liquid found in geological formations beneath the Earth, Earth's surface. It is commonly refined into various types of fuels. ...

industry, 30 of which with
Shell Shell may refer to: Architecture and design * Shell (structure)A shell is a type of structural element which is characterized by its geometry, being a three-dimensional solid whose thickness is very small when compared with other dimensions, and i ...
, and 20 years of university teaching and research.

Life and work

Born in
Winterthur , neighboring_municipalities = Brütten, Dinhard, Elsau, Hettlingen, Illnau-Effretikon, Kyburg, Zürich, Kyburg, Lindau, Switzerland, Lindau, Neftenbach, Oberembrach, Pfungen, Rickenbach, Zürich, Rickenbach, Schlatt, Zürich, Schlatt, Seuzach, W ...

, Ziegler took a
PhD A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, Ph.D., or DPhil; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as La ...
degree at the
University of Zurich The University of Zurich (UZH, german: Universität Zürich), located in the city of Zürich , neighboring_municipalities = Adliswil, Dübendorf, Fällanden, Kilchberg, Zurich, Kilchberg, Maur, Switzerland, Maur, Oberengstringen, Opfikon, ...

University of Zurich
in spring 1955 and immediately joined the petroleum industry. Following three years of fieldwork and well sitting in
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, translit=Yīsrāʾēl; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, translit=ʾIsrāʾīl), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a ...

Madagascar Madagascar (; mg, Madagasikara), officially the Republic of Madagascar ( mg, Repoblikan'i Madagasikara, links=no, ; french: République de Madagascar), and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, a ...

and the
Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , religion = , official_languages = , languages_type = Othe ...

Sahara The Sahara (, ; ar, الصحراء الكبرى, ', 'the Greatest Desert') is a desert on the African continent Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia in both cases. At about 30.3 million k ...

with American and French oil companies, he joined
Shell Canada Shell Canada Limited (french: Shell Canada Limitée) is the subsidiary of United Kingdom, Anglo-Netherlands, Dutch Royal Dutch Shell and one of Canada's largest integrated oil companies. Exploration and Upstream (petroleum industry), production of ...
Calgary Calgary ( ) is a city in the western provinces and territories of Canada, Canadian province of Alberta. With a population of 1,239,220, Calgary is the List of cities in Alberta#List, most populous city in Alberta, and the List of the largest mu ...

. For six years he was engaged in the exploration of the Cordilleran
foothills Rocky Mountain foothills near Denver, Colorado, CO. Foothills or piedmont are geography, geographically defined as gradual increases in elevation at the base of a mountain range, higher hill range or an Highland, upland area. They are a transition ...

British Columbia ( en, Splendour without diminishment) , image_map = British Columbia in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = None , Slogan = Beautiful British Co ...

British Columbia
, the
Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories (commonly abbreviated as NT or NWT; french: Territoires du Nord-Ouest) is a federal provinces and territories of Canada, territory of Canada. At a land area of approximately and a 2016 census population of 41,790, it ...

Northwest Territories
and the
Yukon Yukon ( ; ; formerly called Yukon Territory and sometimes referred to as The Yukon) is the smallest and westernmost of Provinces and territories of Canada, Canada's three territories. It also is the least populated province or territory in Cana ...

, as well as of the
Pacific shelf
Pacific shelf
. This involved extensive helicopter-supported fieldwork. In view of a growing family, he converted from a structurally oriented field-geologist to a more
sedentary Image:Family watching television 1958.jpg, Exercise trends, Increases in sedentary behaviors such as watching television are characteristic of a sedentary lifestyle A sedentary lifestyle is a type of lifestyle (sociology), lifestyle involving l ...
stratigraphic through Jurassic The Jurassic ( ) is a Geological period, geologic period and System (stratigraphy), stratigraphic system that spanned from the end of the Triassic Period million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, approxi ...

trap hunting subsurface-geologist and chalked-up his first
natural gas Natural gas (also called fossil gas; sometimes just gas) is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting of methane and commonly including varying amounts of other higher alkanes, and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide ...

natural gas
discoveries in the
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton Edmonton () is the capital ci ...

reef A reef is a ridge or shoal A tidal sandbar connecting the islands of Waya and Wayasewa of the Yasawa Islands, Fiji ">Fiji.html" ;"title="Yasawa Islands, Fiji">Yasawa Islands, Fiji In oceanography, geomorphology, and earth sciences, a s ...

belt. After guiding an airborne excursion through the Cordillera during the 1967
Devonian The Devonian ( ) is a geologic period and system of the Paleozoic The Paleozoic (or Palaeozoic) Era ( ; from the Greek ''palaiós'' (), "old" and ''zōḗ'' (), "life", meaning "ancient life") is the earliest of three geologic eras of the P ...
Symposium of Calgary, his guidebook, summarizing “The Development of Sedimentary Basins in Western and Arctic Canada”, was published by the Alberta Society of Petroleum Geologists in 1969. Ziegler was transferred to Shell International in the
Netherlands The Netherlands ( nl, Nederland ), informally referred to as Holland, is a country primarily located in Western Europe and partly in the Dutch Caribbean, Caribbean. It is the largest of four Kingdom of the Netherlands#Constituent countries, cons ...

on 1 January 1970, where he supervised Shell's exploration activities in the
North Sea The North Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean between Great Britain (specifically England and Scotland), Norway, Jutland (in Denmark), Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hauts-de-France (in France). An epeiric sea, epeiric (or "shelf") sea on ...

North Sea
area. As the North Sea success story unfolded, Shell and its partners were rewarded with numerous important oil and gas discoveries, including the giant Brent, Statfjord, and Troll fields. Ziegler's responsibilities as exploration adviser expanded stepwise to all Shell companies in Europe, then South America, and ultimately worldwide. Parallel to his operational responsibilities, Ziegler compiled regional geological data to gain a better understanding of the hydrocarbon potential of hitherto little explored basins on the Atlantic seaboard and of basins behind the
Iron Curtain The Iron Curtain was a political boundary dividing Europe Europe is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regi ...
. Presentations at various conferences and symposia prompted academia to propose to Shell to publish his set of palaeogeographic/palaeotectonic maps. In 1982 Ziegler's Geological Atlas of Western and Central Europe was published. In this volume he retraced the geological history, depositional environments and tectonics of Europe north of the
Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe, stretching approximately across eight Alpine countries (from west to east): France, Switzerl ...

in greater detail than had ever been done before. In the same line, the
American Association of Petroleum Geologists The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is one of the world's largest professional geological societies with more than 40,000 members across 129 countries as of 2021. The AAPG works to "advance the science of geology, especially as i ...
invited Ziegler to tour the United States and Canada in 1986-1987 as distinguished lecturer, speaking on the Evolution of the Arctic-North Atlantic and Western Tethys Ocean, Tethys. He died on 19 July 2013 in Binningen, Switzerland.

Scientific career

In autumn 1988 Ziegler retired from Shell and returned with his wife to Switzerland where he joined the University of Basel as lecturer. In short succession he published with Shell's support in late 1988 the AAPG Memoir 43, entitled “Evolution of the Arctic-North Atlantic and Western Tethys”, in 1989 a volume published by the Royal Geological and Mining Society of the Netherlands on “Evolution of Laurussia - A Study in Late Palaeozoic Plate Tectonics” and in 1990 for Shell's 100 years of Exploration Jubilee the 2nd edition of his “Geological Atlas of Western and Central Europe”. In addition he carried out Management consulting, consulting work, lectured regularly on Shell's behalf at the Vrije Universiteit, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and participated in international research endeavors, such as the International Lithosphere Program (leader of working group 3: Intra-Plate Tectonics 1985-90: Bureau member 1991-94), EUROPROBE (1990–2002), the IGCP-369 Comparative evolution of Peri-Tethyan Rift Basins Project (1994–99) and the TRANSMED Atlas Project (2000–04). He initiated and coordinated the transnational EUCOR-URGENT Project (1999–2008) that dealt with the evolution and neotectonics of the rhine graben, Upper Rhine Graben. He contributed materially to the development of the follow-up TOPO-EUROPE Project, which addresses the Neotectonics, neotectonic and topography, topographic evolution of Europe. Ziegler published widely in international journals and in thematic volumes on processes controlling extensional and compressional intraplate tectonics and on the evolution of the lithosphere. His publications found wide recognition and contributed enormously to narrowing the gap between academia and the industry. His work changed the way geologists look at depositional systems and tectonic processes controlling the evolution of sedimentary basins.


In 1992 Ziegler was appointed as Honorary Lecturer at University of Basel and in 1996 as Titular Professor for Global Geology. He was awarded Honorary doctorate#Honorary doctorates, Honorary Doctor Degrees by the Moscow State University (1997) and the Technical University Delft (2001). He was a recipient of the Foumarier medal of the Belgian Geological Society, the van Waterschot van der Gracht medal of the Royal Geological and Mining Society of the Netherlands, the William Smith medal of the Geological Society of London, the Neville George medal of the Geological Society of Glasgow, the Stephan Müller medal of the European Geosciences Union, the Leopold von Buch medal of the German Geological Society and the Leonidovici Kaptsa medal of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. From the American Association of Petroleum Geologists he received the Robert Dott sr. Memorial Award for the publication of his Memoir 43, and later the Special Commendation Award for his regional synthesis of the geological evolution of Europe and for being a lively catalyst of the dialogue among Earth Scientists.


Ziegler was elected a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. He became a member of the Academia Europaea in 1990. Ziegler was also a member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. He was a life member of the Bureau of the International Lithosphere Program and an honorary member of the Geological Society of London, the European Geosciences Union, the Geological Society of Poland and the
American Association of Petroleum Geologists The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is one of the world's largest professional geological societies with more than 40,000 members across 129 countries as of 2021. The AAPG works to "advance the science of geology, especially as i ...


On the occasion of his 80th birthday the Swiss Geological Society honoured Ziegler with a symposium on the theme “Deep Earth - from Crust to Core”, held in Lugano on 23 November 2008.

Selected publications

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* *
Peter Ziegler's profile at the University of Basel

External links

The International Lithosphere Program



{{DEFAULTSORT:Ziegler, Peter 1928 births 2013 deaths Members of Academia Europaea Members of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences People from Winterthur 20th-century Swiss geologists University of Zurich alumni University of Basel faculty