Milutin Milankovitch (1879-1958)


Milutin Milankovitch

     Milutin Milankovitch was a Serbian mathematician who specialized in astronomy and geophysics.  He was born on May 28, 1879 in Dalj, Serbia (Berger, 2001).  In December 1904 he graduated with a doctorate in technical sciences from the Vienna Institute of Technology.  He worked briefly as chief engineer for a construction company.  In October 1909 he accepted a faculty position in applied mathematics at the University of Belgrade (Kaufman, 2002).  He lectured on Rational Mechanics, Theoretical Physics, and Celestial Mechanics while in this position.  He published three relatively unknown papers from 1912-1914.  In 1914 he was taken prisoner by the Austro-Hungarian Army, but was later released (Davis, 2002).  From 1920 to 1941, he continued to work on his mathematical theory of climate change.  He worked at the University of Belgrade until his retirement in 1955 (Berger, 2001).
     During his lifetime, Milankovitch was a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences, the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, the German Academy of Naturalists, the Leopoldine Halle, and the Italian Institute of Palentology.  He was a contemporary of Alfred Wegener, the designer of continental drift, through Vladimir Koppen, Wegener's father-in-law.
     "Milankovitch dedicated his career to developing a mathematical theory of climate based on the seasonal and latitudinal variations of solar radiation received by the earth"(Kaufman, 2002).  Between 1915 and 1940, he applied a firm mathematical basis to the astronomical theory of the Pleistocene ice ages.  His first book on this subject was published in 1920, but his more detailed work, Kanon de Erdbestrahlung, was published in 1941.  This work was translated into English in 1969 and was reprinted in 1998 (Berger, 2001).
     Milankovitch wrote around 70 books and papers, some of them dealing with the before mention topic of ancient climate and other dealing with popular astronomy.  He was a part of the reform of the Julian calendar.  He later wrote his memoirs and is quoted as saying:

Milutin Milankovitch

            "not because I thought I was such an important person,
             but because I have lived in an historically interesting and
             turbulent period, and I described these events as a 
             trustworthy witness.  My work spanning some 30 years,
             has been closely connected with the works of other 
             scientists who have used my results in their respective 
             fields.  The mutual collaboration has been documented 
             with more than 600 letters and 100 publications.  Therefore,
             these memoirs are, for a good part, the history of the 
             branch of the sciences called "Astronomical Theory of Climatic
             Changes"(Berger, 2001)."

These memoirs were used by his son Vasko Milankovitch to write a biography of Milutin Milankovitch in 1995.



Milutin Milankovitch

Drawing by Hailey King.  Taken from http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/
Giants/Milankovitch/milankovitch.html

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