Sir Edward Sabine

(1788—1883) army officer and physicist

Quick Reference

(1788–1883) British geophysicist Sabine, a Dubliner by birth, was educated at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, near London, and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1803. He took part in a number of expeditions, sailing as astronomer and meteorologist with John Ross in 1818 and William Parry in 1820 in their search for the Northwest Passage. He made other trips to the tropics and Greenland. Using Henry Katers's pendulum, he made observations at different latitudes to investigate the figure (shape) of the Earth but his results overestimated its ellipticity. He also established magnetic observatories in several British colonies. Sabine was knighted in 1869.

Sabine's main scientific achievement was in the field of geomagnetism. In 1851 he announced that he had detected a periodicity of about 10–11 years in the occurrence of magnetic perturbations, in which the magnetic needle deviates abnormally from its average position. This was also discovered by Johann von Lamont at about the same time but Sabine took the further step of correlating the variations in magnetic activity with the sunspot cycle discovered by Heinrich Schwabe in 1843.

Sabine was secretary of the British Association (1838–59) and while in charge of the Royal Observatory at Kew he attempted to organize a number of small observatories throughout the world sending him data to be processed at Kew. He developed a theory in which the Earth's magnetic field was part of the atmosphere. In 1839 Karl Gauss succeeded in demonstrating that the magnetic field was restricted to the interior and surface of the Earth.

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

Reference entries