The science of geophysics studies the physics of our planet, considering the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the core, mantle, and crust of the earth. It is highly interdisciplinary since it involves geology, astronomy, meteorology, physics, engineering, and scientific computing. Today, it is impossible for a single researcher to deal with all these fields.
Before the scientific method was introduced, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), one of the brightest minds of all time, excelled in every aspect of art, humanity, and science. Leonardo foresaw a number of geophysical phenomena. The list below is incomplete but illustrative of his discoveries.
Wave propagation, interference, and Huygens’ principle (1678):
Everything in the cosmos is propagated by means of waves…
Manuscript H, 67r, Institut de France, Paris.
I say: if you throw two small stones at the same time on a sheet of motionless water at some distance from each other, you will observe that around the two percussions numerous separate circles are formed; these will meet as they increase in size and then penetrate and intersect one another, all the while maintaining as their respective centres the spots struck by the stones.
Manuscript A, 61r, Institut de France, Paris.
The Doppler effect (1842):
If a stone is flung into motionless water, its circles will be equidistant from their centre. But if the stream is moving, these circles will be elongated, egg-shaped, and will travel with their centre away from the spot where they were created.
Manuscript I, 87, Institut de France, Paris.
Newton’s prism experiment (1666):
If you place a glass full of water on the windowsill so that the sun’s rays will strike it from the other side, you will see the aforesaid colours formed in the impression made by the sun’s rays…
Codex Leicester, 19149r, Royal Library, Windsor.
Explanation of the blue sky, before Tyndall’s 1869 experiments and Rayleigh’s theory of 1871:
I say that the blue which is seen in the atmosphere is not given its own colour, but is caused by the heated moisture having evaporated into the most minute and imperceptible particles.
Codex Leicester, 4r Royal Library, Windsor.
The principle of the telescope, first constructed in the Netherlands in the early 17th century:
It is possible to find means by which the eye shall not see remote objects as much diminished as in natural perspective…
Manuscript E, 15v, Institut de France, Paris.
The further you place the eyeglass from the eye, the larger the objects appear in them
Manuscript A, 12v, Institut de France, Paris.
Construct glasses to see the Moon magnified.
Codex Atlanticus, 190r, a, Ambrosiana Library, Milan.
A statement anticipating Newton’s third law of motion (1666):
As much pressure is exerted by the object against the air as by the air against the body.
Codex Atlanticus, 381, Ambrosiana Library, Milan.
The principle of least action, before Fermat in 1657 and Hamilton in 1834:
Every action in nature takes place in the shortest possible way.
Quaderni, IV, 16r.
The evolution of the earth and living creatures, preceding George Cuvier (1804) and Charles Lyell (1863), and plate tectonics, anticipating Wegener (1915):
That in the drifts, among one and another, there are still to be found the traces of the worms which crawled upon them when they were not yet dry. And all marine clays still contain shells, and the shells are petrified together with the clay.
…Strata were covered over again from time to time, with mud of various thickness, or carried down to the sea by the rivers and floods of more or less extent; and thus these layers of mud became raised to such a height, that they came up from the bottom to the air. At the present time these bottoms are so high that they form hills or high mountains, and the rivers, which wear away the sides of these mountains, uncover the strata of these shells…
Codex Leicester, Royal Library, Windsor.