He was born in Lyon, in Rhône, France, the son of Joseph François Termier and Jeanne Mollard. At the age of 18 he entered the Polytechnic School, then the Paris School of Mines in 1880. After graduation, he became professor at the school of mines at Saint-Etienne. In 1894 he left for Paris, where he would teach for the remainder of his career.
He was elected as a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1909, in the mineralogy section. Two years later he became the director of the French geological cartography service. In 1930 he became vice-president of the Academy.