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Wegeners hypothesis of continental drift

Wegeners hypothesis of continental drift

Colliding Skyward The collision of the Indian subcontinent and Asian continent created the Himalayan mountain range, home to the world's highest mountain peaks, including 30 that exceed meters 24, feet. Because continental drift is still pushing India into Asia, the Himalayas are still growing.

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wegeners hypothesis of continental drift

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Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives. These tectonic plates rest upon the convecting mantle, which causes them to move. Teach your students about plate tectonics using these classroom resources. The theory of plate tectonics revolutionized the earth sciences by explaining how the movement of geologic plates causes mountain building, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

Join our community of educators and receive the latest information on National Geographic's resources for you and your students. Skip to content. Twitter Facebook Pinterest Google Classroom. Encyclopedic Entry Vocabulary. Continental drift describes one of the earliest ways geologist s thought continent s moved over time.

Today, the theory of continental drift has been replaced by the science of plate tectonics. The theory of continental drift is most associated with the scientist Alfred Wegener. He called this movement continental drift. Wegener, trained as an astronomerused biologybotanyand geology describe Pangaea and continental drift. For example, fossil s of the ancient reptile mesosaurus are only found in southern Africa and South America.

Mesosaurus, a freshwater reptile only one meter 3. The presence of mesosaurus suggests a single habitat with many lakes and rivers. Wegener also studied plant fossils from the frigid Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. These plants were not the hardy specimen s adapt ed to survive in the Arctic climate.

These fossils were of tropical plants, which are adapted to a much warmer, more humid environment. The presence of these fossils suggests Svalbard once had a tropical climate.

Finally, Wegener studied the stratigraphy of different rocks and mountain range s.Except for a few converts, and those like Cloos who couldn't accept the concept but was clearly fascinated by it, the international geological community's reaction to Wegener's theory was militantly hostile.

American geologist Frank Taylor had published a similar theory inbut most of his colleagues had simply ignored it.

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Wegener's more cogent and comprehensive work, however, was impossible to ignore and ignited a firestorm of rage and rancor. Moreover, most of the blistering attacks were aimed at Wegener himself, an outsider who seemed to be attacking the very foundations of geology.

The idea of continental drift was not accepted easily by the scientific establishment. Even though Wegener assembled many interlocking pieces of evidence to support his ideas, they were so radical that he was often ridiculed. Eventually, however, scientists made more observations, assembling the modern theory of plate tectonics. The above map shows an idealized schematic of the boundaries of the continental plates.

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Because of this abuse,Wegener could not get a professorship at any German university. Fortunately, the University of Graz in Austria was more tolerant of controversy, and in it appointed him professor of meteorology and geophysics.

In Wegener was invited to an international symposium in New York called to discuss his theory. Though he found some supporters, many speakers were sarcastic to the point of insult. Wegener said little. He just sat smoking his pipe and listening. His attitude seems to have mirrored that of Galileo who, forced to recant Copernicus' theory that the Earth moves around the sun, is said to have murmured, "Nevertheless, it moves!

His major problem was finding a force or forces that could make the continents "plow around in the mantle," as one critic put it. Wegener tentatively suggested two candidates: centrifugal force caused by the rotation of the Earth, and tidal-type waves in the Earth itself generated by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon.

He realized these forces were inadequate. Continental drift, faults and compressions, earthquakes, volcanicity, [ocean] transgression cycles and [apparent] polar wandering are undoubtedly connected on a grand scale. Wegener's final revison cited supporting evidence from many fields, including testimonials from scientists who found his hypothesis resolved difficulties in their disciplines much better than the old theories.

Climatology was one such discipline. Fossils and geologic evidence show that most of the continents used to have startlingly different climates than they do today. Wegener thought continental drift was the key to these climatic puzzles, so he and Vladimir Koppen plotted ancient deserts, jungles, and ice sheets on paleogeographic maps based on Wegener's theory. Suddenly the pieces of the puzzles fell into place, producing simple, plausible pictures of past climates.

Evidence of the Permo-Carboniferous ice-age era that peaked some million years ago, for example, was scattered over almost half the Earth, including the hottest deserts.

Wegener considered such paleoclimatic validation one of the strongest proofs of his theory. Conversely, continental drift has since become the organizing principle of paleoclimatology and other paleosciences. Unfortunately, though Wegener's explanation of the Permo-Carboniferous ice age impressed even his critics, the merit of much of the rest of his supporting evidence was not widely recognized at the time.

As a result, most geologists eventually dismissed his theory as a fairy tale or "mere geopoetry. EO Explorer. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science.

Subscribe to our newsletters.Further, we have to be prepared always for the possibility that each new discovery, no matter what science furnishes it, may modify the conclusions we draw.

Wegener put together a tremendous amount of evidence that the continents had been joined. Figure 1. Alfred Wegener suggested that continental drift occurred as continents cut through the ocean floor, in the same way as this icebreaker plows through sea ice. Wegener put his idea and his evidence together in his book The Origin of Continents and Oceansfirst published in New editions with additional evidence were published later in the decade.

The supercontinent later broke apart and the continents having been moving into their current positions ever since. He called his hypothesis continental drift.

What do you think the problem was? To his colleagues, his greatest problem was that he had no plausible mechanism for how the continents could move through the oceans. Based on his polar experiences, Wegener suggested that the continents were like icebreaking ships plowing through ice sheets.

Figure 2. Early hypotheses proposed that centrifugal forces moved continents. This is the same force that moves the swings outward on a spinning carnival ride. Scientists at the time calculated that c entrifugal and tidal forces were too weak to move continents.

When one scientist did calculations that assumed that these forces were strong enough to move continents, his result was that if Earth had such strong forces the planet would stop rotating in less than one year. In addition, scientists also thought that the continents that had been plowing through the ocean basins should be much more deformed than they are.

Wegener answered his question of whether Africa and South America had once been joined. But a hypothesis is rarely accepted without a mechanism to drive it. Are you going to support Wegener? Figure 3.

wegeners hypothesis of continental drift

This rock then spreads out and cools, sinking back towards the core, where it can be heated again. This circulation of rock through the mantle creates convection cells. Wegener had many thoughts regarding what could be the driving force behind continental drift. In a convection cellmaterial deep beneath the surface is heated so that its density is lowered and it rise s.

Near the surface it becomes cooler and denser, so it sinks. Holmes thought this could be like a conveyor belt. Where two adjacent convection cells rise to the surface, a continent could break apart with pieces moving in opposite directions.

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Although this sounds like a great idea, there was no real evidence for it, either. Alfred Wegener died in on an expedition on the Greenland icecap.

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Skip to main content. Plate Tectonics. Search for:. Wegener, The Origins of Continents and Oceansfirst published in Licenses and Attributions. CC licensed content, Shared previously.Post a comment. Monday, 2 July Continental drift theory of Alfred Wegener.

Continental drift theory, basically means the way that resulted the present location of the continents and oceans. Various theories regarding the drift of the continents and oceans were forwarded by numerous geographers, among which the Continental drift theory by Alfred Wegenerwas considered the most valid and significant one. Wegener had, not only simply put forwarded his theory of continental drift, but at the same time he had also given certain evidences in support of his theory.

Although many criticized his theory in certain ways, but it cannot be denied that Wegener's theory along with the evidences or favoured arguments were false. It is considered to be significant even today. It is mainly through the Continental drift theory by Alfred Wegenerthat many got brief idea about the way and reasons of the drift of the present continents and oceans.

Geological time scale. Some currents trends in Geomorphology. The hypothesis of continental drift theory was put forwarded by the German scholar Alfred Wegener, in the year He had put forwarded this hypothesis in order to explain the distribution of the present day oceans and continents.

Moreover, he was interested in the distribution of past climates. Extensive hot and Arctic climates were found where there was least expectations, according to extensive studies. This could have only be possible by the laws of sun's control or by drift of continents.

Wegener emphasised only on the carboniferous period, for the development of the present globe's features. According to him during this period there was a landmass called Pangaea, which was surrounded by a huge water body called Panthalasa. The Tethys sea was at the middle of this landmass. Towards the north was the landmass Laurasia, which further consisted of North America, Europe and Asia.

The Pangaea broke apart at the later stages and began to drift towards the equator and towards the west. The drift of the continents towards the equator occurred due to the force of gravity and force of buoyancy. This specific movement resulted in the formation of the Alps and the Himalayas.

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The drift of the continents towards the west occurred due the tidal forces, that is the forces of sun and moon. This specific movement resulted in the formation of the Andies and the North American Cordillera.

Due to the movement of the continents in these two specific directions, the Americas were formed and between America and Africa the formation of the Atlantic ocean resulted. Further, Australia drifted towards north and to some extent towards south to get separated from Antarctica and Gondwanaland respectively. The formation of the Indian ocean, further resulted due to this.

Alfred Wegener had forwarded certain arguments in order to prove his hypothesis. The basic and significant arguments were.We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. His most notable work was the theory of continental drift. However his theory was highly controversial at the time as he had little evidence, but as technology enhanced neumerous discoveries were made which helped prove his idea of continental drift was true. Don't use plagiarized sources. He named his super-continent Pangaea, and maintained that it had later split into the two continents of Laurasia in the north and Gondwanaland in the south.

Wegener published this theory of continental drift and claimed that it was supported by several pieces of evidence and that these areas were once joined. He started gathering evidence and found that they fell into three categories, geological, biological and climatological.

Wegener also noticed a link between the rock types and geological structures that were seen to be similar on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Such as the Appalachian Mountains in North America and the Caledonian Mountains in Scotland which have the same sequence of igneous and sedimentary rocks, suggesting that they were formed at the same time and in the same place. Other evidence Wegener used to help back to his thesis was that there is evidence of glaciations during the late Carboniferous period million years ago, where striations on rocks left from the ice age were found in South America, Antarctica and India further supporting that they must have been formed together then moved apart.

Another fossil was of a small fern, Glossopteris, which were found widely across all southern continents, also suggesting that the landmasses were once joined and such creatures and plants lived in the whole combined area. Climatological evidence found referred to coal and oil reserves found in Antarctica that suggests that this area was once in a different climatic zone in order for this process to have occurred.

In this diagram it shows Wegeners idea of how the continents must have been together due to the same fossils being found on different continents around the world. Physicists quickly proved these forces were insufficient to move continents and, partly for this reason, the theory was not widely accepted. At the time little was known about the nature of the sea floor and this made it difficult to explain the movement of the continents.

In addition, it could not be explained why continents appeared to be strong enough to plough through ocean basins even though it was the continents themselves that were deformed by folding and faulting. As more scientists began to expose evidence that was not available to Wegener at the time when he presented his theory, it proved that Wegener could have been right.

“What evidence is there to support Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift?

The mid — Atlantic ridge was discovered and later a similar feature in the Pacific Ocean. When examining the ocean crust on either side of the mid — Atlantic ridge, alternating polarity of the rocks that form the ocean crust were discovered suggesting sea — floor spreading was occurring. Depending on the polarity at the time the iron particles will align themselves in the same direction.

The stripped pattern is symmetrical on each side of the mid — Atlantic ridge suggesting that the ocean crust is slowly spreading away.

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The switching of magnetic fields was measured by magnetometers towed behind ships in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Holmes it was this heating and cooling cycle that caused the continents to move. By Holmes was more accepted.It is important to know that the following specific fossil evidence was not brought up by Wegener to support his theory.

Illustration showing similar rock assemblages across different continents. It has been noted that the coastlines of South America and West Africa seem to match up, however more particularly the terrains of separate continents conform as well. Examples include: the Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America linked with the Scottish Highlands, the familiar rock strata of the Karroo system of South Africa matched correctly with the Santa Catarina system in Brazil, and the Brazil and Ghana mountain ranges agreeing over the Atlantic Ocean.

Another important piece of evidence in the Continental Drift theory is the fossil relevance. There are various examples of fossils found on separate continents and in no other regions. This indicates that these continents had to be once joined together because the extensive oceans between these land masses act as a type of barrier for fossil transfer.

Four fossil examples include: the Mesosaurus, Cynognathus, Lystrosaurus, and Glossopteris. The Mesosaurus is known to have been a type of reptile, similar to the modern crocodile, which propelled itself through water with its long hind legs and limber tail.

continental drift

It lived during the early Permian period to million years ago and its remains are found solely in South Africa and Eastern South America. Now if the continents were in still their present positions, there is no possibility that the Mesosaurus would have the capability to swim across such a large body of ocean as the Atlantic because it was a coastal animal. Roaming the terrains during the Triassic period to million years agothe Cynognathus was as large as a modern wolf.

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Its fossils are found only in South Africa and South America. As a land dominant species, the Cynognathus would not have been capable of migrating across the Atlantic. Modern day representation of the Lystrosaurus.

It is approximated that it grew up to one meter in length and was relatively dominant on land during the early Triassic period million years ago. Lystrosaurus fossils are only found in Antarctica, India, and South Africa. Similar to the land dwelling Cynognathus, the Lystrosaurus would have not had the swimming capability to traverse any ocean.

Modern day representation of the Glossopteris.

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Possibly the most important fossil evidence found is the plant, Glossopteris. Known as a woody, seed bearing tree, the Glossopteris is named after the Greek description for tongue due to its tongue shaped leaves and is the largest genus of the extinct descendant of seed ferns.

Reaching as tall as 30 meters, the Glossopteris emerged during the early Permian period million years ago and became the dominant land plant species until the end of the Permian.Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold.

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Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news. Scientific opinion shifts in the same way continents do — very, very slowly. Sometimes he freezes to death, on an expedition in an Arctic wasteland, decades before his peers finally recognize him as a visionary. Such was the fate of Alfred Wegenera German scientist who lived and died with the unwavering conviction that the ground we stand upon is not as solid as it seems. He was right, of course.

But as he waited for the rest of the world to embrace his ideas, it may well have felt like standing on the Florida coast and watching the horizon for the approach of Africa.

A trained astronomer, yes; a daring and renowned explorer, yes; an authority on Earth sciences, no. Wegener was a meteorologist, better known for holding the world record for the longest hot-air balloon flight rather than rock-related research. Undoubtedly, his lack of credentials put him at odds with establishment academics from the start, but their scorn came also from a firm belief that the continents had always stood in more or less the same position.

Many people had made the glaring observation that the continents fit together like puzzle pieces most clearly along the coasts of South America and Africabut the dogma of continental permanence ran so deep that Wegener was the first to seriously consider its logical conclusion: At some distant time, they must have been joined. But the next fall he learned that many fossils on either side of the Atlantic, in West Africa and Brazil, were nearly identical. He also learned that to account for this, his contemporaries suggested plants and animals had crossed ancient land bridges which had since sunk into the oceans.

Wegener began to think his hypothesis might not be improbable, after all. Over the next few months, as he built his case, he had no qualms about ditching the status quo. Why should this idea be held back for ten or even thirty years? After publishing his first papers on the subject — which were mostly ignored — inWegener dropped his geological investigation for a while.

He joined an expedition to Greenland, returned and married Else Koppen, had a first child, Hilde, and was called to active duty in Belgium at the start of World War I. Later, as he recovered from battle wounds, he formulated his ideas in a book, The Origin of Continents and Oceanspublished in The evidence to support this shocking argument came — unusually, in that era of strict specialization — from everywhere: geology, geophysics, biology, paleontology, paleoclimatology and beyond. Wegener found some of the strongest support for continental drift — which he actually called continental displacement — in the striking similarity between many rock formations now separated by oceans.

On the biological side, he was impressed by the resemblance not only of marsupials but also of the parasites that infect them, in both Australia and South America. The geologists of the world emphatically disagreed. During a conference in New York City to discuss continental drift, the leading experts attacked its every line of evidence.

Nevertheless, they did, and their ridicule scared away most would-be pursuers of continental drift. Even in the controversy of those early days, though, the first traces of acceptance were visible.

wegeners hypothesis of continental drift

But that fruit needed proponents bold enough to cultivate it, and those were scarce. Maybe he was confident posterity would restore it. Either way, he kept searching, answering the barrage of criticism and censure with ever more refined proof. He spent the summer and fall hauling supplies by dogsled to the research station miles inland, but as winter drew near, the locals he had hired deserted him.

On Nov. The temperature had dropped below degrees Fahrenheit. Along the way he died, probably from a heart attack. On that front, it would take three more decades for the world to catch up.

As late asa book rejecting continental drift included a foreword by Albert Einstein. Register for an account X Enter your name and email address below.