Continental drift is the movement of the Earth's continents relative to each other. The hypothesis that continents 'drift' was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596 and was fully developed by Alfred Wegener in 1912. However, it was not until the development of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s, that a sufficientgeological explanation of that movement was found.
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|1 History |
|1.1 Early history |
|1.2 Wegener and his predecessors |
|2 Evidence that continents 'drift' |
|3 Rejection of Wegener's theory |
|4 Bibliography |
|5 External links |
Main article: Timeline of the development of tectonophysics
Abraham Ortelius (Ortelius 1596), Theodor Christoph Lilienthal (1756), Alexander von Humboldt (1801 and 1845), Antonio Snider-Pellegrini (Snider-Pellegrini 1858), and others had noted earlier that the shapes of continents on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean (most notably, Africa and South America) seem to fit together. W. J. Kious described Ortelius' thoughts in this way:
Abraham Ortelius in his work Thesaurus Geographicus ... suggested that the Americas were "torn away from Europe and Africa ... by earthquakes and floods" and went on to say: "The vestiges of the rupture reveal themselves, if someone brings forward a map of the world and considers carefully the coasts of the three [continents]." Wegener and his predecessors
The hypothesis that the continents had once formed a single landmass before breaking apart and drifting to their present locations was fully formulated by Alfred Wegener in 1912. Although Wegener's theory was formed independently and was more complete than those of his predecessors, Wegener later credited a number of past authors with similar ideas: Franklin Coxworthy (between 1848 and 1890), Roberto Mantovani (between 1889 and 1909), William Henry Pickering (1907) and Frank Bursley Taylor (1908).
For example: the similarity of southern continent geological formations had led Roberto Mantovani to conjecture in 1889 and 1909 that all the continents had once been joined into a supercontinent (now known as Pangaea); Wegener noted the similarity of Mantovani's and his own maps of the former positions of the southern continents. Throughvolcanic activity due to thermal expansion this continent broke and the new continents drifted away from each other because of further expansion of the rip-zones, where the oceans now lie. This led Mantovani to propose an Expanding Earth theory which has since been shown to be incorrect.
Some sort of continental drift without expansion was proposed by Frank Bursley Taylor, who suggested in 1908 (published in 1910) that the continents were dragged towards the equator by increased lunar gravity during the Cretaceous, thus forming the Himalayas and Alps on the southern faces. Wegener said that of all those theories, Taylor's, although not fully developed, had the most similarities to his own.
Wegener was the first to use the phrase "continental drift" (1912, 1915) (in German "die Verschiebung der Kontinente" – translated into English in 1922) and formally publish the hypothesis that the continents had somehow "drifted" apart. Although he presented much evidence for continental drift, he was unable to provide a convincing explanation for the physical processes which might have caused this drift. His suggestion that the continents had been pulled apart by the centrifugal pseudoforce (Polflucht) of the Earth's rotation or by a small component of astronomical precession was rejected as calculations showed that the force was not...
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