The Evolution of the Continental Drift Theory

Timeline created by emilymscw
  • Alfred Wegener's Initial Conjecture

    Alfred Wegener's Initial Conjecture
    In 1910, Wegener first thought of the concept of continental drift when he was studying the map of the world. He saw the direct impression produced by the congruence of the coastlines on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Wegener did not pay too much attention to this concept at this time as he thought it was irrational. Source: Modified excerpt from Alfred Wegener, The Origin of the Continents and Oceans
  • The First Piece of Evidence

    The First Piece of Evidence
    In 1911, Wegener read a report about paleontological (a branch of science regarding fossil plants and animals) evidence for a land bridge that once joined Africa and Brazil. Thus, he used an interdisciplinary approach and found information in the fields of geology and paleontology that challenged the idea that continents never changed. Source: Modified excerpt from Alfred Wegener, The Origin of the Continents and Oceans.
  • The Origin of the Continents and Oceans.

    The Origin of the Continents and Oceans.
    Wegener published his hypothesis of continental drift in his book, 'The Origin of the Continents and Oceans.' He used an interdisciplinary approach to gather information from disciplines such as oceanography, geology and paleontology. Wegener tested his claim with evidence that coastlines of certain continents matched and that they contained similar rock and fossil types. Source: Modified from Alfred Wegener, The Origin of the Continents and Oceans
  • Response to Wegener's Hypothesis - George William Lamplugh

    Response to Wegener's Hypothesis - George William Lamplugh
    According to G.W. Lamplugh, Wegener's theory wasn't a new concept to other geologists, as this thought had also crossed their minds before. There was evidence towards continental shift that the geologists knew about, even if Wegener failed to properly prove it. In fact, geologists wanted Wegener to be correct, but there were particular points of his hypothesis that were wrong. Source: Modified from G. W. Lamplugh, “Wegener’s Hypothesis of Continental Drift: Discussion.”
  • Response to Wegener's Hypothesis - Frank Debenham

    Response to Wegener's Hypothesis - Frank Debenham
    As Frank Debenham noted, Wegener was not the first to present the theory of continental drift, but he was the first to do so publicly. Wegener was the "target for bullets" and he published a theory that "deals with the distribution of continents in a bold way." Source: Modified from F. Debenham, “Wegener’s Hypothesis of Continental Drift: Discussion.”
  • Proof Via Paleomagnetism

    Proof Via Paleomagnetism
    There was no proof to support Wegener's theory until the 1950s, when the field of paleomagnetism was developed. It proved that the continents were once located in different positions due to the uncovering of particular minerals that form in alignment with Earth’s polarity. Instead of pointing north or south, they pointed in easterly and westerly directions. Alas, scientists were still in denial as there was yet to be nothing solid that supported Wegener.
  • Seafloor Spreading - Harry Hess

    Seafloor Spreading - Harry Hess
    In 1959, it was Harry Hess, a U.S. Navy officer and a geology professor that wrote a paper on a process that he called seafloor spreading. He used to map areas of the Pacific Ocean in World War II. He found that liquefied rock leaks through from the Earth's centre, expands to form a new ocean floor and then goes back into the Earth's centre via oceanic trenches (subduction). However, like Wegener, Hess was confronted with controversy as there wasn't a lot of data on ocean floors.
  • The Vine-Matthews-Morley Hypothesis - the Missing Piece

    The Vine-Matthews-Morley Hypothesis - the Missing Piece
    In 1963, geophysicist Fred Vine, and geologists Lawrence Morley and Drummond Matthews proposed a new theory that supported Wegener's one of continental drift. They thought that if oceanic floor is continually being newly created, the rocks on the ocean floor should give an indication to past reversals of the magnetic field. Shortly after, geophysicist Walter C. Pitman validated this theory.
  • Frederick Vine - Acceptance of Continental Drift

    Frederick Vine - Acceptance of Continental Drift
    As Fred Vine reiterates, strong and convincing evidence for seafloor spreading continued from paleomagnetic studies, and marine geology and geophysics. Hence, by the late 1960s, most people accepted the fact that continental drift existed. Modified from F. V. Vine, “The Continental Drift Debate.” Nature 266 (1977)
  • Henry Frankel - Acceptance of Continental Drift

    Henry Frankel - Acceptance of Continental Drift
    Finally, Wegener's hypothesis of continental drift was accepted. According to Henry Frankel, geologists, palaeoclimatologists and biogeographers used the idea of continental drift to explain the similar way plate tectonics act. The plate tectonics theory has yet to be dismissed as supporting evidence is more abundant, unlike when Wegener was structuring his theory. Modified from Henry Frankel, “From Continental Drift to Plate Tectonics.” Nature 335 (1988)
  • Complete Worldwide Acceptance

    Complete Worldwide Acceptance
    Today, in 2016, the concept of continental drift is very much a reality. There is an abundance of evidence conducted by scientists who use an interdisciplinary approach to solidify facts about the Earth's future. From 1910, when Wegener first pitched his unsupported hypothesis to today, much has changed in terms of acceptance - continental drift is known to be real. Wegener is now completely recognised to be the first one who noted continental drift.