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Dennis R. Capangpangan Mrs.

10 St. Stephen July 17, 2017

1. What is Continental Drift theory?

Continental drift is the movement of the Earth's continents relative to each other, thus
appearing to "drift" across the ocean bed. The speculation that continents might have
'drifted' was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596. The concept was independently
and more fully developed by Alfred Wegener in 1912, but his theory was rejected by some
for lack of a mechanism (though this was supplied later by Arthur Holmes). The idea of
continental drift has been subsumed by the theory of plate tectonics, which explains how the
continents move.

2. History and its Proponents

Early history
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

Writing in 1889, Alfred Russel Wallace remarks, "It was formerly a very general belief,
even amongst geologists, that the great features of the earth's surface, no less than the
smaller ones, were subject to continual mutations, and that during the course of known
geological time the continents and great oceans had again and again changed places with
each other." He quotes Charles Lyell as saying, "Continents, therefore, although permanent
for whole geological epochs, shift their positions entirely in the course of ages. And claims
that the first to throw doubt on this was James Dwight Dana in 1849.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift
Dennis R. Capangpangan Mrs. Bonagua
10 St. Stephen July 17, 2017

In his Manual of Geology, 1863, Dana says, "The continents and oceans had their
general outline or form defined in earliest time. This has been proved with respect to North
America from the position and distribution of the first beds of the Silurian those of the
Potsdam epoch. and this will probably prove to the case in Primordial time with the other
continents also". Dana was enormously influential in America his Manual of Mineralogy is
still in print in revised form and the theory became known as Permanence theory.

This appeared to be confirmed by the exploration of the deep-sea beds conducted by

the Challenger expedition, 1872-6, which showed that contrary to expectation, land debris
brought down by rivers to the ocean is deposited comparatively close to the shore on what
is now known as the continental shelf. This suggested that the oceans were a permanent
feature of the Earth's surface, and did not change places with the continents.

Wegener and his predecessors

Alfred Wegener
The idea that the American continents had once formed a single landmass together
with Europe and Asia before assuming their present shapes and positions was speculated by
several scientists before Alfred Wegener's 1912 paper. 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). In addition, Eduard Suess had proposed a supercontinent
Gondwana in 1885 and the Tethys Ocean in 1893, assuming a land-bridge between the
present continents submerged in the form of a geosyncline, and John Perry had written an
1895 paper proposing that the earth's interior was fluid, and disagreeing with Lord Kelvin
on the age of the earth.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift
Dennis R. Capangpangan Mrs. Bonagua
10 St. Stephen July 17, 2017
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; Wegener noted the similarity of Mantovani's and his own maps
of the former positions of the southern continents. In Mantovani's conjecture, this continent
broke due to volcanic activity caused by thermal expansion, 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.

Continental drift without expansion was proposed by Frank Bursley Taylor, who
suggested in 1908 (published in 1910) that the continents were moved into their present
positions by a process of "continental creep". In a later paper, he proposed that this occurred
by their being dragged towards the equator by tidal forces during the hypothesized capture
of the moon in the Cretaceous, resulting in "general crustal creep" toward the equator.
Although his proposed mechanism was wrong, he was the first to realize the insight that one
of the effects of continental motion would be the formation of mountains, and attributed the
formation of the Himalayas to the collision between the Indian subcontinent with Asia.
Wegener said that of all those theories, Taylor's, although not fully developed, had the most
similarities to his own. In the mid-20th century, the theory of continental drift was referred
to as the "Taylor-Wegener hypothesis", although this terminology eventually fell out of
common use.

Alfred Wegener first presented his hypothesis to the German Geological Society on
January 6, 1912. His hypothesis was that the continents had once formed a single landmass,
called Pangea, before breaking apart and drifting to their present locations.

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

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift
Dennis R. Capangpangan Mrs. Bonagua
10 St. Stephen July 17, 2017
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 sufficient. The Polflucht hypothesis was also studied by Paul Sophus Epstein
in 1920 and found to be implausible.

Rejection of Wegener's theory, 1910s1950s

The theory of continental drift was not accepted for many years. One problem was
that a plausible driving force was missing. A second problem was that Wegener's estimate of
the velocity of continental motion, 250 cm/year, was implausibly high. (The currently
accepted rate for the separation of the Americas from Europe and Africa is about 2.5
cm/year). And it did not help that Wegener was not a geologist. Other geologists also
believed that the evidence that Wegener had provided was not sufficient. It is now accepted
that the plates carrying the continents do move across the Earth's surface, although not as
fast as Wegener believed; ironically one of the chief outstanding questions is the one
Wegener failed to resolve: what is the nature of the forces propelling the plates?

The British geologist Arthur Holmes championed the theory of continental drift at a
time when it was deeply unfashionable. He proposed in 1931 that the Earth's mantle
contained convection cells that dissipated radioactive heat and moved the crust at the
surface. His Principles of Physical Geology, ending with a chapter on continental drift, was
published in 1944.

David Attenborough, who attended university in the second half of the 1940s,
recounted an incident illustrating its lack of acceptance then: "I once asked one of my
lecturers why he was not talking to us about continental drift and I was told, sneeringly, that
if I could prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it.
The idea was moonshine, I was informed."

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift
Dennis R. Capangpangan Mrs. Bonagua
10 St. Stephen July 17, 2017
Geological maps of the time showed huge land bridges spanning the Atlantic and
Indian oceans to account for the similarities of fauna and flora and the divisions of the Asian
continent in the Permian era but failing to account for glaciation in India, Australia and South

As late as 1953 just five years before Carey introduced the theory of plate tectonics
the theory of continental drift was rejected by the physicist Scheidegger on the following

First, it had been shown that floating masses on a rotating geoid would collect at the
equator, and stay there. This would explain one, but only one, mountain building episode
between any pair of continents; it failed to account for earlier orogenic episodes.

Second, masses floating freely in a fluid substratum, like icebergs in the ocean, should
be in isostatic equilibrium (in which the forces of gravity and buoyancy are in balance). But
gravitational measurements showed that many areas are not in isostatic equilibrium.

Third, there was the problem of why some parts of the Earth's surface (crust) should
have solidified while other parts were still fluid. Various attempts to explain this foundered
on other difficulties.

Geophysicist Jack Oliver is credited with providing seismologic evidence supporting

plate tectonics which encompassed and superseded continental drift with the article
"Seismology and the New Global Tectonics", published in 1968, using data collected from
seismologic stations, including those he set up in the South Pacific.

It is now known that there are two kinds of crust: continental crust and oceanic crust.
Continental crust is inherently lighter and its composition is different from oceanic crust, but
both kinds reside above a much deeper "plastic" mantle. Oceanic crust is created at spreading
centers, and this, along with subduction, drives the system of plates in a chaotic manner,

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift
Dennis R. Capangpangan Mrs. Bonagua
10 St. Stephen July 17, 2017
resulting in continuous orogeny and areas of isostatic imbalance. The theory of plate
tectonics explains all this, including the movement of the continents, better than Wegener's

3. Evidence
Evidence for the movement of continents on tectonic plates is now extensive. Similar
plant and animal fossils are found around the shores of different continents, suggesting that
they were once joined. The fossils of Mesosaurus, a freshwater reptile rather like a small
crocodile, found both in Brazil and South Africa, are one example; another is the discovery of
fossils of the land reptile Lystrosaurus in rocks of the same age at locations in Africa, India,
and Antarctica. There is also living evidencethe same animals being found on two
continents. Some earthworm families (e.g. Ocnerodrilidae, Acanthodrilidae, Octochaetidae)
are found in South America and Africa, for instance.

The complementary arrangement of the facing sides of South America and Africa is
obvious, but is a temporary coincidence. In millions of years, slab pull and ridge-push, and
other forces of tectonophysics, will further separate and rotate those two continents. It was
this temporary feature which inspired Wegener to study what he defined as continental drift,
although he did not live to see his hypothesis generally accepted.

Widespread distribution of Permo-Carboniferous glacial sediments in South America,

Africa, Madagascar, Arabia, India, Antarctica and Australia was one of the major pieces of
evidence for the theory of continental drift. The continuity of glaciers, inferred from oriented
glacial striations and deposits called tillites, suggested the existence of the supercontinent of
Gondwana, which became a central element of the concept of continental drift. Striations
indicated glacial flow away from the equator and toward the poles, based on continents'
current positions and orientations, and supported the idea that the southern continents had
previously been in dramatically different locations, as well as being contiguous with each

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift