Little Bits of History

Drifting Apart

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 6, 2015
Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener

January 6, 1912. Alfred Wegener presents a paper on Continental Drift. Weeber was born in 1880 in Berlin. He was a polar researcher, geophysicist, and meteorologist. During his life, he was known for his achievements in meteorology, but today, he is best remembered for advancing the theory of continental drift. He was the youngest of five children born to a theologian and teacher of classical languages at the Berlinisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster. Alfred graduated valedictorian and went on to study Physics, Meteorology, and Astronomy at Berlin, Heidelberg, and Innsbruck. He received his PhD in astronomy in 1905. He maintained his interest in meteorology and climatology and focused his energies on these topics.

Wegener made expeditions to Greenland four times with his first trip made in 1906. He was an infantry reserve officer and so was immediately called up to serve during World War I. He was wounded twice and then declared unfit for active service. He was assigned to the army weather service. This post required him to travel extensively to various stations. After the war, Wegener was appointed as a meteorologist at the German Naval Observatory and then was appointed as senior lecturer at the new University of Hamburg. He received other appointments and still managed to publish both books and papers with a 1922 edition of “The Origin of Continents and Oceans” where he explored the idea of continental drift.

Wegener first thought of the idea of drifting continents when he noticed how the major land masses of Earth fit together almost like a jigsaw puzzle. The Americas fit closely to Africa and Europe. Antarctica, Australia, India, and Madagascar fit together with the tip of Southern Africa. He presented his paper on this day and hoped to still be able to make a trek to Greenland again later in the year. He analyzed data on the rock type, geological structures, and fossils from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. There were significant points of correlation especially in fossil plants. From 1912 until his death, he argued for the existence of “continental drift” and believed the continents were all once joined together.

His theory was not immediately accepted because there was no known mechanism to support the hypothesis. Plate tectonics was not yet understood. Wegener was a geologist, which was not the proper field of study for this topic. There was dissatisfaction with his proofs, as well. Arthur Holmes championed the idea and in 1931 proposed a theory for the manner of moving continents around the planet. It did not persuade the science community to accept the idea. Finally Samuel Warren Carey published his work on an expanding Earth and helped to bring the idea of continental drift into accepted science in 1958. Wagener was already gone, having died on a trip to Greenland (probably from a heart condition exacerbated by smoking) in 1930 at the age of 50.

Scientists still do not appear to understand sufficiently that all earth sciences must contribute evidence toward unveiling the state of our planet in earlier times, and that the truth of the matter can only be reached by combing all this evidence.

It is only by combing the information furnished by all the earth sciences that we can hope to determine ‘truth’ here, that is to say, to find the picture that sets out all the known facts in the best arrangement and that therefore has the highest degree of probability.

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. – all from Alfred Wegener

The Wegener hypothesis has been so stimulating and has such fundamental implications in geology as to merit respectful and sympathetic interest from every geologist. Some striking arguments in his favor have been advanced, and it would be foolhardy indeed to reject any concept that offers a possible key to the solution of profound problems in the Earth’s history. – Chester Longwell

Also on this day: Can You Hear Me Now? – In 1838, Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail got their new telegraph system working.
National Cathedral – In 1893, the charter for the Washington National Cathedral was signed.
Speed Typing – In 1714, a patent was granted for an early typewriter.
Montessori Schools – In 1907, Marie Montessori opened her first school.
Freedom x 4 – In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his “Four Freedoms” speech.


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