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Continents and Supercontinents$
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John J. W. Rogers and M. Santosh

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195165890

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195165890.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 18 September 2021

Continental Drift—The Road to Plate Tectonics

Continental Drift—The Road to Plate Tectonics

(p.2) (p.3) 1 Continental Drift—The Road to Plate Tectonics
Continents and Supercontinents

John J.W. Rogers

M. Santosh

Oxford University Press

Alfred Wegener never set out to be a geologist. With an education in meteorology and astronomy, his career seemed clear when he was appointed Lecturer in those subjects at the University of Marburg, Germany. It wasn’t until 1912, when Wegener was 32, that he published a paper titled “Die Entstehung der Kontinente” (The origin of the continents) in a recently founded journal called Geologische Rundschau. This meteorologist had just fired the opening shot in a revolution that would change the way that geologists thought about the earth. In a series of publications and talks both before and after World War I, Wegener pressed the idea that continents moved around the earth independently of each other and that the present continents resulted from the splitting of a large landmass (we now call it a “supercontinent”) that previously contained all of the world’s continents. After splitting, they moved to their current positions, closing oceans in front of them and opening new oceans behind them. Wegener and his supporters referred to this process as “continental drift.” The proposal that continents moved around the earth led to a series of investigations and ideas that occupied much of the 20th century. They are now grouped as a set of concepts known as “plate tectonics.” We begin this chapter with an investigation of the history of this development, starting with ideas that preceded Wegener’s proposal. This is followed by a section that describes the reactions of different geologists to the idea of continental drift, including some comments that demonstrate the rancorous nature of the debate. The next section discusses developments between Wegener’s proposal and 1960, when Harry Hess suggested that the history of modern ocean basins is consistent with the concept of drifting continents. We finish the chapter with a brief description of seafloor spreading and leave a survey of plate tectonics to chapter 2. Although Wegener is credited with first proposing continental drift, some tenuous suggestions had already been made. We summarize some of this early history from LeGrand (1988).

Keywords:   Atlantic-type margins, Benioff zones, Continental drift, Fixism, Gondwana Land, Heat production, Isostasy, Land bridges

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