Geology Home Page physical geology historical geology planetary gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Audrey Yossem
On November 1st
,1880, Alfred Wegener was born in Berlin. “His
father, Richard Wegener, was a classical languages teacher and pastor. His
mother, Anna Wegener, was a housewife. The Wegener family of two adults and five
children – Alfred was the youngest – was quite well-off financially” (famousscientist.org).
Growing up, Alfred was a very bright child and was showed it in his education.
When he was eighteen, he attended university in 1899 and was astonished by the
sciences and began taking astronomy, meteorology, and physics courses. “In
1902 he began working towards a Ph.D. degree in astronomy, spending a year at
Berlin’s famous Urania Observatory, whose purpose was, and still is, to bring
astronomy to a wider public. Alfred Wegener completed his astronomy Ph.D. in
1905, at the age of 24” (famousscientist.org).
As curious as Alfred was, he tried to extend his knowledge while obtaining his
earning his Ph.D. in astronomy, Wegener also took an interest in meteorology and
paleoclimatology (the study of changes of the Earth's climate throughout its
history). From 1906-1908 he took an expedition to Greenland to
study polar weather. This expedition was the first of four that Wegener would
take to Greenland. The others occurred from 1912-1913 and in 1929 and 1930” (Briney).
After Alfred completed his Ph.D., he started teaching at the University of
Marburg in Germany. While teaching, he gained interest in ancient history and
began thinking about the Earth’s continents and where they are placed.
As Alfred began to study the history of our planetary land, he began to create a theory; what we know today as ‘Continental Drift’. “Wegener found that large-scale geological features on separated continents often matched very closely when the continents were brought together. For example, the Appalachian mountains of eastern North America matched with the Scottish Highlands, and the distinctive rock strata of the Karroo system of South Africa were identical to those of the Santa Catarina system in Brazil. Wegener also found that the fossils found in a certain place often indicated a climate utterly different from the climate of today: for example, fossils of tropical plants, such as ferns and cycads, are found today on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen” (ucmp.berkeley.edu). I’m sure many of you have heard about this theory through grade school in your science classes.
In 1915, Alfred wrote a book called The Origins of Continents and Oceans which talks about his theories. “About 300 million years ago, claimed Wegener, the continents had formed a single mass, called Pangaea (from the Greek for "all the Earth"). Pangaea had rifted, or split, and its pieces had been moving away from each other ever since. Wegener was not the first to suggest that the continents had once been connected, but he was the first to present extensive evidence from several fields” (ucmp.berkeley.edu). Even though today we recognize Alfred’s theory on Pangea, when he came out with the theory, people didn’t exactly approve of his thoughts. Everyone from everyday citizens to college professors belittle his ideas, calling them fantasies and illogical. “Wegener thought that the continents were moving through the earth's crust, like icebreakers plowing through ice sheets, and that centrifugal and tidal forces were responsible for moving the continents. Opponents of continental drift noted that plowing through oceanic crust would distort continents beyond recognition, and that centrifugal and tidal forces were far too weak to move continents -- one scientist calculated that a tidal force strong enough to move continents would cause the Earth to stop rotating in less than one year. Another problem was that flaws in Wegener's original data caused him to make some incorrect and outlandish predictions: he suggested that North America and Europe were moving apart at over 250 cm per year (about ten times the fastest rates seen today, and about a hundred times faster than the measured rate for North America and Europe)” (ucmp.berkeley.edu).
Some people, such as scientists, did agree with Alfred’s theory because it made sense due to geographical instances around the world. Unfortunately, Wegener is believed to have died after a trip in November of 1930. When he died, his theories were all rejected by society. Honestly, it is such a shame to think he died not knowing his amazing knowledge was that he left behind. It was not until around thirty so years later when his theories finally got the validation he deserved. “We now know that Wegener's theory was wrong in one major point: continents do not plow through the ocean floor. Instead, both continents and ocean floor form solid plates, which "float" on the asthenosphere, the underlying rock that is under such tremendous heat and pressure that it behaves as an extremely viscous liquid” (ucmp.berkeley.edu). Today, we recognize Alfred Wegener and his theories to be valid and help with explaining the Earth’s landscape and it’s movements.
"Alfred Wegener." Famous Scientists. famousscientists.org. 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 10/10/2017