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One Who Combed The Lands And The Oceans; Unveiling The Truth

The first concept of continental drift first came to me as far back as 1910, when considering the map of the world, under the direct impression produced by the congruence of the coastlines on either side of the Atlantic. At first, I did not pay attention to the ideas because I regarded it as improbable. In the fall of 1911, I came quite accidentally upon a synoptic report in which I learned for the first time of palaeontological evidence for a former land bridge between Brazil and Africa. As a result, I undertook a cursory examination of relevant research in the fields of geology and palaeontology, and this provided immediately such weighty corroboration that a conviction of the fundamental soundness of the idea took root in my mind.

Alfred Lothar Wegener (1880-1930) in The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966)

  • Alfred L. Wegener was a German meteorologist, geophysicist and polar researcher; the pioneer of the 'Continental Drift Hypothesis'.

  • Born on the first of November 1880 in Berlin, he was the youngest of five children.

  • His father, Richard Wegener, was a theologian (a person who specialized in the study of the nature of God and religious beliefs) and ran an orphanage. He also taught classical languages at the Berlinisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster (renamed as Evangelisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster, since 1963; one of the most prestigious and oldest grammar schools of Berlin).

Education And Career
  • Alfred received his conventional education at grammar school in Berlin. Being exceptionally academically talented, they marked him for university education.

  • He studied Physics, Astronomy and Meteorology in Germany and Austria; and worked as an assistant in the Urania astronomical observatory; later on, he received his doctorate in astronomy in 1905.

  • The same year he joined Aeronautisches Observatorium Lindenberg near Beeskow (a town in Brandenburg, Germany) as an assistant and started work with his older brother, Kurt.

  • Being highly interested in climatology and meteorology, the Wegener brothers experimented with weather balloons and pioneered their usage to track air masses. They had set a record for the longest continuous balloon flight of 52.5 hours, in a balloon contest in April 1906.

  • Alfred used this knowledge of kites and tattered balloons to study the meteorological conditions of the Arctic climatic zone. He had signed up as a member of the Denmark expedition and thus made his first trip to Greenland (the first of the total of four) in 1906.

  • On return in 1908, he started his career as a professor in meteorology, applied astronomy and cosmic physics at the University of Marburg.

  • In 1910, he collectively grouped his lectures on meteorology, incorporating his expedition results into a textbook, Thermodynamik der Atmosphäre (Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere).

  • All this while, his attention started diverting towards a plausible explanation for the similarity of the coastlines of the Atlantic continents; they looked as if they had been a single mass once. He believed the continents were part of a whole Urkontinent (German for "primal continent", analogous to the Greek Pangaea, meaning All-Lands or All-Earth) before breaking up and drifting to their current positions.

  • In 1912 he put forward his idea of "continental displacement" or what we know as "continental drift".

  • He finally published his ideas, the first version of his major work, Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane (The Origin of Continents and Oceans) in 1915.

Personal Life And Service In The Army
  • Alfred got married in 1913 to Else Köppen, the daughter of his former teacher and mentor, the meteorologist Wladimir Köppen.

  • The couple was blessed with three daughters.

  • He served his country as an infantry reserve officer during the First World War (1914).

Continental Drift Hypothesis

Alfred had presented certain dominant approaches to his hypothesis:

  • The matching continental coastlines of the large landmasses showed the continents fitted together into a single mass like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

  • The geology, when mapped, revealed that cratons (large stable blocks of the earth's crust forming the nucleus of a continent) and fragments of old fold mountain belts scattered in various continents were continuous from one to the other.

  • Glacial erosions by rocks that are embedded in ice sheets exhibit a clear-cut direction of glacial movements. They indicate that ice flow originated from an eye. Thus, no continent's movement would mean a continuous sheet of ice extending from the poles to the equator. But the truth contradicts the existence of a single sheet pushing the thought towards Continental Drift.

  • The Fossils found on separate continents suggest that drift had occurred. If not, the other explanations for the same fossil existence would be: either the species evolved independently on separate continents and undergone the same changes (which would contradict Darwin’s theory of evolution which states that evolution of a species is environment-based) or they must have swum through the oceans to the other places to colonize.

Last Moments And Scientific Legacy
  • Alfred had passed away in November 1930 (at fifty years of age) because of an unexpected accident during his last expedition.

  • His Continental Drift Hypothesis met extreme scepticism from many scientists, even though he had a lot of evidence to support the theory.

  • The proof of tectonic plates movement and Henry Hess's seafloor spreading hypothesis in the 1960s vindicated Alfred Wegener's continental drift theory. Thus, the scientific society posthumously recognized him as the founding father of one of the major scientific revolutions of the 20th century.

  • The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, was established in 1980 on Wegener's centenary.

  • Asteroid 29227, Wegener (discovered on 29th February 1992 by Freimut Borngen in Germany).

  • Moon crater, Wegener (a lunar impact crater, located in the Moon's northern hemisphere, midway between the equator and the north pole.)

  • Mars crater, Wegener (an impact crater in the Argyre quadrangle of Mars, at 64.6°S latitude and 4.0°W longitude; measuring approximately 68.5 kilometres in diameter).


Image Source ~ Wikiart

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