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Alfred Wegener 1880-1930


Who was Alfred Wegener?

He was a German meteorologist who made several expeditions to Greenland to study polar air circulation. At the time, the existence of the jet stream was controversial.

Identical plant and animal fossils

In 1911 Alfred Wegener came across a scientific paper that listed identical plant and animal fossils found on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean.

One example is Glossopteris

Land Bridges?

At the time, scientists explained this by the presence of land bridges, now sunken, that once connected continents far apart from each other.

Wegener noticed the close fit between the shapes of the South American and African continents. Might the continents have once been connected? He needed more evidence!

Mountain Ranges

The Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America match up with the Scottish Highlands in Scotland.

Rock strata in Africa matched up with rock strata in Brazil

Coal fields

Coal fields in Europe matched up with coal fields in North America

Climatic evidence

Fossils of tropical plant species are found in the Arctic!

Fossil evidence


Fossils of reptiles that could not swim great distances are found on continents now separated by oceans.

Theory of Continental Drift

In 1915 Wegener proposed that 300 million years ago the continents were connected as a single landmass, then later split apart.

He called this supercontinent Pangaea, which means alllands.

What did the scientific community think about Wegeners theory?

Reaction, as described from several sources:

uniformly hostile exceptionally harsh and scathing met with skepticism militantly hostile

What went wrong?

Although Wegener collected vast amounts of research to support his theory, he was not able to provide a crucial piece of missing information:

How could the continents move? After all, theyre solid rock, right?

Mapping with Sonar

In the 1950s and 1960s sonar was developed and used to begin mapping the ocean floor. Scientists discovered ocean floor features such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and deep ocean trenches.

Sea-floor Spreading

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a site of sea-floor spreading, where ocean crust is moving apart from each other.


Trenches are places where ocean crust is moving towards each other, and one crustal plate is pushed down underneath the other.

Harry Hess

In 1960 he proposed the theory of plate tectonics.

Theory of Plate Tectonics

Continental crust and ocean crust are able to move due to convection in the hot semiliquid layer of the mantle.

Wegeners Last Expedition to Greenland

In 1930 Alfred Wegener led a team of 21 scientists to Greenland to study the polar ice caps and climate. Weather conditions were unusually harsh. Wegener celebrated his 50th birthday, then two days later set out on a trek to the coast.

He was never seen alive again. The next year, 1931, Wegeners body was discovered, buried in his sleeping bag. Friends erected an ice-block mausoleum over his body and erected a cross. These have long since vanished beneath the snow, becoming a part of the glacier.

Death in Greenland

Alfred Wegener 1880-1930

He did not live to see his theory of continental drift accepted by the scientific community.