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Summary

Since the 16th century, geographic maps have been sufficiently precise to reveal  parallels between the lines of littoral coasts on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this, scientific theories maintained, until the beginning of the 20th century, a “fixist” point of view, according to which the continents and the oceans were always in their current positions.

Alfred Wegener proposed his theory of a slow drifting of the continents in his 1912 work “”The translation_paris of Continents” and his 1915 book “The Origins of Continents and Oceans”. He wasn’t the first to propose such a hypothesis, but he was the first to support it with a collection of observations derived from several disciplines – like climatology, geology and paleontology.

The theory of continental drift took some time to be accepted, mainly because Wegener had not succeeded in explaining the geological processes which caused the drift.

It was only in the 1950’s that new observations (mapping of the ocean floors by Maurice Ewing, the surfacing of magma at the oceanic ridges, paleomagnetism, convective movements in the mantle…) definitively validated Wegner’s hypotheses  in the framework of a theory called “Plate Tectonics”.

Click and drag the cursor to go through the geological ages.

Learning goals

  • To discover the clues that enabled Alfred Wegener to announce his theory of continental drift.
  • To compare Wegener’s hypotheses and those of his detractors of the time (fixism, catastrophism).
  • To complete Wegener’s hypotheses in the light of more recent discoveries (topography of the ocean bottoms, geomagnetism, thermal sources, earthquakes)

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