Meteorologist: Alfred Wegener Essay

3631 words - 15 pages

ALFRED WEGENER(1880-1930)German climatologist and geophysicist who, in 1915, published as expanded version of his 1912 book The Origin of Continents and Oceans. This work was one of the first to suggest continental drift and plate tectonics. He suggested that a supercontinent he called Pangaea had existed in the past, broke up starting 200 million years ago, and that the pieces ``drifted'' to their present positions. He cited the fit of South America and Africa, ancient climate similarities, fossil evidence (such as the fern Glossopteris and mesosaurus), and similarity of rock structures. The American F. B. Taylor had published a rather speculative paper suggesting continental drift in 1910 which, however, had attracted relatively little attention, as had previous such suggestions by Humbolt and Fisher . The book was translated to English in 1924, when it aroused hostile criticism. The proposal remained controversial until the 1960s.The Meteorologist Who Started a Revolution"Utter, damned rot!" said the president of the prestigious American Philosophical Society."If we are to believe [this] hypothesis, we must forget everything we have learned in the last 70 years and start all over again," said another American scientist.Anyone who "valued his reputation for scientific sanity" would never dare support such a theory, said a British geologist.Thus did most in the scientific community ridicule the concept that would revolutionize the earth sciences and revile the man who dared to propose it, German meteorological pioneer and polar explorer Alfred Wegener. Science historians compare his story with the tribulations of Galileo.A Geographic Jigsaw Puzzle"Doesn't the east coast of South America fit exactly against the west coast of Africa, as if they had once been joined?" wrote Wegener to his future wife in December 1910. "This is an idea I'll have to pursue."The following fall Wegener came across scientific papers promoting the prevailing theory that Africa and South America had once been connected by a continent-size land bridge that had since sunk into the sea. They cited as evidence fossils of identical animals that had lived in both areas simultaneously hundreds of millions of years ago.Wegener was fascinated and searched out other papers about such continental coincidences. As he read, his earlier conjecture that the continents had once been joined became a conviction he would boldly champion for the rest of his life.Just a few months later, on January 6, 1912, Wegener startled a meeting of the Geological Association in Frankfurt with his radical theory. Dismissing the concept of sunken land bridges, he proposed instead a grand vision of drifting continents and widening seas to explain the evolution of Earth's geography. Four nights later he made a similar presentation to the Society for the Advancement of Natural Science in Marberg, Germany.Wegener had launched a revolution--and he knew it. Just two weeks earlier, he had written his future...

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