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Wegener, Alfred (Lothar)

continental drift continents pangaea

[ vay guhner] (1880–1930) German meteorologist and geophysicist: proposed theory of continental drift.

Educated at the universities of Heidelberg, Innsbruck and Berlin, Wegener obtained his doctorate in astronomy in 1905. Although primarily a meteorologist, Wegener is remembered for his theory of continental drift, which he proposed in 1912. Unable to reconcile palaeoclimatic evidence with the present position of the continents, he suggested that originally there had been a single ‘supercontinent’, which he termed Pangaea. He then provided a number of arguments to support his hypothesis that Pangaea had broken up in Mesozoic times (about 200 million years ago), and that continental drift had subsequently led to the present continental arrangement. Initially Wegener’s ideas met with great hostility, largely due to the lack of any obvious driving mechanism for the movement of the continents, but the suggestion of a viable mechanism by in 1929, together with geomagnetic and oceanographic evidence obtained during the late 1950s and early 1960s, has since established plate tectonics as one of the major tenets of modern geophysics. Wegener went on several expeditions to Greenland, and it was while crossing the ice sheet on his fourth visit that he died.

Weierstrass, Karl Wilhelm Theodor [next] [back] Wedgwood, Thomas

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