In 1912, Alfred Wegener made major proposals and a bold hypothesis of continental drift. However, scientists rejected it long before being admitted, thanks to major oceanographic expeditions that were verified in the 1960s and later adopted as evidence. Although a strange interlocking that shapes the coasts of Europe and Africa with those of the New World were found at the end of the sixteenth century, it took nearly 200 years for the empirical perspective to be abandoned in favor of a dynamic concept.
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Scientific discoveries of the second half of the 19th century indicate astonishing correlations between continents. Rocks and even the same geological units are found in North America and Europe. The Appalachian Mountains in North America appears to be similar as the remains of the Hercynian chain in Europe as well as the Vosges and the Massif Central. Similarly, there is a close symmetry between the deposits of coal of the Carboniferous regions in Europe and America. On a global scale, geologists adopted the concept of isostasy or a state of gravitational equilibrium: According to the concept, continents were indeed found to be lighter in nature and literally float on the deeper and denser region of the mantle.
In India, Australia, Antarctica, South America, and Africa, paleontologists discovered similar forest ferns (Glossopteris) and the same fossils of reptiles such as Cynognathus Lystrosaurus and Mesosaurus. Finally, tillites, glacial deposits are present on most sub-continents such as Australia and India. They indicated that that these continents suffered the same cold climate for a long time at the end of the Paleozoic (or primary age) and were covered with large ice caps.
Initially, few scientists could not be convinced by the arguments of Wegener that sometimes back, a large land mass fragmented and its parts have drifted away from each other. Wegener’s contemporaries were not convinced of this revolutionary proposal of continental drift. In fact, Wegener demonstrated quite convincingly that there was a time when the present continents were one mega-continent, but it did not show that they had drifted slowly during the past 250 years.
The major problem with Wegener’s proposals was that it did not propose a mechanism to explain the drift. It demonstrated that the current distribution of some fossils, traces of ancient glaciations and certain geological structures raised important questions that needed some explanations. However, these findings were not sufficient to demonstrate that the continents actually drifted. It is vital to note that if the continents truly drifted, there was supposed to be a match between the geological structures and the distribution of fossils. It took more than forty years for Wegener’s ideas to resurface because it was necessary to explore the drift mechanism that was missing in the earlier theory.
At the turn of the century, other scientists were attracted by the mobilistic approach on the history of the Earth. As a result, they sought alternative mechanisms such as thermal expansion and gravity of the moon. The ideas of Arthur Holmes that were exposed in 1944 were excellent. Holmes’ theory suggested cell convection in the mantle fuelled by radioactive decay as major factors that could have initiated continental drift.
In recap, the above pieces of evidence and discoveries solidified the theory of continental drift and led to its acceptance by the scientific community. There could still be other latent discoveries that can support the continental drift theory.