Continental drift was a theory that explained how continents shift position on Earth's surface. Set forth in 1912 by Alfred Wegener, a geophysicist and meteorologist, continental drift also explained why look-alike animal and plant fossils, and similar rock formations, are found on different continents.
Wegener thought all the continents were once joined together in an "Urkontinent" before breaking up and drifting to their current positions. But geologists soundly denounced Wegener's theory of continental drift after he published the details in a 1915 book called "The Origin of Continents and Oceans." Part of the opposition was because Wegener didn't have a good model to explain how the continents moved apart.
Though most of Wegener's observations about fossils and rocks were correct, he was outlandishly wrong on a couple of key points. For instance, Wegener thought the continents might have plowed through the ocean crust like icebreakers smashing through ice.
"There's an irony that the key objection to continent drift was that there is no mechanism, and plate tectonics was accepted without a mechanism," to move the continents, said Henry Frankel, an emeritus professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of the four volume "The Continental Drift Controversy" (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Although Wegener's "continental drift" theory was discarded, it did introduce the idea of moving continents to geoscience. And decades later, scientists would confirm some of Wegener's ideas, such as the past existence of a supercontinent joining all the world's landmasses as one. Pangaea was a supercontinent that formed roughly 300 million years ago, and was responsible for the fossil and rock clues that led Wegener to his theory. [Have There Always Been Continents?]
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