Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To Wegener

Alfred Wegener (1880-1930)
Wegener was a German physicist and an explorer in the truest sense. His most noteable contribution to modern science was his theory of continental drift. His observations from around the globe led him to put together pieces of evidence that suggested that earth's continents were once fitted together in one supercontinent, and that they had drifted apart to their current position. But Wegener had no valid mechanism that would explain the movement of a continental bulk of rock, and his ideas were well ahead of his day.

Concerning Wegener's drift theory, R.T. Chamberlain said:
"Wegener's hypothesis in general is of the foot-loose type in that it takes considerable liberty with our globe."

What Chamberlain (and others) didn't appreciate was the considerable amount of valid data that Wegener had collected that supported the idea, he only lacked the mechanism that could concievably achieve the process. He was on the verge of one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of geology as a science. The views of the day caused even the best scientific minds to blatantly ignore the valid data that was laid before them.

"It is just as if we were to refit the torn pieces of a newspaper by matching their edges and then check whether the lines of print run smoothly across. If they do, there is nothing left but to conclude that the pieces were in fact joined in this way." -Alfred Wegener.

Wegener died decades before his work would be appreciated. It wasn't until the sea floor was explored in more depth that the driving mechanism Wegener sought was discovered, sea-floor spreading at mid-ocean ridges.