Wegener, Alfred Lothar

Wegener, Alfred Lothar

Wegener, Alfred Lothar, 1880-1930, German geologist, meteorologist, and Arctic explorer. Early in his life, he was on the staff of the aeronautical observatory at Lindenberg; was a professor of geophysics and meteorology at Hamburg from 1919 to 1924; was professor of meteorology at the Univ. of Graz from 1924 to 1930; and went on four polar expeditions (1906-08, 1912-13, 1929, and 1930) to test his meteorological and geophysical theories. He is known for his theory of continental drift, set forth in his Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane (1915; tr. The Origin of Continents and Oceans, 1924). According to Wegener, the present continents on earth were originally one large landmass he called Pangaea that gradually separated and drifted apart. He argued that the continents were still in the process of change and are still altering. His evidence included the jigsaw lineup of certain continents including the coast of Brazil and Africa's Gulf of Guinea, and paleontological similarities on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. His ideas were supported by some, including A. L. Dutoit, but rejected by most scientists until the early 1960s when scientists found paleomagnetic evidence (see paleomagnetism) of continental drift. He is also known for his expeditions to Greenland (on the last of which he lost his life) to establish meteorological stations and to ascertain the thickness of the icecap and the rate of drift of Greenland.

See the account of his last expedition, Greenland Journey (ed. by E. Wegener and F. P. Loewe, tr. 1939); J. Georgi, Mid-Ice (tr. 1934).

(born Nov. 1, 1880, Berlin, Ger.—died Nov. 1930, Greenland) German meteorologist and geophysicist. After earning a Ph.D. in astronomy (1905), he became interested in paleoclimatology and traveled to Greenland to research polar air circulation. He formulated the first complete statement of the continental drift hypothesis, which he presented in The Origin of Continents and Oceans (1915). His theory won some adherents, but by 1930 most geologists had rejected it because of the implausibility of his postulations for the driving force behind the continents' movement. It was resurrected in the 1960s as part of the theory of plate tectonics. Wegener died during his fourth expedition to Greenland.

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