Why was Alfred Wegener's continental drift theory rejected?


Quick Answer

Alfred Wegener's contemporaries rejected his theory of continental drift because it challenged many established scientific theories at the time, and he lacked a compelling explanation for the cause of continental drift. Wegener believed that continental drift was the result of centrifugal force and tidal attraction, but the scientific community found the argument weak.

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Full Answer

Wegener was a German scientist who was one of the first academics to suggest the theory of continental drift. He believed that the Earth once consisted of a single supercontinent called "Pangaea," which broke up and drifted to form the continents that exist in the present day. He based his theory on the fact that the African and South American coastlines fit together, contain many of the same fossils and share many similarities in geological specimens. His book, "The Origin of Continents and Oceans," was published in 1912.

Other scientists at the time had observed the similarities in fossils in South America and Africa. However, many embraced the idea that these were the result of a land bridge between the two continents. In addition, Wegener's explanation for continental drift was weak. He argued that Pangaea was originally located near the south pole and that centrifugal force and tidal pull caused the continent to break up and drift apart. Scientists quickly rejected this explanation, stating that these two forces were not strong enough to cause continental drift.

Although modern scientists continue to reject Wegener's explanation for continental drift, the theory of drifting continents has gained wide acceptance in the scientific community. Discoveries in the 1950s provided evidence for paleomagnetism, suggesting that continents do move. The modern theories of plate tectonics and continental drift argue that large plates carry continents and the ocean floor, and that these plates move.

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