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The Theory of Continental Drift

Continental drift is the movement of

the Earth's continents relative to each

The hypothesis that continents 'drift'

was first put forward by Abraham
Ortelius in 1596.

But it was fully developed by Alfred

Wegner in 1912.

Was a meteorologist.

Was working on the past climates

of the world.
He observed that

The present climate does not

correspond with that of past.

There are places where once there

was an extreme cold climate but
today it is having hot one.

Either the climate has changed.

The position of the place has been altered.

For climate change requires,

Variation in intensity of solar radiations

The inclination of Earth’s axis

Both are not acceptable.

The Continental land masses have

drifted from one climatic zone to
According to Wegner ;
The continents were made up of a
comparatively lighter material called “Sial”
(composed of Aluminium and silica).

The floor of oceans were made up of

much heavier material “Sima”
(composed of magnesium and silica).

The lighter continents would float, like

icebergs, on the lower and heavier earth
According to Wegner;

In Palaeozoic times all the continents were

joined to form one great landmass called
It was surrounded by vast ocean called
Super-Continent PANGAEA
By the end of Triassic period, Pangaea became
divided into two super continents, The Northern
Laurasia and a Southern Gondawanaland.

These super continents began to break

apart into fragments which drifted away
from one another to form the present day
The drifting probably began soon after and
continues even today.

By the Eocene period, the Atlantic ocean fully

evolved separating South America and Africa.

Australia and South America were still joined

together through Antarctica, and not until
comparatively recent times did Australia
occupy its present position.
Evidences in support of Theory:

Fit of Continents

Fossil Evidence

Identical geological structures

Variation of climates in past

Fit of Continents
A remarkable Jigsaw fit of East coast of
South America and West Coast of Africa
was Observed.
Fit of Continents
The outlines of Antarctica, Australia and India
may be grouped together into a cluster that
fits in the outlines of Africa.
Fossil Evidence
Similar fossils are found in continents that
are now far apart.

Wegner cited the distribution of fossil fern as

evidence for Pangaea’s existence, because this
fossil fern Glossopteris was known to be
widely dispersed among Africa, India,
Australia and South America during the late
Paleozoic era
Fossil Evidence
Another classic example is Mesosaurus, an aquatic
dinosaur whose fossils are known to be limited to
south America and Africa.

34% of Triassic reptilian Fauna are the same for

the Southern continents.
Identical geological structures

If the continents were once together, the rocks

found in a particular region on one continent
should closely match in age and type with those
found in adjacent positions on the matching
continent. Some of the mountains chains are
shown below.
Matching Mountain Chains
Identical geological structures
The most convincing evidence provided by the
occurrence of identical rocks sequence of late
carboniferous along with associated coal deposits in
India, Australia, Antarctica, south Africa and south

These deposits were first studied in parts of Orissa

(West Bangal, India) inhabited by “Gond” tribe,
hence the name “Gondawana” group, extended to all
the continents with similar deposits as the
Identical rocks sequence
Variation of climates in past
Much of the Wegner’s evidence in support of
continental drift came from his study of
ancient climates.
He noted that certain kinds of sedimentary
rocks are found in area where present climate
are not conducive to their deposition.
Coral reef and coal deposits derived from
tropical plants in Arctic and Antarctic(which
have a frozen soil today) are notable examples.
Variation of climates in past

Widespread distribution of Permo-Carboniferous

glacial sediments in South America, Africa,
Madagascar, Arabia, India, Antarctica and
Australia was one of the major pieces of evidence
for the theory of continental drift.
Reasons of Rejection

One of the main objection to Wegner’s theory

was his inability to provide a mechanism for
continental drift.

It does not provide satisfactory explanation

about the energy sources of the Drift.
Reasons of Rejection
This theory does not account for the absence
of a larger number of mammals and reptiles
from South America that are otherwise much
abundant in Africa.

It also not account for the terrestrial fauna

of the south Africa and south America during
plaeozoic time, which appears to be very
Reasons of Rejection
One of the important argument in favour of
Wegner’s theory was a remarkable fit of
shorelines of south America and Africa.

However this was challenged by many scientists.

His opponents argued that shorelines are

modified by erosional processes and even if
continental displacement had taken place a good
fit today would be unlikely.
Then for the next 30 years from 1930,
after the death of Wegner, it remain a
part of major discussion for the Geologists
until the formulation of a new theory

“Plate Tectonic Theory”.