Plate Tectonic Theory: A Brief History

5min 55s Novice Spanish

Who were the major supporters of plate-tectonic theory?

This animation gives an overview of the most-recognized proponents (and opponents) of Plate Tectonics Theory up into the 1960's, with the discoveries that helped form the theories.

In the year 1596 cartographer Abraham Ortelius noted that the coastlines of Africa and South America appeared to fit together, compelling him to propose that the continents had once been joined but were pulled apart by "earthquakes and floods." 

And yet, the theory of  plate tectonics represents a fairly young science. The "Father of Plate Tectonics", Alfred Wegener proposed "Continental Drift" in 1912, but was ridiculed by fellow scientists. It would take another 50 years for the concept to be accepted. 

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Important contributions to Plate Tectonics theory:

  • 1596 Recognition of the plates having moved
  • 1858 Correlating rock type and fossils across the continents
  • 1872 Mapping the Atlantic Mid-ocean Ridge
  • 1896 Discovery of radioactivity (Earth's interior is hot)
  • 1897–1911 Delineating Earth's layered interior
  • 1912 Alfred Wegner proposes "Continental Drift"
  • 1927 Convection of mantle could drive the plates
  • 1953 Marie Tharpe recognizes mid-ocean ridge spreading
  • 1962 Harry Hess names "Spreading ridges"
  • 1963 Magnetic striping of ocean floor gives relative ages
  • 1963 Hot spots defined; transform faults.
  • 1960s defined the driving forces of plate tectonics


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