Alfred Wegener was a scientist who famously stated that the Earth’s continent moved and derived the theory of the “Continental Drift”. Between 1912 and 1929, he gathered several evidences to support his theory and even published a book about it but was rejected by his peers. The continental drift theory was only accepted in mainstream science in the 1960’s .
Alfred Lothar Wegener was a German Polar researcher, geophysicist and meteorologist. He was born on November 1, 1880 and was the youngest of the five siblings. He studied at Köllnisches Gymnasium on Wallstrasse in Berlin and graduated as the best in his class .
He took interest in the subjects of Earth and physical sciences which led him to study the said subjects at German and Austrian universities. In 1905, he had his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Berlin. While undertaking his study, he began being passionate about the subjects of meteorology and paleoclimatology. He began teaching in the University of Marburg in Germany after earning his Ph.D.
In 1922, Wegener pointed out geological evidence that 300 million years ago all continents were joined together to form a supercontinent which he named Pangaea (all lands). The supercontinent broke and formed the present continents 200 million years .
Livescience mentioned that Pangaea was formed through a process hundred million years ago. 480 million years ago, Laurentia, a continent consisted of parts of North America joined with small continents forming Euramerica. Euramerica eventually collided with Gondwana, another supercontinent which consisted Africa, Australia, South America and India. 200 million ago, the supercontinent started to break where Gondwana split from Laurasia. Then, 150 million years ago, Gondwana where India was separated from Antarctica. Africa and South America was also severed. North America was separated from Eurasia 60 million years ago.
Alfred Wegener and his older brother Kurt, who was also a scientist in meteorology and polar research pioneered the use of weather balloon to monitor air masses . In 1906, the brothers entered into a hot air balloon contest and set up a world record for longest continuous flight of a balloon which lasted 52.5 hours .
Wegener commenced his four Greenland expedition from 1906 to 1931 which epitomized him as a new breed of polar explorer whose main purpose was to find answers to geoscientific and meteorological questions. His exploration also introduced scientific equipment and methods for polar research. His second intention for the exploration was to uncover Greenland’s climate origin and conditions, the dynamics of its ice sheets and the atmosphere over Greenland’s ice sheets .
Alfred Wegener developed the Plate Tectonic Theory upon noticing that the east coast of South America lined up with the west coast of Africa. However, this was not a new observation since it was mentioned by Francis Bacon in the 1920s and Antonio Snider-Pelligrini in 1858. The difference with Wegener was that he used geological and records of fossil to back his claim.
The Plate Tectonic Theory is the theory that the outer rigid layer of the earth (the lithosphere) is divided into a couple of dozen “plates” that move around across the earth’s surface relative to each other, like slabs of ice on a lake .
In 1911, Wegener only then in his 30s, compiled all his meteorological papers to publish a book “The Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere”. Soon enough, the book became a standard text throughout Germany and received accolade from renowned Russian climatologist Alexander Woeikoff .
In 1913, after Wegener’s 18-month exploration in Greenland, he married Else Köppen, daughter of the famous climatologist, Wladimir Köppen. his father-in-law had been instrumental to Wegener as he had been a great help in his meteorological work and later his closest collaborator .
In 1915, Alfred Wegener wrote one of the most controversial book in science: “The Origin of Continents and Oceans”. The book was only popular in Germany, however, in 1922, a third revised edition was published and was translated into English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. The book boosted Wegener’s idea of continental drift and became a major discussion for the earth science .
In 1928, Wegener was offered to go back to Greenland and head his own expedition. It was the first German scientific exploration after WW1. A year after, Wegener together his team were off to Greenland whose tasks were to set and occupy a base and produce the first meteorological data of the region.
In the fall of 1929, the team faced major setbacks due to severe weather and scarcity of supply. On his 50th birthday, November 1, 1930, Wegener left the base to supply the needs of the exploration team and planned to come back to the west coast base. He never made it back as he died a week later either from heart failure or asphyxiation from carbon monoxide from his stove. Wegener’s body was found on May 1931 inside a sleeping bag marked by his skis. His companion, Rasmus Willemsen did not made it to the coast. His body was never found along with Wegener’s exploration diary .
Majority of Wegener’s diary, with more than fourteen volumes, are now in Deutsches Museum in Munich . The diaries were in oilcloth binding and were partially written in pencil and in ink .