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Table of Contents
Ever wondered how Earth has seven continents today? The theory of continental drift is the earliest explanation of how geologists thought the continents moved over time.
See the fact file below for more information on the Continental Drift or alternatively, you can download our 26-page Continental Drift worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Alfred Wegener was widely credited for the theory of continental drift as he was the first one to write and publish a detailed and comprehensive theory. Although Wegener was the first one to write about continental drift, there were many others before him who had a similar idea.
- In the 1800s, Alexander von Humboldt noticed the similarity in the coastlines of South America and Africa. He theorized that continents bordering the Atlantic Ocean were once connected.
- French scientist, Antonio Snider-Pellegrini argued that the presence of two identical plant fossils in North America and Europe were not possible unless these two continents were once connected. He added that there is no other plausible explanation for this.
- Another is Frank Taylor, who in 1908 proposed that the formation of mountain ranges is due to continental collision.
- Finally, in 1912, Alfred Wegener published a paper explaining how the continents were once part of a single landmass, a supercontinent called Pangaea. This included several pieces of evidence to support his theory.
EVIDENCE SUPPORTING CONTINENTAL DRIFT
- Like other scientists before him, Alfred Wegener also noticed that there was a remarkable similarity between the coastlines of South America and Africa. It seems that the coastlines of the two continents fit each other and may have been one land before.
- Although South America and Africa seem to have coastlines that fit each other, the first jigsaw fit Wegener made was not perfect.
- Opponents of the theory also pointed this out and even added that erosion makes it impossible to have these two coastlines fit each other perfectly.
- Later on, it was found that a better fit would happen if the edges of the continental shelf were included. Thus, scientists included the continental shelf submerged underwater and produced a much greater jigsaw fit of the coastlines of South America and Africa.
FOSSILS MATCH ACROSS SEAS
- Alfred Wegener learned through his readings that most palaeontologists agreed that there must be some type of land connection that allowed fossils of the same species to be formed and discovered in widely separated landmasses.
- An example of this is the fossils of the ancient reptile mesosaurus found in South America and Africa. This reptile is a freshwater organism that at only a meter long and could not have swum the Atlantic Ocean to reach the other two continents.
- The presence of the fossils of mesosaurus on these two continents further suggests that South America and Africa were once connected or once a single landmass, surrounded by lakes and rivers.
- Aside from this ancient reptile, Wegener also found that there are tropical plant fossils in Svalbard, Norway. This finding suggests that Svalbard must have had a tropical climate before. A very different climate compared to what it has now – arctic.
ROCK TYPE AND STRUCTURE
- Another piece of evidence presented by Wegener is the different rock types and structures that are of the same age but are found on different continents.
- 2.2 billion-year-old igneous rocks found in Brazil have a close resemblance with similarly aged rocks in Africa.
- Another evidence is the Appalachian Mountain Range found in the eastern United States. Mountains of similar age and structure are found in Greenland, Scandinavia, and the British Isles.
- Aside from Svalbard’s tropical plant fossils, there are other pieces of evidence found which suggest that there have been changes in the climate pattern of the different continents.
- Glacial debris of the same age was found on the continents of South America and Africa, as well as in India and Australia.
- Wegener also discovered that a large tropical swamp once existed in the Northern Hemisphere. This tropical swamp is the reason behind the major coalfields found in Europe, Siberia, and the eastern USA.
- These pieces of evidence suggest that there must have been a shift from their former location to the current resulting in a shift in climate patterns.
THE GREAT DEBATE AND A NEW PARADIGM
- Wegener’s continental drift theory received lots of criticism. One of the major objections against his theory is the lack of a mechanism capable of moving continents across the globe.
- He proposed that the tidal influence of the Moon was strong enough to move the continents. Harold Jeffreys immediately countered this argument saying that if this is true, Earth would stop rotating in a matter of years.
- Due to the failure to provide a mechanism capable of moving continents, Wegener and his continental drift theory were not accepted and forgotten until the 1960s.
- Currently, Wegener’s continental drift theory is part of the theory of plate tectonics together with other theories that help explain mechanisms capable of moving continents.
Continental Drift Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Continental Drift across 26 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about the Continental Drift which is the earliest explanation of how geologists thought the continents moved over time.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
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- Pet Welcome
- Be an Expert
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- Life of a Vet
- Thank a Vet
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Link will appear as Continental Drift Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, March 24, 2022
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.