There have been several comments on this blog recently claiming that the consensus agreed with plate tectonics, but disagreed with continental drift.
This is revisionist nonsense, as I will explain below the offending comment.
In the case of continental drift, it took almost 70 years to accept the evidence, and allow the science to proceed.
The continental drift hypothesis – continents moving across the sea floor like ships upon the sea – was wrong, and rightly rejected (no one rejected the obvious fact that continents fit together like a jigsaw puzzle). As a physical mechanism to explain the fact that the continents do fit together, it was simply impossible and scientists at the time for the most part recognized that it was impossible. Wegener was unable to answer the “how do they move?” response to his hypothesis.
Despite this, there was actually fairly considerable acceptance, especially in Europe, that the coincidences of geographical fit, various fits of rock types and fossils, meant that some unknown mechanism had caused the continents to move, emphasis on the “unknown”. But science likes explanations, and it’s understandable that continental drift didn’t gain widespread acceptance given that its proponents couldn’t propose a physically possible mechanism for it.
Plate tectonics is not continental drift. And it came about due to the discovery of sea floor spreading, which came about as a result of improved mapping of the ocean floors using modern technology, in the 1950s. Once a reasonable mechanism was discovered and the theory of plate tectonics developed, acceptance was relatively rapid.
Nonsense. My physical geology professor at ASU was Dr. Robert Dietz – who discovered sea floor spreading.
- Dietz, Robert S. (3 June 1961). “Continent and Ocean Basin Evolution by Spreading of the Sea Floor“. Nature190 (4779): 854–857. Bibcode1961Natur.190..854D. DOI:10.1038/190854a0.
- Dietz, Robert S. (1954). “Marine geology of northwestern Pacific: description of Japanese bathymetric chart 6901”. Bull. Geol. Soc. Amer.65 (12): 1199. DOI:10.1130/0016-7606(1954)65[1199:MGONPD]2.0.CO;2. ISSN0016-7606.
- Menard, Henry W.; Dietz, Robert S. (May 1952). “Mendocino submarine escarpment”. Journal of Geology60 (3): 266–278. Bibcode1952JG…..60..266M. DOI:10.1086/625962. JSTOR30058194.
He also wrote an article in 1983 titled “In Defense of Drift” – because the consensus was still fighting against Wegener 70 years later.
Dietz, Robert S. (Nov.-Dec. 1983). “In Defense of Drift”. The Sciences 23: 26.
There never was a rift between plate tectonics and continental drift. Continental drift was a description of the motion, and plate tectonics was the underlying mechanism. Alarmists are trying to rewrite this history to prove that most scientists aren’t actually as stupid as they pretend to be.
At the time of his death, Wegener was ridiculed and his theory was scorned. Today, it is renowned as an essential element of the unifying theory of earth science: plate tectonics.