From the era of the exploration, Cartographers speculated that the continents were torn apart and or had drifted away from one another. Abraham Ortelius speculated in 1596 on the idea of continental drift having been caused by earthquakes and floods. Antonio Snider-Pellagrini in 1858 had drawn maps (above left) similar to the Pangea map (above right) with the present era map to show how the Western Hemisphere fit into Europe and Africa.
Although many others along the way had similar ideas, it was Alfred Wegener, on his own, in 1912, who came up with a most comprehensive version of Continental Drift. His idea was remarkably similar to the ancient idea of Pangea.
He produced convincing evidence for his idea that this super continent had been pulled apart. But, his explanation that it was caused by astronomical forces was not accepted. Other scientists proved with calculations that the forces Wegener hypothesized were not sufficient to cause continental drift. Wegener’s book (translated by John Biram), The Origins of the Continents and Oceans, was reissued by Dover Press in 1966 and is available here.
Wegener’s life was straight out of the age of exploration. He was the classic adventurer-scientist-soldier. His scientific work was generally in the physical sciences including meteorology, geology, and even astronomy. He fought in World War I as a Infantry officer. He was twice wounded and discharged. After his discharge, he studied the Treysa Meteorite that had landed in Germany during World War I. He made four treacherous trips to explore Greenland during his life. On his final trip to Greenland, in 1930, he used an early propeller driven snowmobile. The trip was a disaster. The markers set out for them to make their trip had been buried under a higher than anticipated snowstorm. Wegener’s body was later found buried in the snow with his skis to mark his grave. Rasmus Villumsen, who had apparently buried Wegener, disappeared and was never found.
Next: Plate Tectonics