Can Whole Continents Move?

Can whole continents move? It is almost impossible to believe, but without a doubt, the answer to this question seems to be yes. But how do we know, because we cannot see or feel them drifting beneath our feet?

In the early days of geology, the drifting of whole continents was certainly not considered to be a possibility, and in fact, in 1846 Dana positively asserted that continents and oceans have always been in the same place throughout geologic time. What happened, then, to change the geological mind?

It was a man called F. B. Taylor who first put forward a convincing argument for the movement of whole continents. He made this statement in the year 1910. During the following two years, H.B. Baker and perhaps most famous of all A. Wegener supported Taylor’s ideas. Since these pioneer workers first developed their startling suggestion, more and more evidence has been piling up to lend support to them.

It had been noticed 300 years ago that there was a remarkable fit between the outlines of the continents on the opposite shores of the Atlantic. It is  particularly noticeable how well the  coasts of  South  America and  the  Nigeria region seem  to match  up rather  like two  pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

An even more accurate fit was discovered by Bullard in 1965. When he used a computer to try to match up these continents along the 500 fathom (900 meters) line of their shores.

Can whole continents move

The continental shelf shown here marks the edge of the continental land mass and it is along this edge that Bullard found such a good fit between the continents.

Perhaps even more surprising is the correspondence of many great formations of rock which are separated by thousands of kilometers of ocean. A particularly good example is provided by sediments by ice sheets during the great Carboniferous Ice Age.

Deposits of this age can be found in South Africa, India, Australia, and Assam. Now if the ice sheet had been large enough to cover these  areas as they are  positioned  today, there would  have been a worldwide fall in temperature and other evidence proves that this simply was not so.

This means, then, that during the Carboniferous these areas must have formed one huge continent and that they have subsequently broken up and drifted apart.

Can whole continents move

Fossils of the same animal species found in rocks that are now separated by oceans suggest that the areas in which they are found were once much closer.

There is yet more evidence provided by paleontology, which although it is not conclusive in itself, taken with all else is very convincing. Between  the continents  of  Australia  and South  America, it is  noticeable  how there are  some groups of animals and plants  that are obviously  very similar and closely  related,  while others  are only found on one continent or the other.

It is now thought that the groups showing similarities had evolved before the breakup of the continents while the very different life forms had evolved separately afterwards. It is clear, then, that the map of the world has not always been the same as it is today.

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