Saturday, November 1, 2014

Alfred Wegener - Biography and Scientific Contribution

Birthday - 1 November 1880

Alfred Wegener was born in Berlin in 1880. He studied in Germany and Austria, receiving his PhD in astronomy. But  he shifted his attention to meteorology, the new science of weather, quickly after his PhD. He took up teaching meteorology at the University of Marburg and became  a very popular lecturer.

In 1910, Wegener noticed the matching coastlines of the Atlantic continents on maps and they felt that they were separated and were part of  single land mass earlier. In 1911, he published a textbook on the thermodynamics of atmosphere. In January 1912,  he put forth the idea of "continental displacement"   In that year only, he got married to the daughter of Germany's leading meteorologist.

He served in World War I and was wounded twice. He published his theory on separation of the continents  in 1915. They constituted the first focused and rational argument for continental drift. He received support of some scientists but many scientists opposed him including his father-in-law. His father-in-law was also unhappy that Wegener was neglecting meteorology and entering into the unknown subject  of geophysics.

In 1926 Wegener was made  professor of meteorology. In 1930 he sailed from Denmark as the leader of a major expedition to Greenland.  He celebrated his fiftieth birthday on November 1 during this expedition. But he lost his way one day during the expedition and there was a blizzard. His body was found halfway between the two camps.

Wegener's theories were tested and extended by Harry Hess and others. In 1960, Hess proposed the mechanism of sea-floor spreading, which would explain how the continents moved. Newly discovered exploration techniques were employed to test this theory and support was provided to Wegener's chief idea.

Continental Drift Theory Explanation - BBC Science

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