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Alfred Lothar Wegener (; ; 1 November 1880 – November 1930) was a German polar researcher,
geophysicist Geophysics () is a subject of natural science concerned with the physical processes and Physical property, physical properties of the Earth and its surrounding space environment, and the use of quantitative methods for their analysis. The term ' ...
and
meteorologist A meteorologist is a scientist who studies and works in the field of meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the (which include and ), with a major focus on . The study of meteorology dates back , though significant progress in meteorology ...
. During his lifetime he was primarily known for his achievements in meteorology and as a pioneer of polar research, but today he is most remembered as the originator of
continental drift Continental drift is the hypothesis that the Earth's continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly reg ...
hypothesis by suggesting in 1912 that the
continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of th ...

continent
s are slowly drifting around the Earth (German: '). His hypothesis was controversial and widely rejected by mainstream
geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek ...

geology
until the 1950s, when numerous discoveries such as
palaeomagnetism Paleomagnetism, or palaeomagnetism, is the study of the record of the Earth's magnetic field Earth's magnetic field, also known as the geomagnetic field, is the magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnet ...
provided strong support for continental drift, and thereby a substantial basis for today's model of
plate tectonics Plate tectonics (from the la, label=Late Latin Late Latin ( la, Latinitas serior) is the scholarly name for the written Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. L ...
. Wegener was involved in several expeditions to
Greenland Greenland ( kl, Kalaallit Nunaat, ; da, Grønland, ) is an autonomous territory An autonomous administrative division (also referred to as an autonomous area, entity, unit, region, subdivision, or territory) is a subnational administra ...

Greenland
to study
polar Polar may refer to: Geography Polar may refer to: * Geographical pole, either of two fixed points on the surface of a rotating body or planet, at 90 degrees from the equator, based on the axis around which a body rotates *Polar climate, the clim ...
air circulation before the existence of the
jet stream Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow, meander A meander is one of a series of regular sinuous curves in the channel of a river or other watercourse. It is produced as a watercourse the s of an outer, concave bank () and deposits sedimen ...
was accepted. Expedition participants made many meteorological observations and were the first to overwinter on the inland Greenland ice sheet and the first to bore
ice core An ice core is a core sample . A pied butcherbird The pied butcherbird (''Cracticus nigrogularis'') is a songbird native to Australia. Described by John Gould in 1837, it is a black and white bird long with a long hooked bill. Its head an ...
s on a moving Arctic glacier.


Biography


Early life and education

Alfred Wegener was born in Berlin on 1 November 1880 as the youngest of five children in a clergyman's family. His father, Richard Wegener, was a theologian and teacher of classical languages at the
Berlinisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster The Evangelisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster, located in suburban Schmargendorf, Berlin, is an independent school with a humanistic profile, known as one of the most prestigious schools in Germany. Founded by the Evangelical Church in Germany, Ev ...
. In 1886 his family purchased a former manor house near
Rheinsberg Rheinsberg () is a town and a municipality in the Ostprignitz-Ruppin district, in Brandenburg Brandenburg (, also , ; nds, Brannenborg; dsb, Bramborska) is a state in the northeast of Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , ma ...

Rheinsberg
, which they used as a vacation home. Today there is an Alfred Wegener Memorial site and tourist information office in a nearby building that was once the local schoolhouse. He was cousin to film pioneer
Paul Wegener Paul Wegener (11 December 1874 – 13 September 1948) was a German actor, writer, and film director known for his pioneering role in German expressionist Expressionism is a modernist , Solomon Guggenheim Museum 1946–1959 Modernism is b ...

Paul Wegener
. Wegener attended school at the ' on Wallstrasse in Berlin (a fact which is memorialized on a plaque on this protected building, now a school of music), graduating as the best in his class. Afterward he studied
Physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical scie ...

Physics
, meteorology and
Astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses mathematics, phys ...
in Berlin,
Heidelberg Heidelberg () is a university town in the German state The Federal Republic of Germany, as a federal state, consists of sixteen partly sovereign federated states (german: Land (state), plural (states); commonly informally / federated s ...

Heidelberg
and
Innsbruck Innsbruck (; bar, Innschbruck, label=Austro-Bavarian Austro-Bavarian (also known as Austrian or Bavarian; or ; german: Bairisch ) is a West Germanic language spoken in parts of Bavaria and most of Austria. Before 1945, Austro-Bavarian was ...

Innsbruck
. From 1902 to 1903 during his studies he was an assistant at the
Urania Urania ( ; grc, Οὐρανία, Ouranía; modern short name ''Ránia''; meaning "heavenly" or "of heaven") was, in Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of s originally told by the , and a of . These stories concern the and , th ...
astronomical observatory. He obtained a doctorate in astronomy in 1905 based on a dissertation written under the supervision of
Julius Bauschinger
Julius Bauschinger
at ' (today
Humboldt University Humboldt University of Berlin (german: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, abbreviated HU Berlin) is a public research university in the central borough of Mitte in Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Ger ...
), Berlin. Wegener had always maintained a strong interest in the developing fields of
meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the (which include and ), with a major focus on . The study of meteorology dates back , though significant progress in meteorology did not begin until the 18th century. The 19th century saw modest progress in the f ...
and
climatology Climatology (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appr ...
and his studies afterwards focused on these disciplines. In 1905 Wegener became an assistant at the Aeronautisches Observatorium Lindenberg near
Beeskow Beeskow ( dsb, Bezkow) is a town in Brandenburg, Germany, and capital of the Oder-Spree district. It is situated on the river Spree, 30 km southwest of Frankfurt an der Oder. Demography File:Bevölkerungsentwicklung Beeskow.pdf, Development ...
. He worked there with his brother
Kurt Kurt is a male given name of Germanic origin. It is sometimes confused with ''Curt'', which is more aptly related to the Anglo-Norman name ''Curtis''. ''Kurt'', ''Cord'', ''Curd'', ''Cort'' or ''Kort'' originated as short forms of the Germanic ''K ...
, two years his senior, who was likewise a scientist with an interest in meteorology and polar research. The two pioneered the use of weather balloons to track air masses. On a balloon ascent undertaken to carry out meteorological investigations and to test a
celestial navigation Celestial navigation, also known as astronavigation, is the ancient and modern practice of position fixing that enables a navigator to transition through a space without having to rely on estimated calculations, or dead reckoning, to know their p ...

celestial navigation
method using a particular type of quadrant (“Libellenquadrant”), the Wegener brothers set a new record for a continuous balloon flight, remaining aloft 52.5 hours from 5–7 April 1906.


First Greenland expedition and years in Marburg

In that same year 1906, Wegener participated in the first of his four Greenland expeditions, later regarding this experience as marking a decisive turning point in his life. The
Denmark expedition The Denmark expedition ( da, Danmark-ekspeditionen), also known as Denmark Expedition to Greenland's Northeast Coast, and as the Danmark Expedition after the ship, was an expedition to the northeast of Greenland in 1906–1908. Despite being over ...
was led by the Dane
Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen (15 January 1872 – 25 November 1907) was a Danish author, ethnologist, and explorer, from Ringkøbing. He was most notably an explorer of Greenland. Literary expedition With Count Harald Moltke and Knud Johan Victor Rasmus ...
and charged with studying the last unknown portion of the northeastern coast of Greenland. During the expedition Wegener constructed the first meteorological station in Greenland near
Danmarkshavn Danmarkshavn (Denmark's Harbour) is a small weather station located in Dove Bay, on the southern shore of the Germania Land Peninsula, in Northeast Greenland National Park, Greenland. History The location was chosen as a suitable winter harbor ...

Danmarkshavn
, where he launched
kite A kite is a tether A tether is a cord, fixture, or flexible attachment that characteristically anchors something movable to something fixed; it also maybe used to connect two movable objects, such as an item being towing, towed by its tow. ...

kite
s and tethered balloons to make meteorological measurements in an
Arctic The Arctic ( or ) is a polar regions of Earth, polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Danish Realm, ...

Arctic
climatic zone. Here Wegener also made his first acquaintance with death in a wilderness of ice when the expedition leader and two of his colleagues died on an exploratory trip undertaken with
sled dog A sled dog is a dog The dog or domestic dog (''Canis familiaris'' or ''Canis lupus familiaris'') is a Domestication, domesticated descendant of the wolf which is characterized by an upturning tail. The dog Origin of the domestic dog, der ...
s. After his return in 1908 and until
World War I World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world". The term is usually reserved for ...

World War I
, Wegener was a lecturer in meteorology, applied astronomy and cosmic physics at the
University of Marburg The Philipps University of Marburg (german: Philipps-Universität Marburg) was founded in 1527 by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse Philip or Phillip or Philipp or Phillipp, may refer to: People * Philip (name), a given name, derived from the Gree ...
. His students and colleagues in Marburg particularly valued his ability to clearly and understandably explain even complex topics and current research findings without sacrificing precision. His lectures formed the basis of what was to become a standard textbook in meteorology, first written In 1909/1910: ''Thermodynamik der Atmosphäre'' (Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere), in which he incorporated many of the results of the Greenland expedition. On 6 January 1912 he publicized his first thoughts about continental drift in a lecture at a session of the Geologischen Vereinigung at the
Senckenberg Museum The Naturmuseum Senckenberg is a museum of natural history Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms, including animals, fungus, fungi, and plants, in their natural environment, leaning more towards observational than experi ...
,
Frankfurt am Main Frankfurt, officially Frankfurt am Main (; Hessian A Hessian is an inhabitant of the German state of Hesse. Hessian may also refer to: Named from the toponym *Hessian (soldier), eighteenth-century German regiments in service with the Bri ...

Frankfurt am Main
and in three articles in the journal ''Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen''.


Second Greenland expedition

After a stopover in
Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic Nordic most commonly refers to: * Nordic countries, written in plural as Nordics, the northwestern European countries, including Scandinavia, Fennoscandia and the List of islands in the Atlantic Ocean#N ...

Iceland
to purchase and test
ponies A pony is a small horse The horse (''Equus ferus caballus'') is a domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction ...

ponies
as pack animals, the expedition arrived in Danmarkshavn. Even before the trip to the inland ice began the expedition was almost annihilated by a calving
glacier A glacier (; ) is a persistent body of dense ice Ice is into a state. Depending on the presence of such as particles of soil or bubbles of air, it can appear transparent or a more or less bluish-white color. In the , ice is abunda ...

glacier
. The Danish expedition leader,
Johan Peter Koch Johan Peter Koch (15 January 1870 – 13 January 1928) was a Danish people, Danish captain and explorer of the Arctic dependencies of Denmark, born at Vestenskov. Career J.P. Koch participated in Amdrup's expedition to east Greenland in 1900 and w ...

Johan Peter Koch
, broke his leg when he fell into a glacier crevasse and spent months recovering in a sickbed. Wegener and Koch were the first to winter on the inland ice in northeast Greenland. Inside their hut they drilled to a depth of 25 m with an auger. In summer 1913 the team crossed the inland ice, the four expedition participants covering a distance twice as long as
Fridtjof Nansen Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen (; 10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian polymath A polymath ( el, πολυμαθής, ', "having learned much"; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, ...

Fridtjof Nansen
's southern Greenland crossing in 1888. Only a few kilometers from the western Greenland settlement of
Kangersuatsiaq Kangersuatsiaq (old spelling: ''Kangerssuatsiaq'') , formerly Prøven, is an island settlement in the Avannaata municipality in northwestern Greenland Greenland ( kl, Kalaallit Nunaat, ; da, Grønland, ) is the world's largest island, loc ...

Kangersuatsiaq
the small team ran out of food while struggling to find their way through difficult glacial breakup terrain. But at the last moment, after the last pony and dog had been eaten, they were picked up at a
fjord In physical geography Physical geography (also known as physiography) is one of the two fields of geography Geography (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδ ...

fjord
by the clergyman of
Upernavik Upernavik ( Kalaallisut: "Springtime Place") is a small town in the Avannaata municipality A municipality is usually a single administrative division having Municipal corporation, corporate status and powers of self-government or jurisdictio ...
, who just happened to be visiting a remote congregation at the time.


Family

Later in 1913, after his return Wegener married Else Köppen, the daughter of his former teacher and mentor, the meteorologist
Wladimir Köppen Wladimir Peter Köppen (; russian: Влади́мир Петро́вич Кёппен, translit=Vladímir Petróvič Këppen); 25 September 1846 – 22 June 1940) was a Russian-German geographer A geographer is a physical scientist, social sc ...
. The young pair lived in
Marburg Marburg ( or ) is a college town, university town in the States of Germany, German federal state (''Bundesland'') of Hesse, capital of the Marburg-Biedenkopf Districts of Germany, district (''Landkreis''). The town area spreads along the valley ...

Marburg
, where Wegner resumed his university lectureship. There his two older daughters were born, Hilde (1914–1936) and Sophie ("Käte", 1918–2012). Their third daughter Hanna Charlotte ("Lotte", 1920–1989) was born in
Hamburg en, Hamburgian(s) , timezone1 = Central (CET) , utc_offset1 = +1 , timezone1_DST = Central (CEST) , utc_offset1_DST = +2 , postal_code_type = Post ...

Hamburg
. Lotte would in 1938 marry the famous Austrian mountaineer and adventurer
Heinrich Harrer Heinrich Harrer (; 6 July 1912 – 7 January 2006) was an Austrian mountaineer, sportsman, geographer A geographer is a physical scientist, social scientist and humanist whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's natural envir ...
, while in 1939, Käte married Siegfried Uiberreither, Austrian
Nazi Nazism ( ), officially National Socialism (german: Nationalsozialismus, ), is the ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about th ...

Nazi
Gauleiter A ''Gauleiter'' () was a regional leader of the Nazi Party The Nazi Party, officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party (german: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP), was a far-right Far-right politics ...

Gauleiter
of
Styria Styria (german: Steiermark ; Croatian Croatian may refer to: *Croatia *Croatian cuisine *Croatian language *Croatian name *Croats, people from Croatia, or of Croatian descent *Citizens of Croatia, see demographics of Croatia See also * Croat ...
.


World War I

As an infantry reserve officer Wegener was immediately called up when the
First World War World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainmen ...
began in 1914. On the war front in
Belgium Belgium ( nl, België ; french: Belgique ; german: Belgien ), officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe. The region's countries and territories vary depending on cont ...

Belgium
he experienced fierce fighting but his term lasted only a few months: after being wounded twice he was declared unfit for active service and assigned to the army weather service. This activity required him to travel constantly between various weather stations in
Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inh ...

Germany
, on the
Balkans The Balkans ( ), also known as the Balkan Peninsula, are a geographic area in southeastern Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rathe ...

Balkans
, on the
Western FrontWestern Front or West Front may refer to: Military frontiers *Western Front (World War I), a military frontier to the west of Germany *Western Front (World War II), a military frontier to the west of Germany *Western Front (Russian Empire), a major ...

Western Front
and in the
Baltic region The terms Baltic Sea Region, Baltic Rim countries (or simply Baltic Rim), and the Baltic Sea countries/states refer to slightly different combinations of countries in the general area surrounding the Baltic Sea The Baltic Sea is an arm of t ...
. Nevertheless, he was able in 1915 to complete the first version of his major work, ''Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane'' (“The Origin of Continents and Oceans”). His brother Kurt remarked that Alfred Wegener's motivation was to “reestablish the connection between
geophysics Geophysics () is a subject of natural science Natural science is a branch A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a b ...

geophysics
on the one hand and
geography Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and Solar System, planets. The first person t ...

geography
and
geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek ...

geology
on the other, which had become completely ruptured because of the specialized development of these branches of science.” Interest in this small publication was however low, also because of wartime chaos. By the end of the war Wegener had published almost 20 additional meteorological and geophysical papers in which he repeatedly embarked for new scientific frontiers. In 1917 he undertook a scientific investigation of the Treysa meteorite.


Postwar period and third expedition

Wegener obtained a position as a meteorologist at the German Naval Observatory (''Deutsche Seewarte'') and moved to
Hamburg en, Hamburgian(s) , timezone1 = Central (CET) , utc_offset1 = +1 , timezone1_DST = Central (CEST) , utc_offset1_DST = +2 , postal_code_type = Post ...

Hamburg
with his wife and their two daughters. In 1921 he was appointed senior lecturer at the new
University of Hamburg The University of Hamburg (german: Universität Hamburg, also referred to as UHH) is a university in Hamburg, Germany. It was founded on 28 March 1919 by combining the previous General Lecture System ('':de:Allgemeines Vorlesungswesen, Allgemei ...
. From 1919 to 1923 Wegener did pioneering work on reconstructing the climate of past eras (now known as "
paleoclimatology Paleoclimatology (British spelling Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English orthography, the two most notab ...
"), closely in collaboration with
Milutin Milanković Milutin Milanković ( sr-cyr, Милутин Миланковић , sometimes anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and ph ...

Milutin Milanković
, publishing ''Die Klimate der geologischen Vorzeit'' (“The Climates of the Geological Past”) together with his father-in-law, Wladimir Köppen, in 1924. In 1922 the third, fully revised edition of “The Origin of Continents and Oceans” appeared, and discussion began on his theory of continental drift, first in the German language area and later internationally. Withering criticism was the response of most experts. In 1924 Wegener was appointed to a professorship in meteorology and geophysics in
Graz Graz ( , ; sl, Gradec) is the capital city of the Austria Austria (, ; german: Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (german: Republik Österreich, links=no, ), is a landlocked A landlocked country is a country that ...

Graz
, which finally provided him with a secure position for himself and his family. He concentrated on physics and the optics of the atmosphere as well as the study of
tornado A tornado is a violently rotating column of air File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together compose about 0.043391% of the atmos ...

tornado
es. He had studied tornadoes for several years by this point, publishing the first thorough European
tornado climatology Tornado A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. It is often referred to as a twister, whirlwind or cycl ...
in 1917. He also posited tornado vortex structures and formative processes. Scientific assessment of his second Greenland expedition (ice measurements, atmospheric optics, etc.) continued to the end of the 1920s. In November 1926 Wegener presented his continental drift theory at a symposium of the
American Association of Petroleum Geologists The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is one of the world's largest professional geological societies with more than 40,000 members across 129 countries as of 2021. The AAPG works to "advance the science of geology, especially as i ...
in
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
, again earning rejection from everyone but the chairman. Three years later the fourth and final expanded edition of “The Origin of Continents and Oceans” appeared. In 1929 Wegener embarked on his third trip to Greenland, which laid the groundwork for a later main expedition and included a test of an innovative, propeller-driven
snowmobile A snowmobile, also known as a Ski-Doo, snowmachine, sled, motor sled, motor sledge, skimobile, or snow scooter, is a motorized vehicle designed for winter travel and recreation on snow Snow comprises individual ice Ice is water ...
.


Fourth and last expedition

Wegener's last Greenland expedition was in 1930. The 14 participants under his leadership were to establish three permanent stations from which the thickness of the Greenland ice sheet could be measured and year-round Arctic weather observations made. Wegener felt personally responsible for the expedition's success, as the
German government The Federal Cabinet or Federal Government (german: Bundeskabinett or ') is the chief executive body of the Federal Republic of Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , large ...
had contributed $120,000 ($1.5 million in 2007 dollars). Success depended on enough provisions being transferred from West camp to ' ("mid-ice") for two men to winter there, and this was a factor in the decision that led to his death. Owing to a late thaw, the expedition was six weeks behind schedule and, as summer ended, the men at ' sent a message that they had insufficient fuel and so would return on 20 October. On 24 September, although the route markers were by now largely buried under snow, Wegener set out with thirteen Greenlanders and his meteorologist Fritz Loewe to supply the camp by dog sled. During the journey, the temperature reached and Loewe's toes became so frostbitten they had to be amputated with a penknife without anesthetic. Twelve of the Greenlanders returned to West camp. On 19 October the remaining three members of the expedition reached '. There being only enough supplies for three at ', Wegener and Rasmus Villumsen took two dog sleds and made for West camp. They took no food for the dogs and killed them one by one to feed the rest until they could run only one sled. While Villumsen rode the sled, Wegener had to use skis, but they never reached the camp: Wegener died and Villumsen was never seen again. The expedition was completed by his brother, Kurt Wegener. This expedition inspired the Greenland expedition episode of Adam Melfort in
John Buchan John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (; 26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940) was a British novelist, historian, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada The governor general of Canada (french: le gouverneur général ...

John Buchan
's 1933 novel '' A Prince of the Captivity''.


Death

Wegener died in Greenland in November 1930 while returning from an expedition to bring food to a group of researchers camped in the middle of an icecap. He supplied the camp successfully, but there was not enough food at the camp for him to stay there. He and a colleague, Rasmus Villumsen, took dog sleds to travel to another camp although they never reached it. Villumsen had buried the body with great care, and a pair of skis marked the grave site. After burying Wegener, Villumsen had resumed his journey to West camp, but was never seen again. Six months later, on 12 May 1931,
Kurt Wegener Kurt Wegener (April 3, 1878 in Berlin - February 29, 1964 in Munich) was a German polar explorer and meteorologist. He was the brother of Alfred Wegener. He worked at the Meteorological Observatory Lindenberg near Beeskow with his brother. Refer ...
discovered his brother's grave halfway between ' and West camp. He and other expedition members built a pyramid-shaped
mausoleum A mausoleum is an external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or people. A monument without the interment is a cenotaph. A mausoleum may be considered a type ...

mausoleum
in the ice and snow, and Alfred Wegener's body was laid to rest in it. Wegener had been 50 years of age and a heavy smoker, and it was believed that he had died of
heart failure Heart failure (HF), also known as congestive heart failure (CHF) and (congestive) cardiac failure (CCF), is a set of manifestations caused by the failure of the heart The heart is a cardiac muscle, muscular Organ (biology), organ in mo ...
brought on by overexertion. Villumsen was 23 when he died, and it is estimated that his body, and Wegener's diary, now lie under more than of accumulated ice and snow.


Continental drift theory

Alfred Wegener first thought of this idea by noticing that the different large landmasses of the Earth almost fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The
continental shelf A continental shelf is a portion of a continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth descriptio ...

continental shelf
of the Americas fits closely to Africa and Europe. Antarctica, Australia, India and Madagascar fit next to the tip of Southern Africa. But Wegener only published his idea after reading a paper in 1911 which criticized the prevalent hypothesis, that a bridge of land once connected Europe and America, on the grounds that this contradicts
isostasy Isostasy (Greek ''ísos'' "equal", ''stásis'' "standstill") or isostatic equilibrium is the state of gravitational Gravity (), or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass Mass is both a property Prope ...

isostasy
. Wegener's main interest was meteorology, and he wanted to join the Denmark-Greenland expedition scheduled for mid-1912. He presented his Continental Drift hypothesis on 6 January 1912. He analyzed both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for rock type, geological structures and fossils. He noticed that there was a significant similarity between matching sides of the continents, especially in
fossil plants Paleobotany, which is also spelled as palaeobotany, is the branch of botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise th ...
. From 1912, Wegener publicly advocated the existence of "
continental drift Continental drift is the hypothesis that the Earth's continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly reg ...
", arguing that all the continents were once joined together in a single landmass and had since drifted apart. He supposed that the mechanisms causing the drift might be the centrifugal force of the Earth's rotation ("") or the astronomical
precession Precession is a change in the orientation Orientation may refer to: Positioning in physical space * Map orientation, the relationship between directions on a map and compass directions * Orientation (housing), the position of a building with re ...

precession
. Wegener also speculated about
sea-floor spreading Seafloor spreading is a process that occurs at mid-ocean ridges, where new oceanic crust is formed through volcano, volcanic activity and then gradually moves away from the ridge. History of study Earlier theories by Alfred Wegener and Alexander ...
and the role of the
mid-ocean ridge A mid-ocean ridge (MOR) is a seafloor mountain system formed by plate tectonics upright=1.35, Diagram of the internal layering of Earth showing the lithosphere above the asthenosphere (not to scale) Plate tectonics (from the la, label=Late ...
s, stating that "the Mid-Atlantic Ridge ... zone in which the floor of the Atlantic, as it keeps spreading, is continuously tearing open and making space for fresh, relatively fluid and hot
sima Sima or SIMA may refer to: People * Sima (given name), a feminine name in use in Arabic countries, Persia (Iran). * Sima (surname) * Sima (Chinese surname) Places * Sima, Comoros, on the island of Anjouan, near Madagascar * Sima, Nepal, in the J ...
ising Ising is a surname. Notable people with the surname include: * Ernst Ising (1900–1998), German physicist * Gustav Ising, Swedish accelerator physicist * Rudolf Ising, animator for ''MGM'', together with Hugh Harman often credited as: ''Harman-Isi ...

ising
from depth." However, he did not pursue these ideas in his later works. In 1915, in the first edition of his book, ', written in German, Wegener drew together evidence from various fields to advance the theory that there had once been a giant continent, which he named "'" (German for "primal continent", analogous to the Greek "
Pangaea Pangaea or Pangea () was a supercontinent In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí G ...

Pangaea
", meaning "All-Lands" or "All-Earth"). Expanded editions during the 1920s presented further evidence. (The first English edition was published in 1924 as ''The Origin of Continents and Oceans'', a translation of the 1922 third German edition.) The last German edition, published in 1929, revealed the significant observation that shallower oceans were geologically younger. It was, however, not translated into English until 1962.


Reaction

In his work, Wegener presented a large amount of observational evidence in support of continental drift, but the mechanism remained a problem, partly because Wegener's estimate of the velocity of continental motion, 250 cm/year, was too high. (The currently accepted rate for the separation of the Americas from Europe and Africa is about 2.5 cm/year.) While his ideas attracted a few early supporters such as
Alexander Du Toit Alexander Logie du Toit Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS ( ; 14 March 1878 – 25 February 1948) was a geologist from South Africa and an early supporter of Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift. Early life and education Du Toit was born ...
from South Africa,
Arthur Holmes Arthur Holmes (14 January 1890 – 20 September 1965) was a British geologist who made two major contributions to the understanding of geology. He pioneered the use of radiometric dating of minerals and was the first earth scientist to grasp th ...
in England and
Milutin Milanković Milutin Milanković ( sr-cyr, Милутин Миланковић , sometimes anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and ph ...

Milutin Milanković
in Serbia, for whom
continental drift Continental drift is the hypothesis that the Earth's continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly reg ...
theory was the premise for investigating polar wandering, the hypothesis was initially met with skepticism from geologists, who viewed Wegener as an outsider and were resistant to change. The one American edition of Wegener's work, published in 1925, which was written in "a dogmatic style that often results from German translations", was received so poorly that the
American Association of Petroleum Geologists The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is one of the world's largest professional geological societies with more than 40,000 members across 129 countries as of 2021. The AAPG works to "advance the science of geology, especially as i ...
organized a symposium specifically in opposition to the continental drift hypothesis. The opponents argued, as did the
Leipzig Leipzig (, ; Upper Saxon: ) is the most populous city in the Germany, German States of Germany, state of Saxony. With a population of 605,407 inhabitants as of 2021 (1.1 million residents in the larger urban zone), it surpasses the Saxon c ...

Leipzig
er geologist
Franz Kossmat Franz Kossmat ( 22 August 1871 in Vienna Vienna ( ; german: Wien ; bar, Wean, label=Bavarian language, Austro-Bavarian ) is the Capital city, national capital, largest city, and one of States of Austria, nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's ...
, that the oceanic crust was too firm for the continents to "simply plough through". From at least 1910, Wegener imagined the continents once fitting together not at the current shore line, but 200 m below this, at the level of the , where they match well. Part of the reason Wegener's ideas were not initially accepted was the misapprehension that he was suggesting the continents had fit along the current coastline.
Charles Schuchert Charles Schuchert (July 3, 1858 – November 20, 1942) was an American invertebrate Invertebrates are animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column (commonly known as a ''backbone'' or ''spine''), derived from the notochord. This ...
commented: Wegener was in the audience for this lecture, but made no attempt to defend his work, possibly because of an inadequate command of the English language. In 1943,
George Gaylord Simpson George Gaylord Simpson (June 16, 1902 – October 6, 1984) was an American paleontologist Paleontology (), also spelled palaeontology or palæontology, is the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the star ...

George Gaylord Simpson
wrote a strong critique of the theory (as well as the rival theory of sunken land bridges) and gave evidence for the idea that similarities of
flora Flora is all the plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to Energy transformation, convert light energy into chemical energy that, through cellular respiration, ca ...

flora
and
fauna Fauna is all of the animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals Heterotroph, consume organic material, Cellular r ...

fauna
between the continents could best be explained by these being fixed land masses which over time were connected and disconnected by periodic flooding, a theory known as permanentism. Alexander du Toit wrote a rejoinder to this the following year.


Modern developments

In the early 1950s, the new science of paleomagnetism pioneered at the University of Cambridge by S. K. Runcorn and at Imperial College by P.M.S. Blackett was soon producing data in favour of Wegener's theory. By early 1953 samples taken from India showed that the country had previously been in the Southern hemisphere as predicted by Wegener. By 1959, the theory had enough supporting data that minds were starting to change, particularly in the United Kingdom where, in 1964, the Royal Society held a symposium on the subject. The 1960s saw several relevant developments in geology, notably the discoveries of seafloor spreading and Wadati–Benioff zones, and this led to the rapid resurrection of the continental drift hypothesis in the form of its direct descendant, the theory of
plate tectonics Plate tectonics (from the la, label=Late Latin Late Latin ( la, Latinitas serior) is the scholarly name for the written Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. L ...
. Maps of the geomorphology of the ocean floors created by Marie Tharp in cooperation with Bruce Heezen were an important contribution to the paradigm shift that was starting. Wegener was then recognized as the founding father of one of the major scientific revolutions of the 20th century. With the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS), it became possible to measure continental drift directly.


Awards and honors

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, was established in 1980 on Wegener's centenary. It awards the Wegener Medal in his name."2005 Annual report"
, page 259, ''Alfred Wegener Institute''
The crater Wegener (lunar crater), Wegener on the Moon and the crater Wegener (Martian crater), Wegener on Mars, as well as the asteroid 29227 Wegener and the peninsula where he died in Greenland (Wegener Peninsula near Ummannaq, ), are named after him. The European Geosciences Union sponsors an Alfred Wegener Medal & Honorary Membership "for scientists who have achieved exceptional international standing in atmospheric, hydrological or ocean sciences, defined in their widest senses, for their merit and their scientific achievements."


Selected works

* * * * * ** English language edition: ; British edition: Methuen, London (1968). * Köppen, W. & Wegener, A. (1924): ''Die Klimate der geologischen Vorzeit'', Borntraeger Science Publishers. English language edition:
The Climates of the Geological Past
' 2015. *


See also

*Hair ice – Wegener introduced a theory on the growth of hair ice in 1918.


References


External links

* * *
Wegener Institute website






nbsp;– Biographical material * Wegener's paper (1912) online and analyzed
BibNum
(for English text go to "A télécharger")
''Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane''
nbsp;– full digital facsimile at Linda Hall Library * {{DEFAULTSORT:Wegener, Alfred 1880 births 1930 deaths German geophysicists German geologists German meteorologists German climatologists Tectonicists German military personnel of World War I Scientists from Berlin Köllnisches Gymnasium alumni Humboldt University of Berlin alumni University of Marburg faculty 20th-century German writers 20th-century German male writers 20th-century geologists