Continental Drift Theory Comes Alive

What kind of forces have the power to move continents?

Wegener hypothesized that the continents drifted along the ocean floor. However, his ideas were under strong criticism from other scientists in the field and Wegener died before his theory of continental drift came to be widely accepted in a modified form.

It wasnít until World War II that the idea behind his theory was proven. Oceanographers who were mapping the seafloor for submarine warfare found an underwater mountain range in the central Atlantic Ocean.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is part of the world's longest and largest mountain chain, the Mid-Ocean Ridge.
photo courtesy of Ronald C. Blakey

The discovery of underwater mountain ranges caused scientists to reconsider the continental drift theory. Something had to be going on beneath the ocean floor to cause such drastic changes on the Earthís surface.

Intrigue was sparked among the scientific community and a theory was pieced together.

Plate Tectonics

The formation of Pangea and the present-day location of Earthís continents are linked, directly or indirectly, to the ocean floor. To understand the Earthís ever-changing surface, it is important to first understand its underwater foundation. The ocean floor is not flat, as people of the 19th Century first speculated.

Oceanic exploration greatly expanded in the 1950s, around the time the Tully Monster fossil was first discovered. It was at this time that global oceanographic surveys discovered another great mountain range, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, nearly 16,000 km/10,000 mi across. Its mountain ranges zigzag around continents, much like the seam on a baseball.

Although the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is hidden below the Earth’s oceans, it is part of the most prominent topographical feature on the planet: the Mid-Oceanic Ridge.

What is a mountain range doing at the bottom of the ocean floor? The answer lies at the center of the Earth.