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Geology LibreTexts

2.3: Continental Drift

Continental drift was first conceived by scholars and philosophers named Francis Bacon, George Buffon, and Alexander von Humboldt. As maps grew more accurate the landmasses began appeared as puzzle pieces. The continents once had fit together but had drifted apart after millions of years. The continents now far apart showed similar sediment, rock formation, and vegetation supporting the theory that they were one landmass in the past.  These men helped establish the idea of continental drift, but Alfred Wegener spent much time exploring and researching to prove this theory.



According to the continental drift theory, the supercontinent Pangaea began to break up about 225-200 million years ago, eventually fragmenting into the continents as we know them today.

Wegener named Earth’s super continent Pangea. The explanation for their movement is due to the theory of plate tectonics.  Under the Earth’s crust there are a series of plates that move and collide with each other causing landmasses on the Earth’s surface to shift and drift. Our continents will continue to move and in the future (millions of years) will be in completely different location’s on the earth. However, Wegener did not base his argument off of the idea of plate tectonics. Wegener supported his theory with evidence of fossils, mountain ranges, and patterns of glaciation. While the continents were formed as Pangea, Wegener called the super ocean Panthalassa.  As Earth’s landmasses shifted to what we know it as today, Wegener gave names to each of the stages formations.  Laurasia was the combination of what we know as Europe, Asia, and North America.  The remaining continents at this time were called Gondwanaland.  

Video 2.3.1: