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Continental Movements

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The Earth has always been changing...
Below are the original drawings of geographer Antonio Snider-Pellegrini made in 1858. These two maps showing his version of how the American and African continents may once have fit together, then later separated. This idea was ridiculed at the time, however as knowledge grew, the motion of the continents was verified by several independent facts.

Continental Drift

The periodic reversal of the Earth's magnetic field has been "recorded" by the solidifying magma on the ocean floor. The fossil record also tells the facinating story of our continents separating and joining.

The changing magnetic field of the Earth has been recorded.

Continental Drift

In the 1950s, zebra stripe-like magnetic patterns were found "frozen" in the rocks of the ocean floor. Obviously, the ocean floor had a story to tell, but what?
A theoretical model of the formation of magnetic striping. New oceanic crust forming continuously at the crest of the mid-ocean ridge cools and becomes increasingly older as it moves away from the ridge crest with seafloor spreading (see text): a. the spreading ridge about 5 million years ago; b. about 2 to 3 million years ago; and c. present-day.

In 1962, scientists of the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office prepared a report summarizing available information on the magnetic stripes mapped for the volcanic rocks making up the ocean floor. Two young British geologists, Frederick Vine and Drummond Matthews, and also Lawrence Morley of the Canadian Geological Survey, suspected that the magnetic pattern was no accident. In 1963, they hypothesized that the magnetic striping was produced by repeated reversals of the Earth's magnetic field. About the same time as these exciting discoveries were being made on the ocean floor, new techniques for determining the geologic ages of rocks ("dating") were also developing rapidly.

Continental Drift

The direction of the magnetism in the rocks on the ocean floor reversed over millions of years. the measurements matched the theory. The remarkable similarity of these two profiles provided one of the clinching arguments in support of the seafloor spreading hypothesis.

Actual magnetic striping in the Pacific Northwest. The center part of the figure -- representing the deep ocean floor with the sea magically removed -- shows the magnetic striping mapped by oceanographic surveys offshore of the Pacific Northwest. Thin black lines show transform faults that offset the striping.

Continental Drift

Continental Drift

As noted by Snider-Pellegrini and Wegener, the locations of certain fossil plants and animals on present-day, widely separated continents would form definite patterns (shown by the bands of colors), if the continents are rejoined.

Continental Drift

Measurements made with the Global Positioning System are sensitive enough to detect motion of the Earth's tectonic plates.The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a constellation of 24 satellites which is used for navigation and precise geodetic position measurements. Daily position estimates are determined from satellite signals which are recorded by GPS receivers on the ground. Data from a global receiver network were collected by the International GPS Service for Geodynamics (IGS) and analyzed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Horizontal velocities, mostly due to motion of the Earth's tectonic plates, are represented on the maps by arrows extending from each site. This technology is now being applied to study earthquakes in the Los Angeles basin.

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