3.@henryfountain: The stabilists and the mobilists: Alfred Wegener championed the fact that all the continents seem to fit together; continental drift—highly controversial still in the 19th Century. Proposed one huge continent 250 million years ago.
Map: Travel times (in hours) are shown for the tsunamis produced by the 1960 Concepción, Chile, earthquake (purple curves) and by the 1964 Good Friday, Valdez (Anchorage), Alaska earthquake (red curves).
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THE GREAT QUAKE: HOW THE BIGGEST EARTHQUAKE IN NORTH AMERICA CHANGED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE PLANET
By Henry Fountain.
The stabilists and the mobilists; Alfred L. Wegener championed the fact that all the continents seem to fit together; continental drift—highly controversial still in the 19th Century. Proposed one huge continent 250 million years ago.
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Henry Fountain dissects the connections between Alaska’s Great Earthquake of 27 March 1964 and geologists’ perceptions of how Earth’s crust slowly renews itself. Charles Darwin’s synthesis of his and other naturalists’ observations persuaded 19th century scientists to replace the idea of divine creation of mixed species with the theory that species of animals and plants evolve through processes of natural selection. That paradigm shift was rivaled by earth scientists’ 20th century adoption of the theory of plate tectonics to explain relative mobilities of continental and oceanic units of our planet’s crust. Fountain’s background in journalism led him to inoculate this account against technical esoterica by humanizing his storytelling, making it a reflection on human ecology as well as a chronology of idea development in earth sciences.
In 1911, 31-year-old German meteorologist, Alfred L. Wegener, took his first steps toward proposing that continents drift across the surface of our planet, which he expressed in a treatise published in 1912. A revised and amplified version appeared in 1915 and was published in English in 1922. New York City hosted a geological symposium in 1926 that became a “kangaroo court” for rejecting Wegener’s theory of continental drift (p. 64 – 65). At that time, Wegener could not identify a source of energy that could impart motion to continents. Wegener’s ideas were discounted partly because they were proposed by someone outside the guild or discipline of formally trained geologists. It took four decades for North American geologists to drop resistance to the German meteorologist’s notions of mobility in Earth’s crust.
An American contemporary of Wegener who did belong to the geologists’ guild, however, suffered a comparable rejection. J Harlen Bretz’s wide-ranging field studies along the Columbia River in eastern Washington State from 1910 to 1924 led him to propose that the extensive feature he called the “Channeled Scablands” had been formed by one or more catastrophic floods of proportions neither seen nor imagined by geologists to be possible. The year after Wegener was discredited for his continental drift theory, Bretz was “lynched” intellectually at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Washington, D.C. for failing to identify a source of enough floodwater to scour the Scablands. Unlike Wegener, who perished crossing Greenland in 1930 at age 50 (p. 65), Bretz lived to see his theories vindicated by . . .