What is the fastest moving tectonic plate

Alfred Wegener and plate tectonics

Why do volcanoes erupt? And why do earthquakes shake some areas particularly often? Because the continents move through what is known as plate tectonics! A young researcher named Alfred Wegener claimed this as early as the beginning of the 20th century. His older colleagues laughed at him. Right? This only became apparent long after Alfred Wegener's death

Have you ever looked at a globe and noticed that some continents fit together like pieces of a puzzle? This is exactly what happened to Alfred Wegener on Christmas 1910. While the whole country was sitting under the Christmas tree, he leafed through an atlas for hours.

What the 31-year-old can't let go of. In January 1911 he wrote in a letter to his fiancée Else Köppen: "Doesn't the east coast of South America fit exactly into the west coast?
Africa as if they were once connected? I have to pursue this thought! "

Alfred Wegener actually does that - although he actually has nothing to do with geology. He studied meteorology, astronomy and physics in Berlin.

Four expeditions take Alfred Wegener to Greenland

Alfred Wegener later achieved a certain reputation as a polar explorer. For months he fought his way through the freezing cold with dog and horse-drawn sleighs. A total of four expeditions take him to Greenland. Already during his first voyage in 1906, Alfred Wegener observed the drift ice on the sea that breaks, drifts apart and collides with each other.

Perhaps he remembers it when he was brooding over the continent business. Couldn't they swim, break, and move on the surface of the earth - just much more slowly? That would at least explain why South America and Africa seem to go so well together.

Alfred Wegener's speech to the Geological Association

During the winter of 1911/12, Alfred Wegener hardly slept. Like a detective, he gathers further clues from all sorts of sciences. He firmly believes that his new theory is right: "I don't think the old ideas will have ten years to live."

He wrote that in a letter in November 1911 to Wladimir Köppen, the father of Wegener's fiancé Else, also a respected meteorologist. He warns his future son-in-law that he could get into a lot of trouble with his theory, especially with the geologists. Because Wegener would turn their previous views completely upside down. And that's exactly what he does - despite all warnings ...

January 6, 1912. Alfred Wegener's heart beats to his throat, he's so excited! Countless gray-headed, black-clad scholars crowd in the lecture hall of the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main: the participants of the annual general meeting of the Geological Association. Wegener now wants to present his theory to you.

He takes a last deep breath, then steps up to the desk. Alfred Wegener speaks quickly, he wants to say as much as possible before someone interrupts him. Finally, he drops the crucial sentence that leaves the audience speechless: "The continents have changed their position in the course of the earth's history."

The idea of ​​continental drift

In the following he explains that the top layer of the earth, the earth's crust, is divided into plates. These (and with them oceans and continents) float on the Earth's mantle like rafts: a gigantic machine that piles up mountains and rips open oceans. The first in the audience start to laugh. What nonsense!

So far, geologists have assumed that the pattern of land and seas will never change. Once there were at most land bridges between the continents, which have now sunk into the sea like ships. That can't be true, believes Alfred Wegener. Because: "A continent is lighter than what it swims on."

So it can't go under! Furthermore, Wegener quickly continues, there are earthworm and snail species that live in both West Africa and South America. With the best will in the world, they cannot be trusted to crawl thousands of kilometers across a land bridge from one continent to another. Instead, the land masses must have simply moved.

Now Alfred Wegener gets cold looks, shouts echo through the hall: "Humbug!", "Total nonsense!". It seems to be dawning on the scientists what it would mean if Alfred Wegener were right: They would have to overturn the work of 70 years of research and start over.

Why are the plates moving?

In addition, Alfred Wegner cannot explain why the plates move - researchers are still puzzled over this today. And Wegener himself couldn't even record the movement of the continents. This only succeeded in the 1970s with the help of satellites. As much as the researchers made fun of Alfred Wegener at the time, today his theory is considered groundbreaking.

A whole branch of geology is based on it: plate tectonics, i.e. the theory of the structure of the earth. Wegener himself does not notice any more of this. In 1930 he travels to Greenland again. On the way back from a research station, snow drifts and storms rob him of all his strength. He will probably die of overexertion around November 16.

Only months later does a search party find his body and bury it in the eternal ice. Since then, Greenland, and with it Alfred Wegener's resting place, has moved one and a half meters from Europe.