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The theory of continental drift proposes that Earth's continents have moved over geologic time. Throughout this time, the continents have appeared to drift across the ocean floor. This theory is based on geological evidence, such as the fossil record and tectonic plates. The theory has many supporters, but it remains a controversial topic. The theories behind continental drift are far from conclusive. Here, we will examine the most prominent theories and debates surrounding the topic.
A century ago, Earth scientists like Alfred Wegener were surprised to learn that South America and North America fit into Northwest Africa, suggesting that the continents had been joined at some point in time and then moved apart. The scientific community laughed at him, but Wegener persevered, developing a robust hypothesis that eventually made sense. Today, we're able to see how the Earth's continents fit together and drift apart today.
The two main theories of Earth's history are based on the same basic idea: a continent shifted, which was a result of changes to the planet's crust. The heat of the Earth's core is responsible for this process, which has influenced the Earth's crust ever since its formation. The theory also claims that the continents will reform into one supercontinent in about 250 million years.
The Atlantic Ocean formed during the Wilson cycle and opened at different times during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. Seafloor spreading along the Congo-Sao Francisco Craton probably took place around 134-126 Ma, while the North Atlantic Igneous Province eruptions took place around 55 Ma, resulting in the current state of passive margins. This rifting process does not necessarily lead to continent breakup, but it has the potential to.
Igneous activity at oceanic ridge occurs when molten magma from the mantle rises from the ocean floor, filling cracks in the crust. This molten rock then cools and becomes a new part of the Earth's crust. Mid-ocean ridges form when two or more plates meet and separate at the mid-ocean ridge. Typical examples include the Mid-Atlantic ridge that separates the North American and Eurasian plates, the East Pacific Rise that separates the Pacific and Cocos plates, and the Nazca plate.
Convection between a tectonic plate and its neighboring continent creates intense heat beneath the crust. This hot gas tries to escape the Earth's surface through a weak spot in the crust. This process is called "tectonic plate eruptivity." Magma seeping up through weak spots in the crust during continental drift can result in volcanic eruptions.
If you're wondering why the Earth moves, you've probably heard of convection currents in the mantle. This explains how plates slide and rise in relation to one another. Mantle convection currents move material because hot material rises and cools and flows downwards. During continental drift, this flow makes plates separate and move in a way that tilts the Earth's plate tectonics.
Evolutionists have a difficult time explaining global distributions of plants and animals, and their accepted models of continental drift do not provide a plausible mechanism of dispersal. The data seem to fit better with creationist models of the Genesis Flood, and regions with high endemism tend to have disjunctions across oceans. Yet this does not mean that the theory is dead - far from it! There is a possible explanation for disjunctions: fragmentation of a widespread ancestral species or continental drift.
Throughout geological history, continents have shifted, sometimes coalescing into huge landmasses and sometimes traveling away. Their different positions have altered Earth's climate, sea level, and distribution of organisms, as well as the birth and extinction of species. An animation shows how continents have shifted over time and summarizes their current state of life. A continent that has slid farther apart than another has been referred to as a "continental mountain range."
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