Animated life: Pangea, Wegener and the continental drift

8 minutes

How an Earth science outsider finally put the Pangea puzzle together

For centuries, scientists – and pretty much anyone who had ever laid eyes on a world map – noticed that the continents seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But it wasn’t until the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener became convinced that the continents once formed a mega-continent and had been drifting away ever since, that anyone truly began to understand why. While on a field expedition in Greenland in 1906-08, Wegener noticed how ice caps looked like puzzle pieces after they had fractured and drifted apart. He concluded that something similar must have happened with the continents and began publicising his ‘continental drift’ hypothesis in 1912. But even though it offered a compelling explanation for some of geology’s most fundamental unanswered questions, continental drift received an icy reception from the geology community, who viewed Wegener as a naive outsider. It wasn’t until 50 years later – well after his death during yet another Greenland expedition – that his theory, confirmed and slightly altered by the discovery of plate tectonics, became widely accepted. 

Part of Sweet Fern ProductionsAnimated Life series, this short animation recounts Wegener’s extraordinary life story, and makes a case for the importance of outsiders and interdisciplinarity in science. 

To learn more about continental drift and plate tectonics – and endemic sexism in the scientific community –  watch Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

Video/Life Stages

Harlem’s over-55s synchronised swimming team thinks ageing is better in the pool

4 minutes

ORIGINAL
Video/History of Ideas

Music is marvellous, but not mysterious: an interview with Lydia Goehr

6 minutes

Video/Demography & Migration

The island where 50 million crabs roam free and refugees are trapped in limbo

21 minutes

Essay/Quantum Theory

Quantum common sense

Despite its confounding reputation, quantum mechanics both guides and helps explain human intuition

Philip Ball

Video/Cosmology

The Sun – our steady, reliable companion – tells a very different story up close

4 minutes

Idea/Physics

The idea of creating a new universe in the lab is no joke

Zeeya Merali

Video/Physics

The mathematics of music means piano strings can never be in perfect harmony

4 minutes

Essay/Computing & Artificial Intelligence

fAIth

The most avid believers in artificial intelligence are aggressively secular – yet their language is eerily religious. Why?

Beth Singler

Idea/Biology

Bad mothers and why they make a difference to cheetah survival

Anne Hilborn