Last week I mentioned how I walked up to a teacher’s desk with the geography book, showed her how South America and Africa fitted together, and was told, “No, they don’t, Thomas!”
That teacher might as well have challenged me to a duel to the death.
Straight to the Staten Island Public Library I went. It took me a while, but I finally learned about a German scientist named Alfred Wegener who had noticed the same thing. Wegener proposed a theory of Continental Drift in which he said that, for reasons he could not explain, the continents moved. His evidence that Africa and South America had once been joined was overwhelming. Not only did their outlines fit perfectly, but the rock strata on either side of the ocean matched as well. Fossil evidence also re-enforced his theory.
What kind of reception did he get? The encyclopedia says, “Withering criticism was the response of most experts.”
Why? Well, Wegener’s observations were correct, but he had no explanation for what he saw. “Conservative scientists, who were resistant to any change in the status quo,” laughed at him.
Anyway, I copied down the evidence and brought it in to the teacher. Made no difference. OK, lady! But don’t worry, sooner or later I’ll show you!
Many years later someone used data from radio telescopes to show that the continents were indeed moving apart. Stick-in-the-mud scientists looked at the evidence and proposed the Plate Tectonics theory. Then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and lived happily ever after, except Wegener who died in a 1934 Greenland search for additional evidence. Most modern resources give him only faint and begrudging credit for being the genius who saw it first.
Anyway, life went on, and a study of the ocean floor began. By the time I had finished college, taught chemistry for eight years, and switched over to teaching Earth Science among other things, the floor of the oceans had been fairly well mapped. Nobody could see the floor of the oceans of course. It was a slow, boring process, which took echo soundings. Eventually, the textbooks included equally boring diagrams of the sea floor.
As I mentioned last week, I was reading about someone who was stranded on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. I got curious what kind of place Ascension was, went to Google Maps and took a look at it. I was about to close Google, but happened to go to satellite view and received one of the greatest — and happiest — shocks of my life.
As I zoomed out for a look from high in the sky my jaw dropped wide open. I had looked at many places on Earth in satellite view, but quite naturally had been looking at places which are inland. Now I was looking at an ocean, and while I have seen the ocean from above, it has always been from a few miles up in an aircraft. What can you see from four or five miles up? Waves.
There before my eyes was the most startling sight I have ever seen: The entire sea floor spread out before me — all the cracks, the mountains, the valleys, everything. Not just diagrams; the actual sea floor itself in all its glory. I went into an orgy of scanning. You can actually see the great oceanic depths. You can actually see where the Pacific Plate has plowed under the Asian Plate, causing a huge bulge and creating Japan and other island groups. I tell you, turn on your computer, go to Google Maps, satellite view, and take a look you will see the greatest sight of a lifetime. For the first time in history we can see the whole Earth. Right before our eyes we can see how everything was formed.
May I ask a question? How did no one bother to mention this on the news?