What is continental drift?

To understand the idea of continental drift, let’s have a look at the map of the world.

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Have a good look at the different continents. Look at South America and Africa and imagine putting them together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Now try attaching North America to Europe. Isn’t it strange how they seem to fit together nicely?

Many years ago scientists discovered rocks and fossils in Western Europe that were the same to those found in the east of North America. They started to wonder if the continents were joined together in the past.

A scientist called Alfred Wegener believed that millions of years ago all the continents were joined together forming one giant supercontinent called Pangaea

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He believed these continents drifted away from each other and moved across the ocean to how we see them today. These continents would continue to move and be in completely different places on the globe in the future! This idea of drifting continents is called continental drift


How do continents drift?

Not everyone believed this idea of the continents moving. There was one big question that needed answering: how did they move?

Scientists discovered that the outer layer of the Earth is made up of giant slabs of rock called tectonic plates

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Tectonic plates are always moving around, crashing into each other or pushing past each other. All the continents of the world are located on these plates, so when the tectonic plates move, the continents move too!


Did you know?

  • Scientists think that throughout history there have been many more giant continents like Pangaea. A supercontinent called Panotia is believed to have existed around 600 million years ago and Rodinia is thought to have formed over 1 billion years ago.
  • The Earth is made up of 7 major tectonic plates (African, Antarctic, Eurasian, North American, South American, India-Australian, and the Pacific plates) and 8 smaller plates.