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Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener Photo

Alfred Wegener was born on 1st November 1880, into a rather affluent family in Berlin, Germany. His father, Richard was a churchman and mother, Anna Wegener was a homemaker. Wegener’s father was a teacher of classical languages at the prestigious institute, ‘Evangelisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster’, in Germany.

Wegener received his early education form the ‘Köllnisches Gymnasium’, and in 1899 he joined the University of Berlin for higher education. Later on, he moved to Austria and pursued his education in physics, meteorology, and astronomy. He was a brilliant student as far as astronomy was concerned and during his time in Austria, interned at the astronomical laboratory of Urania. His doctorate degree was earned under the tutelage of the famous astronomer Julius Bauschinger. In 1905, the ‘Friedrich Wilhelms University’ awarded him his Ph.D. but by then Wegener had lost interest in astronomy and opted to concentrate on geophysics and meteorology.


Alfred Wegener was considered the pioneer of one of the most profound geological breakthroughs of the 20th century; the Continental Drift, thanks to his tireless polar research. According to him, all the different continents which seem like pieces of land randomly adrift in vast masses of water actually broke away pieces of a common continent. This idea caused quite a stir among the geologists of his time since it contradicted theories which dated back hundreds of years.  This idea had occurred to Wegener while observing the maps of the coastlines of eastern South America and western Africa. Their coastlines were like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and seemed to fit together. In spite of the chaos created by this theory, Wegener was not disappointed by his critiques and went ahead to publish his book ‘The Origin of Continents and Oceans’. Later on, he joined hands with his brother Kurt Wegener to create history by charting the world’s longest hot air balloon flight to study upper atmospheric effects.  Later on, the two adventurous brothers traveled as far as the Antarctic and Greenland to study the atmosphere and air current. To his credit, Wegener also has the distinction of publishing the world’s first textbook in meteorology; ‘Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere’. Wegener was a brilliant teacher and extremely popular amongst his students for explaining complex concepts with relative ease.  Wegener published the final edition of The Origin of Continents and Oceans in 1929.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1930, Wegener was on his fourth research trip in Greenland and was trying to resupply a far-flung camp in extremely disruptive weather. The temperatures had fallen well below 60 °C (-76 °F). Although he resupplied the camp successfully, on his way back with a colleague on dog sleds, Alfred Wegener suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 50, doing what he loved doing best. The colleague Wegener was traveling with, Villumsen, buried Wegener’s body in the snow and marked the grave. However, Villumsen too could not complete the journey and his body was never found. On 12th May 1931, Kurt Wegener found his brothers icy grave. He decided to build a pyramid-shaped mausoleum in the ice for Wegener’s body to rest in. That mausoleum is now buried under tons of snow and ice.

Although Alfred Wegener is no longer with us, the world today accepts that his continental drift theory is correct. It was in the 1960s, that the world of geological research finally accepted the theory of plate tectonics and the concept of Pangaea presented by Alfred Wegener as correct. Wegener’s ideas are now standard concepts in geology, taught to everyone who studies the subject.


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