Continental Drift


The old notion that continents have drifted apart over geological time was revived by the scientific revolution of plate tectonics in the 1960s. Geologists now believe that the Earth's crust is made up of about 20 tectonic plates which are constantly shifting with respect to one another at a rate of centimetres per year. These plate motions and interactions are responsible for most of the Earth's volcanoes, earthquakes, mountain belts, and many other geological phenomena.

Keywords: plate tectonics; volcanoes; earthquakes; mountains; biogeography

Further Reading

Bambach RK, Scotese CR and Ziegler AM (1980) Before Pangaea: geographies of the Paleozoic world. American Scientist 68: 26–38.

Condie KC (1989) Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution. London: Pergamon.

Cox A and Hart RB (1986) Plate Tectonics: How it Works. Palo Alto, CA: Blackwell.

Dott RH, Jr and Prothero DR (1994) Evolution of the Earth, 5th edn. New York: McGraw‐Hill.

Hallam A (1973) A Revolution in the Earth Sciences: From Continental Drift to Plate Tectonics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Scotese C and Golonka J (1992) PALEOMAP Paleogeographic Atlas. Department of Geology, University of Texas, Arlington, Texas.

Wegener A (1915) The Origin of Continents and Oceans. New York: Dover.

Wyllie P (1976) The Way the Earth Works. New York: John Wiley.

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How to Cite close
Prothero, Donald R(Apr 2001) Continental Drift. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001632]