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Book Chapter

Plate Tectonics, Seafloor Spreading, and Continental Drift: an Introduction1

Peter J. Wyllie
Peter J. Wyllie
Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637.
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January 01, 1974


The present ruling theory of geotectonics—commonly known as the "new global tectonics"—includes the concepts of plate tectonics, seafloor spreading, continental drift, and polar wandering. Recent seismic activity defines the positions and relative movements of rigid lithosphere plates. The geomagnetic time scale for polarity reversals seems to be calibrated to about 4 m.y. ago, and extrapolated to about 80 m.y. ago by correlation of oceanic magnetic anomalies with reversals and seafloor spreading. Seafloor spreading and the magnetic anomalies thus indicate the directions and rates of movements of lithosphere plates during the last 80 m.y. The continents drift with the lithosphere plates, and independent paleomagnetic evidence permits location of the relative positions of the continents and the poles to 500 m.y. ago, or more. The theory, which explains phenomena previously unexplainable, is supported by a mass of persuasive evidence. There is no doubt that the theory is a success, but it has been so successful that it has become a ruling theory, and subservience to a ruling theory never has served science well. There are data which do not seem to fit the theory. We should strive to keep open minds and to search for alternate solutions to fit all of the data. The record is clear: today's history was yesterday's model. Dare we conclude that at last we know the answers?

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AAPG Memoir

Plate Tectonics—Assessments and Reassessments

Charles F. Kahle
Charles F. Kahle
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American Association of Petroleum Geologists
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 1974




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