Plate tectonics

Dan McKenzie astride the San Andreas Fault, California, 1967
Dan McKenzie astride the San Andreas Fault, California, 1967

By the mid 1960s, scientists, many of them British, had made a number of puzzling observations: the alignment of magnetism in rocks seemed to suggest that the continents had drifted through time in relation to the poles, earthquakes seemed to occur along lines of activity, certain ocean floors had symmetrical stripes of ‘normal’ and ‘reversed’ magnetisation and were apparently ‘spreading’, and the coastlines of certain continents seemed to ‘fit’. In 1967 a British geophysicist, Dan McKenzie, realised that if the Earth’s crust was made of a number of rigid blocks that moved in relation to each other (plate tectonics), then all of these puzzling observations could be explained at once. By the late 1970s, plate tectonics was taught to school children - if ‘paradigm shifts’ or ‘revolutions’ occur in science,then this was certainly one in the Earth sciences.

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