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Alfred Wegener

AKA Alfred Lothar Wegener

Born: 1-Nov-1880
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: Nov-1930
Location of death: Wegener Peninsula near Ummannaq, Greenland
Cause of death: unspecified [1]
Remains: Buried, unmarked location under the ice sheet, Greenland

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Continental drift

Military service: German Army (to Lieutenant; meteorological services, 1914-16)

Alfred Wegener studied astronomy but pursued a career in meteorology, and at a 1912 meeting of the German Geological Society he because the first scientist to propose a theory of continental drift, which he detailed in a book four years later. The accepted scientific theory at the time held that land bridges, long since sunk, had once connected the continents, but Wegener proposed instead that the continents had originally been connected in a single, much larger land mass. He called the protocontinent Pangaea, drawn from the Greek pan (all or entire) and Gaia (Earth), and theorized that it had started breaking into pieces in the Mesozoic Era and drifted apart through the ages.

His evidence included identical fossils of plants and animals found in the Americas and in Europe, fossils of some tropical species found in regions now frigidly cold, geological features of the Scottish Highlands that are similar to those of the American Appalachians, and peculiar rock formations in South Africa that are startlingly similar to those found in parts of Brazil. What he lacked, however, was a plausible description of the force that could move continents, and thus Wegener's theory was widely considered crackpottery until long after his death, as paleomagnetic evidence came to light in the mid-1950s. It is now understood that "continental drift" is not a precisely accurate term, since both the continents and the underlying oceanic crust are moving, and the speed of movement calculated by Wegener was substantially faster than now measured by science, but Wegener is remembered in scientific circles as the father of continental drift.

He was among the first meteorologists to use balloons to track air circulation, and the first to trace storm tracks over the polar ice cap. He was famous for his expeditions to the frozen North (1906-08, 1912-13, 1929, and 1930) gathering data on polar air circulation, and he was last seen alive on his 50th birthday, 1 November 1930, during a scientific expedition to the Greenland ice sheet. His body was discovered under the ice the next summer, and colleagues re-buried his remains in an area that has been renamed the Wegener Peninsula in his memory. The precise location of his grave has been lost, however, as it was not marked well enough to withstand the elements and accumulation of ice.

[1] Either hypothermia or a heart attack.

Father: Richard Wegener (orphanage manager)
Mother: Anna Wegener
Brother: Kurt Wegener (scientist)
Sister: "Tony" Wegener (artist)
Wife: Elsa Koppen Wegener (m. 1913)
Daughter: Elsa Wegener (editor)

    High School: Köllnisches Gymnasium, Berlin, Germany
University of Heidelberg (attended)
    University: University of Innsbruck (attended)
    University: BS Astronomy, University of Berlin (1904)
    University: PhD Planetary Astronomy, University of Berlin (1905)
    Scholar: Royal Prussian Aeronautical Observatory, Lindenberg, Germany (1905-09)
    Teacher: Astronomy, Geography, Meteorology, University of Marburg (1909-14)
    Teacher: Astronomy, Geography, Meteorology, University of Marburg (1916-24)
    Professor: Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Graz (1924-30)

    German Geological Society
    Asteroid Namesake 29227 Wegener
    Lunar Crater Wegener (45.2° N, 113.3° W, 88 km. diameter)
    Martian Crater Wegener (64.6° S, 4.0°W, 77 km. diameter)
    German Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Smoking

Author of books:
Die Thermodynamik der Atmosphäre (The Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere) (1911, meteorology textbook)
Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane (The Origins of Continents and Oceans) (1915, non-fiction)
Alfred Wegener: Tagebücher, Briefe, Erinnerungen (Diaries, Letters, Memoirs) (1961, memoir; posthumous)

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