What is Driving the Continental Drift?

At some time in the early nineties of the last century

- and af­ter look­ing at a to­po­graphic map of con­ti­nents and ocean floors on a wall of our home for some years, which was by then already thirty years old and had come into our pos­ses­sion as sup­ple­ment to a Na­tional Geo­graphic, or so I seem to re­mem­ber; it was by Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharpe, who, as far as I know, had taken WW II sub­marine sound­ings of the ocean floors, mapped them out with their mid-ocean rifts, and com­bined these de­pic­tions, so I sup­pose, with the then equally new satel­lite images of the world into a unique work of art—it dawned on me that there was a re­mark­able co­in­ci­dence of sym­me­try and asym­me­try in the shape and dis­tri­bu­tion of the con­ti­nen­tal land mass - and, to a cer­tain ex­tent, and com­ple­men­tary to that, of the ocean floors.

Way back then and be­fore, I was already a fan of Alfred We­gener’s the­ory of con­ti­nen­tal drift, which was still be­ing dis­puted at the time; and to be sure, the ex­pla­na­tions as to what DROVE the con­ti­nen­tal drift—once you ac­cepted it as fact—seemed wildly off to me as well, and com­pletely in­com­pat­i­ble with the to­pog­ra­phy of the world.

At least, that was the way I came to see it.

The sym­me­try in the con­ti­nen­tal shapes was that there are two types of them—one more or less cir­cu­lar (per­haps due to ro­ta­tion?) and one more or less tri­an­gu­lar (due to what?); and these shapes had be­come de­formed in a spe­cific way in cer­tain places.

And then there was a more or less cir­cu­lar ocean—the Arc­tic—op­pos­ing one of the more or less cir­cu­lar land masses, Antarc­tica. As I was later to learn, al­most ALL land masses lie op­po­site an ocean on the other side of the globe; and of course, vice versa. Think about it. What if this always was the case?

The asym­me­try, on the other hand, lay therein that there is a dis­tinct east-west and north-south asym­me­try to be ob­served on the sur­face of this planet. Take a look at that map I men­tion above—or any other.

You will no­tice that:

1. There are con­ti­nents more or less com­pletely free of sub­duc­tive or “bor­der” moun­tain chains—Africa (ex­cept per­haps for the rel­a­tively con­fined At­las moun­tains), Aus­tralia (do not mis­take rift ridges for sub­duc­tion) -

2. There are NO sub­duc­tion zones to the EAST of con­ti­nents—or on the north (refer­ring to that con­ti­nent un­der which this sub­duc­tion is tak­ing place) -

3. There are NO is­land chains or bas­ins to the WEST of con­ti­nents -

4. There ex­ists a weird dou­ble tri­an­gu­lar sys­tem, akin to spiral­ing vor­texes, com­prised of a) the re­cent alpide sub­duc­tion moun­tain chain—from the Pyre­nees and Alps to the Hi­malayas, there branch­ing off to the Rocky and An­des moun­tain chains on the one and the In­done­sian is­land chain on the other arm, to­gether with the ac­com­pa­ny­ing sys­tem of rifts and grabens; their hubs be­ing the Cen­tral Asian moun­tain mass and, re­spec­tively, the three-way rift split un­der the In­dian Ocean, which is—and this is im­por­tant—po­si­tioned to the south and west of it, with oth­ers un­der the south Pa­cific and one un­der the south At­lantic.

Now, 150 mil­lion years af­ter break­ing up the last su­per­con­ti­nent Pangea, these still widen­ing rifts, still ris­ing sub­duc­tive moun­tain chains, and earth­quake-stricken is­land chains speak of the same forces that go on shap­ing the world in its pre­sent form.

But what are these forces?

Could they per­haps be traced, by ob­serv­ing their thrust?

The—then—more or less ac­cepted view, that the con­ti­nents were break­ing up due to heat ac­cu­mu­la­tion be­neath them, lead­ing to con­vec­tion, seemed com­pletely wrong to me; it might ex­plain Aus­tralia, Africa and the East Afri­can Rift, be­ing with­out sub­duc­tion, yes, but not the Amer­i­cas or Asia or even Europe, with their re­spec­tive sub­duc­tion zones; and where there were hot spots, they were in the wrong place, such as the pa­cific ocean, with no heat ac­cu­mu­la­tion be­low it—due to this the­ory.

Fur­ther­more, as this idea was be­ing banded about, wild as­ser­tions were be­ing made as to how and why, and in which di­rec­tion, what plates and, oh, yes micro plates were mov­ing; and these di­rec­tions seemed to change with ev­ery earth­quake event.

Then satel­lite track­ing was in­tro­duced; and over the years, it, too, pro­duced wildly in­con­sis­tent re­sults, at least in the pub­lic do­main—one difficulty be­ing, of course, that, on a globe, there is no fixed point from which you can dis­crim­i­nately mea­sure all move­ments in all di­rec­tion. If two points are mov­ing rel­a­tive to one an­other, this has no bear­ing on their com­mon or ab­solute move­ment, and so on.

But then, on a ROTATING globe there are two points of refer­ence, aren’t there? And with that, we can dis­cern di­rec­tion, too. And so we see that there is a con­ti­nen­tal pat­tern in re­la­tion to the Poles:

The string of tri­an­gu­lar con­ti­nents, North Amer­ica, South Amer­ica, Africa and In­dia all point, more or less, west-east and south; and then there is the already men­tioned the dual cir­cu­lar Arc­tic /​ cir­cu­lar Antarc­tic sys­tem with the quasi-cir­cu­lar con­ti­nent of Aus­tralia near the lat­ter. And I would count Eura­sia in there as a large and strongly de­formed cir­cu­lar con­ti­nent; the de­for­ma­tion here be­ing the im­por­tant part to look for.

Ro­ta­tion and di­rec­tion may already be a hint, but it first serves sim­ply as a sys­tem of refer­ence, to be able to make some mean­ingful ge­o­graph­i­cal state­ments re­lat­ing to the sur­face of a globe.

Fol­low­ing these ideas, I tried to re­verse the con­ti­nen­tal drift by suc­ces­sively and si­mul­ta­neously clos­ing the ocean rifts and ex­pand­ing the re­spec­tive sub­duc­tion zones on some copies I had made of that map; and I found that, be­cause of the lo­ca­tion of the tri­an­gu­lated rifts in the At­lantic, but more im­por­tantly of the ones par­allel to the Equa­tor in the Pa­cific and the In­dian Oceans, these, re­versed to­gether, quite openly forced a monodi­rec­tional move­ment; and, in com­bi­na­tion with the clos­ing of the is­land chains, these tri­als gave the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that the con­ti­nents, in re­trac­ing their move­ments to their ori­gins, were mov­ing west; and there­fore they had moved east in open­ing all these rifts and is­land chains, and sub­duct­ing mas­sive amounts of con­ti­nen­tal mat­ter; and all of this ever since the breakup of Pangea.

In fact, I be­gan to as­sume that the mass of con­ti­nen­tal mat­ter sub­ducted is far greater than I had imag­ined up to then; so that the Alpine moun­tain chain, to­gether with the Cen­tral Asian moun­tain mass, both a few thou­sand me­ters high, is the ex­pres­sion of two con­ti­nen­tal plates sit­ting on top of each other at a very slight tilt; and that the same goes for the West of the North and South Amer­i­cas; though not quite as much there.

Seen in that way, the Afri­can con­ti­nen­tal plate ex­tends far into, and un­der, cen­tral Europe; and the former In­dian plate is not only push­ing up the Ti­be­tan High Plateau, but has trav­eled far into, and un­der, what was once a rather cir­cu­lar south­ern Asian coast; thus squeez­ing China, and what was once called In­dochina, out to the East.

What un­be­liev­able forces were and are at work here? The mere bub­bling of a cauldron of magma could never, in my mind, pro­duce these titanic and di­rec­tional thrusts.

The next hint I per­ceived, was, that the con­ti­nen­tal move­ment seemed to be more ex­pressed along the Equa­tor than over the Poles; in fact, these po­lar re­gions rep­re­sented a kind of quietly spin­ning twin vor­tex in them­selves.

The eerie im­pres­sion was, in­deed, that of a river; a mas­sive, equa­to­rial, magma stream, which was sim­ply car­ry­ing the con­ti­nents along.

A gi­gan­tic equa­to­rial magma stream, drag­ging the lighter con­ti­nents along on and over the sur­face of this planet? What in Jin­gen’s name could in­duce such a thing?

And then this stream flows east, fastest along the Equa­tor, al­most nil at all at the Poles, and is over­tak­ing the plane­tary ro­ta­tion it­self?

What, in heav­ens’s name, lies be­low this mass of ex­tremely vis­cous, molten rock, a few thou­sand of miles thick and weigh­ing billions of tons, that is so strong, and so heavy enough, to drag a stream of magma along the Equa­tor, in the same di­rec­tion that the en­tire planet is ro­tat­ing—only faster?

The core.

All it had to do for this, be­ing heav­ier, was to ro­tate faster than the sur­face; but how much faster would the con­ti­nents then be mov­ing along? And how much faster on the Equa­tor than at the Poles?

For that, I needed de­tail, age, and the pre­cise di­rec­tion of the as­sumed magma flow. The age of the ocean floors, for ex­am­ple.

Look­ing up what data I could find on the sub­ject, on pa­per and on the then just be­gin­ning in­ter­net, I not only found that what I found matched my idea quite well—ex­cept for a few, in them­selves quite fas­ci­nat­ing de­tails—I also found that the prob­lem was just a bit more in­tri­cate than I had thought.

For, if the con­ti­nen­tal shelves were to be first torn apart and to then again col­lide, some­thing had to not only ac­cel­er­ate cer­tain parts of them, but some­thing (else?) also had to hold other parts back—oth­er­wise they would all just be trundling hap­pily along, and no-one would be the wiser, as long as the travel was strictly equa­to­rial.

But it quite ob­vi­ously wasn’t even be­ing that.

I won’t go into all the minute de­tails here, but look­ing closely at the di­rec­tion and the timelines on the ocean floor spread­ing mark­ers, the pro­posed equa­to­rial magma flow was not flow­ing along straight, but had a very marked sinus over­lay to it, ac­count­ing for the north­east­ern move­ment of Africa and the south­east­ern move­ment of South Amer­ica, for in­stance; and this seemed to mimic the eclip­tic, or po­si­tion of the noon­day sun on the Earth—even if this po­si­tion is not at all fixed.

Could it be that the Sun’s grav­ity was work­ing as a coun­ter­part, hold­ing back the sur­face of the planet, while the Earth’s core, a grav­i­ta­tional unit of its own, was push­ing things along from be­low? Well, that at least seemed pos­si­ble...

Fur­ther­more, it was not only the differ­ent speeds and spaces in­volved in the equa­to­rial vs. po­lar re­gions; the magma flow seemed to have a third di­men­sion to it as well: sur­fac­ing in the Dar­win Rise of the North­west­ern Pa­cific Basin, it bur­rowed down un­der the Amer­i­cas’ West, re-sur­fac­ing on the other side, un­der the At­lantic and un­der Africa, then bur­row­ing down again un­der Eura­sia, only to re­sur­face again in the pa­cific Dar­win Rise, that way clos­ing the loop.

All of this, if true, would mean sev­eral things:

One, the mid-ocean ridges them­selves are mov­ing along to the east, while un­fold­ing them­selves, sym­met­ri­cally, to both sides of their cen­tral rift; they, to­gether with sea floor spread­ing, were not re­ally the cause of con­ti­nen­tal drift, but rather a re­sult. The same goes for the sub­duc­tion zones; where ever con­ti­nen­tal shelves col­lide, they were—and are! - be­ing mas­sively de­formed, far be­yond just their ac­tual com­pres­sion zone; the ther­mal buildup and move­ment, un­til then taken as the cause for the con­ti­nen­tal drift, would also rather be a re­sult.

Two, the lat­eral move­ment of the con­ti­nents them­selves, on this wind­ing plane­tary con­veyor belt, mas­sively ex­ceeds any­thing hith­erto imag­ined.

For, tak­ing into ac­count the in­for­ma­tion that was available to me at that time, such as fos­sil ev­i­dence and other time mark­ers, I es­ti­mated the ex­tra move­ment of the con­ti­nents on the sur­face of the planet to be around 20 cm true east along the Equa­tor per year, which of course you would not see di­rectly, as the Earth ro­tates in that di­rec­tion. And it was at about half that speed, that this flow, for in­stance, ripped In­dia, to­gether with what now lies un­der Ti­bet(!) away from south­ern Africa, pul­ling it north­wards far up into and un­der cen­tral Asia in just about 20 mil­lion years, si­mul­ta­neously pul­ling north­ern Africa un­der Europe all the way to the Carpathian, Cau­casian and Per­sian moun­tain ranges and slightly tilt­ing it to­wards the North Sea; by that way open­ing the new Red Sea, Med­iter­ranean Sea and ad­ja­cent bas­ins.

Fur­ther­more, us­ing what I had about the rel­a­tive move­ments of the con­ti­nents, and com­bined with what I had de­duced to be the speed of the as­sumed three-di­men­sional and sinu­soidal west-east­ern magma flow, I calcu­lated that, when, what was once to be­come north­ern Italy /​ south­ern Ger­many started to emerge on what was, then, on and be­yond the north­east­ern coast of a much larger than to­day proto-afri­can con­ti­nent, all of this was lo­cated some­where near where Aus­tralia lies now—this hav­ing cred­i­bil­ity in the find­ings of Ar­chaeopteryx’s sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment—and that Africa, that seem­ingly sta­ble con­ti­nent, had trav­eled al­most once around the world within that time frame—with­out suffer­ing sub­duc­tion it­self, but be­ing torn apart to the east in­stead.

And as I was to find out about ten years later, some sci­en­tists, who were do­ing re­search with seis­mic mea­sure­ments at around the same time I was do­ing my su­perfi­cial es­ti­mates, had found that the Earth’s core is in­deed su­per­ro­tat­ing—at about 1 ex­tra rev­olu­tion ev­ery mil­len­nium.

Which was very nice.

How­ever, to this day, and as far as I know, no-one has made the con­nec­tion to the con­ti­nen­tal drift.

Which is too bad.

Or has some­one? I’m just too lazy to look it up by now…

I did, at that time, how­ever, have some very friendly cor­re­spon­dence with sci­en­tists whose work I had looked up on the sub­ject—on pulped wood, way back then—such as that of the ge­ol­o­gists Neev & Hall, who had found, in their field re­search on the con­ti­nents they had ex­am­ined, such as, I seem to re­mem­ber, Africa and the Mid­dle East, that these seemed to have had been de­formed mas­sively over time, speci­fi­cally in­clud­ing those con­ti­nents with­out sub­duc­tion zones; and not only that, these de­for­ma­tions came in the form of:


So imag­ine, if you will, two or per­haps three or more tor­nado vor­texes of in­cred­ibly slow-mov­ing magma swirling across this planet, pow­ered and driven along by a su­per­ro­tat­ing Earth’s core, all of which drive and drag as clouds be­fore and be­hind them the con­ti­nen­tal shelves; and thus chang­ing their shapes all the time.

While gen­er­ally drift­ing east­ward.