Continental Drift And Earth Expansion [NU003]
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.
"Then Yima stepped forward, towards the luminous space, southwards, to meet the sun,
and pressed the earth with the golden ring, and bored it with the poniard, speaking thus: 'O
Earth, kindly open asunder and stretch thyself afar, to bear flocks and herds and men'.
And Yima made the Earth grow larger by three-thirds than it was before, and there came
flocks and herds and men, at his will and wish, as many as he wished."
We turn now to quite a different part of the world, a different time, and a very different
topic. The topic is what is now called Continental Drift, the place is Paris, and the time is 1858.
In that year Antonio Snider, an American working in Paris, published a book.
This book  drew attention to the remarkably good match between the west
coast of Africa and the east coast of South America. Snider suggested that this good match
was because Africa and South America were once a single continent, which had been pulled
apart in some way to form the present coasts (Fig.3.1). He gave a drawing of the combined
continent, showing also Europe and North America joined, and even Australia joined to
Fig. 3.1. Pre-Atlantic Ocean according to: a) Snider ; b) Bullard
This work was lost sight of in later years, but the topic was revived in 1915 when the
German scientist Alfred Wegener published another book on the topic of how the continents
were formed . Wegener's work, unlike that of Snider, attracted considerable
attention, and quite a lot of supporting comment. It really explained a lot, and if you could only accept the possibility that the continents could actually move relative to one another, the logic
of the proposal seemed clear.
Nevertheless, over the years support again waned. It did not pick up again until 1964, when
Sir Edward Bullard published a paper  which included a computer-based fit of
the coasts of South and North America against Africa and Europe (Fig. 3.1). As this work was
computer-based, of course it had to be right, and from that point on the concept of Continental
Drift finally began to achieve general public acceptance; it only took a little more than 100
This work considered only the lands on either side of the Atlantic. Some interesting
observations had been made of the occurrence of fossils of a plant genus, Glossopteris, in rocks
in Africa, Australia, India, South America, Antarctica, and New Zealand. Of course it is only
a matter of logic that plants in the same genus must have had common ancestors, and these
ancestors must have existed together within a single area -- otherwise they wouldn't have
been able to breed.
Plants in the same genus must have had common ancestors,
and these ancestors must have existed within a single area
As the rocks containing the Glossopteris fossils are now widely separated, then using the
principle of Continental Drift it was only natural to assume that these rocks were in continental
masses which had drifted apart, and it was not hard to suggest how they had once fitted together
Further support for the idea came from a study of rocks which had been affected by an
ancient glaciation, assumed to be an early south-polar icecap. Notice in Fig. 3.2 that India is
part of this ancient super-continent, which has been called Gondwanaland. The drift of India
northwards, and its collision with the rest of Asia, is usually assumed to be the cause of formation of
the Himalaya Mountains.
Fig. 3.2. a) Sites of Glossopteris fossils ; b) Suggested former
grouping of land around the South Pole
Additional confirmation for the occurrence of continental drift came from studies of
magnetism in older rocks (paleomagnetism). Certain rocks are slightly magnetic, containing
'magnetic domains' which are areas of the rock magnetically aligned in a certain direction.
This magnetic direction is set by the Earth's magnetic field as the rock cools down from
a hot state, and points towards the Earth's magnetic poles.
Our magnetic poles are in a different position to the geographic poles, and also vary slowly
but continuously, both in position (currently the North Magnetic Pole is 11° away from the
geographic pole, somewhere off northern Canada) and in strength. The polarity of the Earth's
magnetism may also change, with the North and South magnetic poles interchanging in
By looking at the magnetic directions in old rocks of the same age, but in different
continents, it becomes apparent that these continents must have shifted relative to one another
-- the magnetic poles they point to are not in the same place. This technique has been used
to trace the apparent movement of the magnetic poles over the Earth's surface in the past.
The parts of the surface which move as one have been called 'plates', and the study of their
movement 'plate tectonics'. We will see later on that the term 'plate' is not an apt one.
The currently accepted position is that the northern continents of North America, Europe,
and Asia without India were once a single super-continent (called Laurasia), which, together
with Gondwanaland, previously
made up a single continent containing
all the present land areas;
this has been named Pangaea
(Fig. 3.3). There is now convincing
evidence that Pangaea really
did exist as a single landmass
about 200 my ago, and that it has
since split apart, first to form
Laurasia in the north and Gondwanaland
in the south, after
which each of these supercontinents
again split further into
parts, which drifted away to form
the present disposition of the
Fig. 3.3. A reconstruction of Pangaea
Continental drift has now "come
of age"; the fact that it occurs is no
longer seriously doubted, even by
more conservative scientists. It is
a good example of a scientific
theory, one which explains many
observable features of the real
world in a simple, coherent, way,
and for which no alternative and more simple theory has yet been put forward.
When it comes to the cause of continental drift, however, the position is very different
The Convection Current Theory
In searching for a mechanism for continental drift, geophysicists came up with the idea of
convection currents. The interior of the Earth is commonly believed to be hot, molten in parts, and
it was suggested that the molten rock moved in convection currents, like water boiling in a
saucepan, and the movement of these currents forced the parts of the old supercontinents apart.
The convection-current proposition for the mechanism of continental drift has achieved an
amazing acceptance, and appears in all current standard geological textbooks. The acceptance
is amazing because it is a proposition wholly without any supporting evidence or plausible
basis. In my view it is completely wrong.
Of course the energy required to move whole continents around is extremely large. No
plausible source for this energy has ever been suggested, as far as I know. No reason for the
convection currents to break up into the assumed 'convection cells' has ever come forward.
The convection-current mechanism for continental drift lacks
any supporting evidence or plausible basis, and is completely
We will return to this point later on, and suggest an alternative mechanism for driving
continental drift which does not suffer from these drawbacks.
During the 1960's, scientists came to learn a lot more about the structure of the sea bed,
and some very interesting facts came to light. Of course, by this time, accurate methods of
dating the ages of rocks were well known. A series of massive structures, called 'mid-ocean
ridges' (Fig. 3.4), were discovered running down the middles of the major world oceans, and
these were found to be the sites of volcanic activity, producing new rock (age zero years).
As you move away from a mid-ocean ridge, you encounter progressively older rock, on
either side. All the rock is of oceanic type, common to sea-beds all over the world, and quite
different in nature to the rocks of the continents. The oldest oceanic rock, that most distant
from a ridge, is only 200 my old.
Because much of the newly-formed rock had magnetic content, the paleomagnetic
techniques described earlier in this chapter could be used to date the rocks in great detail. On
either side of the ridge, 'stripes' of rock are being formed, with the edges of the stripes
representing changes in polarity or strength of the magnetic fields. The ridgepoint itself looks
like a mirror, with a pattern of stripes of given age and magnetic properties reflected on either
The picture given was quite clear and unambiguous. At the ridges, new rock was being
formed along a roughly continuous line down the ridge, and spreading off to both sides to
permit even newer rock to appear. It is perhaps understandable that these ridge-lines could be
interpreted as the positions where convection currents were welling up from the Earth's
mantle, bringing with them molten rock to solidify and spread apart.
Fig. 3.4. Floor of the Atlantic Ocean
The phenomenon involved,
called sea-floor spreading, appears to
have created the whole of the present
ocean floors during this period of
200 my. The rate of spread varies
from one ridge to another, but is
something like 2-4cm per year --
about as fast as your fingernails grow.
Fig. 3.5. Sea-floor spreading at a mid-ocean ridge
The fact that sea-floor spreading
actually occurs is no longer in any real
doubt. The driving mechanism behind
it, however, is again quite a different
The 'Subduction Zones'
If the sea-floor was expanding at the mid-ocean ridges, where was the new surface material
which was created ending up? The suggestion was made that it was disappearing down the
deep ocean trenches, and either piling up under the continents, or being melted and recycled
by the convection currents to appear eventually at another ocean ridge.
Although this is the currently accepted dogma, it seems to me, and others (eg ),
to be a concept which almost completely lacks any supporting evidence. It seems against logic,
if one plastic plate is being pushed against and under another, for a deep trough to be formed
between them. The deep ocean troughs are not continuous, and do not show any of the signs
of rock in motion downward, deep into the Earth. And, in the case of the mid-Atlantic ridge,
there are no deep ocean troughs along the Atlantic coasts for the re-cycled rock to disappear
Peter James, an engineering geologist, has looked at the position from the viewpoint of the
physics of materials. He concluded that "serious difficulties exist in trying to reconcile the
observed crustal features with a conventional model of mobile plate tectonics -- at least on
our present knowledge of material behaviour" .
Another problem with the subduction theory is explaining away just where the huge
volumes of rock involved are ending up. The whole of the present Pacific Ocean, an area
representing around one-third of the entire current surface of the Earth (more than the total land
area!), has opened up during the last 200 my. The bed of the Pacific varies in depth, but
averages around 4 km below current sea-level.
Carey  has pointed out that the subduction theory just does not explain where these
huge volumes of rock, more than a million cubic kilometres of material, ended up when the
Pacific Ocean was created. If they were spread evenly under the present continents, these
would be some 7 km higher than they are now, just with the material from the Pacific alone
(current average height of the continents is no more than 1 km above sea-level). If the rock was
really recycled in the mantle, to reappear at the mid-ocean ridges, then the Pacific would have
always have had to have been its present size and depth, and not created from scratch in the
last 200 my.
The subduction theory is thus a literal attempt to sweep a problem away under the carpet
-- in this case, the carpet of the continents. Now is the time to drop this theory down one of
the ocean trenches.
The subduction theory lacks supporting evidence and
plausibility, and is completely wrong
Expansion of the Earth
If we return now to Bullard's fit of Africa against South America (Fig. 3.1), you will notice
that as you move away from the central point of contact, the match becomes less good. In 1955,
Warren Carey, Professor of Geology at the University of Tasmania, pointed out 
that the match would be much better if the two continents were curved around an Earth of
smaller radius. This was the beginning of the current phase of the Expanding Earth theory.
The basis of the Expanding Earth proposition is that the current continental masses were
once all joined completely together, covering the whole surface of a much smaller Earth. This
has since expanded internally, the current continents splitting apart and distributing themselves
over the enlarged surface. In other words, the current deep-sea areas did not exist in
their present conformation in earlier times, but have been formed by the expansion of the
Earth's core under them.
At present, about 70% of the Earth's surface
is covered by sea. If the present 30%
surface which is land had to cover the whole of
a smaller sphere, that sphere would be about
55% of the diameter of the present Earth.
Instead of the current radius of about 6,400 km,
the radius would have been around 3,500 km.
The circumference of the present Earth is
40,000 km, but an 'unexpanded' Earth, in
which Pangaea covered the whole surface,
would have a circumference of about
22,000 km, that is, 18,000 km less than now.
It is interesting to calculate how long this
expansion would have taken, at the present rate
observed in sea-floor spreading. Since the rate
at each ridge is around 2-4 cm/yr, and there are
usually 3 ridges crossed in going right round the Earth, the total present expansion is very roughly 9 cm/yr. Dividing this into 18,000 km
gives an expansion time of 200 my, which agrees quite well with the time from rock age-dating.
The Expanding Earth concept is not in conflict with Continental Drift, in fact we shall see
that the two are closely linked. Under an expanding Earth, the single continent Pangaea which
existed around 200 my ago would not have had the conformation shown in Fig. 3.3, instead the outer edges of Pangaea would have wrapped round a much smaller Earth and be
in contact, thus enveloping the whole Earth.
Fig. 3.6. Unexpanded Earth views according to Barnett
Further models of the pre-expanded Earth were constructed in the recent phase of interest,
such as that made by Barnett . Several views of this model are shown in Fig. 3.6. Notice
that Barnett's model is fairly 'loose', with many large gaps not covered by land, and that some
large movements and rotations of the land masses have been suggested, such as Australia
moved against North America, Greenland moved a long way over the top of Canada, and so
Early Work on an Expanding Earth
As with the Continental Drift theory, there were earlier workers who had suggested the
possibility that the Earth was expanding. One of these was Hilgenberg , who produced
globes of the Earth at various stages of its expansion (Fig. 3.7).
Fig. 3.7. Globes of Earth expansion according to Hilgenberg
A fascinating fact of history is that it was suggested as early as 1859 that the Earth was
expanding; this was in a book by Alfred Drayson, entitled 'The Earth We Inhabit: its past,
present, and probable future'. This book  came out only one year after Snider
had published his early work on Continental Drift!
Drayson is described on the title page as 'Captain Alfred W Drayson, Royal Artillery,
author of "Sporting Scenes in South Africa, &c" -- not the background one would expect for
someone producing fundamental thoughts on the Earth's structure.
Much of Drayson's evidence for expansion does not stand up to examination in the light
of modern knowledge, and he enormously overestimated the rate of expansion, at around
6000 cm/yr, as against the current estimate, one thousandth of the size. But it must be
remembered that in Drayson's time, the great age of the Earth had not yet been established --
the accepted value then was perhaps 40,000 yr, so naturally the rates for associated phenomena
would be well out.
Some of Drayson's observations are still valid. He noted unexplained fractures in deep undersea cables. In his day, these cables were clad in rigid iron. If the forces rupturing an
undersea cable applied along its whole length, then expansion could have been at the rate
estimated by Drayson. In fact they presumably only applied at mid-ocean ridges or 'plate
boundaries', only at the places where the fractures actually occurred.
Fig. 3.8. Present and unexpanded Earth cross-sections, from Drayson 
Fig. 3.8 is a reproduction from Drayson's book. He says "perhaps it [the Earth] was once very small, perhaps as small as Fig.1., whilst
the present earth is the size of the larger circle."
It is interesting that the proportions shown in
Drayson's diagram are very close to those
currently assumed for an expanded and original
Copies of Drayson's book are quite rare,
and its existence does not seem to have been
picked up by anyone else interested in the
expanding Earth idea. However, if you search
long enough, you can almost always find a
possible earlier reference -- the match across
the Atlantic coasts was noted as early as 1620,
by Francis Bacon! An even earlier reference to
expansion of the Earth is that quoted at the head
of this chapter. This is from the Zend-Avesta.
Thus Spake Zarathustra
The Zend-Avesta is the sacred book or bible of the Parsees, followers of Zoroaster.
Zoroaster (another form is Zarathustra) was the founder of one of the most ancient religions
still extant -- he was active in the area now known as Iran, at a date not known with certainty,
but believed to be around 1000 BC.
Of course the reference in the Zend-Avesta presumably has no scientific relevance, but it
does justify the claim that expansion of the Earth has been a topic for some three thousand
Readers interested in the geological evidence for an expanding Earth should consult
Warren Carey's new book "Theories of the Earth and Universe: a History of Dogma in the
Earth Sciences" . This gives a very thorough examination of the matter, and also
brings out the knee-jerk tendency to react to revolutionary new ideas in science with ridicule,
even when they are supported by the soundest evidence. If these ideas have the support of logic
and evidence, then of course they do win out in the end, sometimes even bringing ridicule on
those who rejected them out-of-hand when they first appeared!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(Full list of references at NURefs)
. C H Barnett. A suggested reconstruction of the land masses of the Earth as a complete crust. Nature/
4840 p447, 1962.
. Edward Bullard. In: Symposium on Continental Drift. Royal Society of London, 1964.
. S W Carey. Wegener's South America-Africa assembly, fit or misfit? Geol Mag/ 92(3) p196-200, 1955.
. S W Carey. Lecture. Geology Department, University of Western Australia, 1987.
. S Warren Carey. Theories of the Earth and
Universe: a history of dogma in the Earth Sciences.
Stanford University Press, 1988.
. Bronislav Ciric. Is subduction a real phenomenon? In 'The Expanding Earth, a Symposium'. University of Tasmania, 1981.
. Alfred Drayson. The Earth we inhabit, its past, present, and probable future. Bennett, London, 1859.
. O C Hilgenberg. Vom wachsenden Erdball. Berlin, 1933.
. Peter M James. Anomalous features of the Pacific: is sea floor spreading a real phenomenon? Pacific/ p205-209, 1987.
. Antonio Snider Pellegrini. La Creation et ses mysteres devoile. Franck, Paris, 1858.
. Alfred Wegener. Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane. Vieweg, Braunschweig, 1915.
NU004: The Distributions Of Nut Trees
NU002: How Plants Spread and Change
Version 1.0, printed edition ("Nuteeriat: Nut Trees, the Expanding Earth, Rottnest Island, and All That...", Planetary Development Group, Tree Crops Centre, 1989).
Version 2.0, 2004, PDFs etc on World Wide Web (http://www.aoi.com.au/matrix/Nuteeriat.htm)
Version 3.0, 2014 Sep 16, Reworked from Chapter 3 of "Nuteeriat" as one article in a suite on the World Wide Web.