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A Science Odyssey
People and Discoveries

Magnetic bands provide evidence of sea-floor spreading
1963

In 1963, Fred Vine, Drummond Matthews, and others found that the crust surrounding the midocean ridges showed alternating bands -- each band magnetized with a polarity opposite the surrounding bands. They suggested that as new sea-floor crust was formed around the rift in the midocean ridge, it magnetized differently, depending upon the polarity of the planet at that time. This supported the theory that Harry Hess had put forth, that the ocean progressivley widens as new sea floor is created along a crack that follows the crest of midocean ridges.

In 1966, earth scientists first identified the Jaramillo Event, the wholesale reversal of Earth's magnetic fields some 900,000 years ago. This confirmed the theory that Earth's magnetic field had flip-flopped through the planet's life, and it made Matthews and Vine's 1963 finding quite clear. They realized that the pattern of reversals matched perfectly the magnetic profile they had compiled of the sea floor. This discovery, together with data from a 1964 research vessel, transformed the field of geology. It confirmed sea-floor spreading as hypothesized by Hess, and thus "continental drift," originally proposed by Alfred Wegener back in 1912. It convinced many that plate tectonics was the best theory to unify nearly all the previously accumulated, but disjoint geological data.



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