Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism

pp 956-969

True Polar Wander

  • Vincent Courtillot

Definitions and early views

The idea that polar wander (PW) must have occurred dates back to the 19th century. Geologists, paleontologists, and paleoclimatologists suggested that the Earth's equator must have been located far from its present position in the distant geological past, at least viewed from certain continents, given the present day locations of climatological belts derived from certain types of rocks or fossil assemblages. Darwin (1877) made the first attempt at quantitative modeling but this suffered from several errors (see Steinberger and O'Connell, 2002, for an analysis). In the early 1950s, paleomagnetists provided quantitative evidence that the geographical latitudes of individual continents had indeed changed with time, hence that the instantaneous geographic or rotation pole had moved with respect to most continents. The paths followed by the poles in the geological past were termed “apparent” polar wander paths (or APWPs), because it was ...

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