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Magnetic band

the first scientific test of ocean floor spreading East Anglia,

A diagram showing the ocean floor spread away from the magma centre.
A theoretical model of the formation of magnetic striping. A. Shows the spreading ridge 5 million years ago. B. 2 to 3 million years ago. C. Present-day. United States Geological Survey, Creative Commons.

Cambridge geophysicists Fred Vine (born 1939) and Drummond Matthews (1931-97) proved that the radical notion of continental drift was a reality. 

Following a survey of a ridge in the Indian Ocean they showed that the sea floor was spreading apart, continuously creating new ocean crust. This confirmed the theory of Alfred Wegener who, in 1910, noticed that Atlantic continents looked like they once fitted together. 

The evidence, published in 1966, was in the magnetic signature of the volcanic rock that had emerged and cooled. Its symmetric pattern of stripes on either side of the ridge captured the periodic reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field over millions of years. Drummond and Vine’s findings convinced many that ‘plate tectonics’ was the best unifying theory for previously collected geological data. In this way, they did for Earth sciences what Crick and Watson did for biology. 

Science Museum

East Anglia
University of Cambridge
Key Individuals
Drummond Matthews, Fred Vine,