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Plate Tectonics and the Scientific Method

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Plate Tectonics and the Scientific Method

The scientific method is a method used in certain fields of study to confirm or disprove of what is being looked at. It is a way of knowing and attempting to understand something that may seem out of our reach. This method can be used for any type of theory based claims not only in science, but in other fields as well. In this particular case, the scientific method will be applied to plate tectonics. It will explain how such an idea came from being just a simple hypothesis, to becoming a proven theory.

To start off with applying the scientific method, we must ask ourselves what we actually "see". We must observe our surroundings and form a genuine statement about it in order to proceed any further. The first thing that can be observed about plate tectonics is that each landmass on Earth seems to fit together almost like a puzzle. This idea was brought to the table by Alfred Wegener, which is on page 47 of the Essentials of Oceanography textbook. (2006 Tom Garrison) He explains the theory of continental drift which has a connection to plate tectonics. If the land masses on Earth were at one time one single mass, then the theory of the plates shifting and drifting apart is plausible. Figure 3.6 on page 46 of the text also shows our each plate tends to match up almost exactly to one another. Another idea that can be observed is the fact that the ocean basin will have left marks of slight movement, making it easier for us to notice this drift. We can tell when there is movement by also looking at convergent and divergent boundaries on the ocean floor. The idea of a land mass forming because one plate is being pushed below another one make the entire idea of plate tectonics that much more valid. Yet another way we can observe the theory of plate tectonics is by looking at the soil and sediment or perhaps even fossils near the shores of adjacent continents. For example, we will find fossils and sediment on the eastern coast of South America that will looks similar if not identical to the same items located on the western shore of Africa. All of these combined into one step makes for a great start in proving the theory of plate tectonics through the scientific method.

Once we have deciphered our surroundings and come up with some very valid observations, it is time to form some hypotheses. We must explain how these observations can be true or false. This can be a general statement, saying that the idea of continental drift and the formation of the sea floor is a valid way of explaining how plate tectonics work. There can also be more than one hypothesis based on the nature of the experiment and what you are actually trying to accomplish. Two men were responsible for an idea that seemed to lead in the right direction to plate tectonics. Their names were Harry Hess and Robert Dietz and both of them came up with a hypothesis that involved convection currents, which caused the ocean floor to essential grow. (Chapter 3, page 48) This led to the hypothesis of seafloor spreading, which is the idea of new sediments of the ocean floor replacing older sediments and pushing it outwards. This, in turn, could be what is causing the plates to move. Both of these hypotheses led to the final one which eventually became a proven theory, this one would be known as the theory of plate tectonics. This came about from the geophysicist John Tuzo Wilson in which he stated that Earth's outer layer consists of about a dozen separate lithospheric plates floating on the asthenosphere. (Chapter 3 page 49) This hypothesis set the standard for what plate tectonics actually consisted of and also set the bar for future scientists to test the newly found hypothesis. The interesting thing about this particular hypothesis is that it brings together ideas and observations from many different aspects of marine science. On one hand you have the idea of continental drift which explains the movement, then you have the ocean basins spreading outwards subducting and diverging which causes the plates to shift also, and finally you have the idea of like sediments being connected from different continents which ties the entire hypothesis together.

After you finally come up with a valid hypothesis after observing what it is you want to study, you then must start experiments and testing your proposed theory. Experiments are used to put the idea of a certain study to the test and see if a hypothesis can hold together throughout.



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