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Book Review: Path of the Pole by Charles Hapgood

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Charles Hapgood’s Path of the Pole refers to the invisible but measurable magnetic axis, which runs through the earth from the Arctic to the Antarctic, but is constantly changing course. His book attempts to link two widely held ideas about this pole and about the earth’s continents.

  • Scientists now believe that the tips of this pole are not static. Over very long periods of time, its end points appear to move great distances over the earth.
  • In addition, the idea that the continents are slowly drifting over the earth’s surface is accepted scientific dogma. In some locations, their movement has been measured in inches; in others, by feet.

Up until now, the explanation for this continental drift has been this: From deep within the earth’s molten center, enormous convection currents rise up underneath the continents and shove them along. This can be demonstrated by dropping a toothpick into a pan of water that is boiling very slowly. The toothpick will not remain in place. Instead, it gets shoved around as the heated water rises and carries the toothpick along its surface. The water then drops back down to the pan's bottom. The tiny stick will be moved again and again as it is intercepted by other surface water currents.

The ongoing rupture along the Atlantic Ocean bottom has been charted both by photographs and with sonar mapping devices. The Americas are slowly moving away from the European continent. On the other hand, the collision of the continental plates deep within the Pacific Ocean have also been mapped.

But Hapgood would not agree that convection currents are solely responsible for continental drift. His evidence comes from many sources, chiefly the comparing of layers of the earth’s crust from a variety of geographic locations around the earth. Both surface and subterranean samples are contrasted. Using hollow drills, scientists bore deep holes in the earth and under ocean bottoms to bring up their samples.

Matching samples from disconnected locations shows that in distant past ages land masses, which are separated from one another today, at one time were joined together on our planet’s surface. Something made these continents separate and move toward the poles.

It would seem obvious then that when these huge land masses moved and collided, great topographical changes took place. Mountains elevated in some areas while weaker surfaces crumpled downward becoming ocean floors. In other places, great lakes and seas came about.

Numerous displacements of the lithosphere (crust) could, in fact, constitute an essential, and perhaps even the basic, mechanism for the growth of continents. 

Depending on how far northward land moved, the climate on those masses would change accordingly. What was once a warmer equatorial climate, now endured an ice age. Plants and animals which could not adapt quickly enough became extinct.

Path of the Pole posits the theory that polar wandering is the primary cause for the dislocation of earth’s continents. Hapgood would begin his theory by showing that the continual piling up of ice and snow on Antarctica over enormous time periods exerts overwhelming downward pressure on the earth under the poles. The pressure is not equally distributed because Antarctica is not displaced evenly around the South Pole.

To relieve this uneven downward pressure from the pole, land masses over the equator are forced to bulge slightly outward due to the centrifugal force of the earth’s spin. These pressures cause fissures within the earth’s crust which fill up with material from the molten center core. Volcanoes are the result of the superheated core, melting rock into magma, which eventually erupts outward as lava flow.

The added mass to the equatorial regions causes a slight wobble in the earth which realigns its axis to establish equilibrium. Accordingly, the earth's poles move. In the recent Pleistocene era — the time period from 1.8 million to 10,000 years before our present time — Path of the Pole posits three major positions of the North Pole before it came to rest at its present position: the Yukon, the Greenland Sea, and Hudson bay. Thus, the cycle continues today. Movement of this type can be demonstrated by attaching a small piece of chewing gum to a top at its center. Now when spun, the top has an axis different from the original.

Path of the Pole is a fascinating read involving physics, anthropology, and particularly geology. Although very scientific, I found it easy to understand because it is packed with illustrations, charts, diagrams, maps, and figures to help explain difficult concepts. 

I would highly recommend the book to anyone studying what causes continental drift, what causes shifts in earth's plates, why ice ages have come and gone, how various species arrived on different continents, what causes volcanoes, and most importantly—what the future of planet earth is.

One might immediately question Hapgood’s theory about downward pressure of snow and ice buildup at the poles considering todays global warming trend. This reviewer tends to think that melting polar ice caps would reduce downward pressure on Antarctica forcing the earth back into a more spherical form. In a very real sense, this would not disprove Hapgood's theory. Simply put, it would reverse it. There would be less outward pressure along the equator and land masses would be forced to readjust.

As a reviewer who liked this book, I would be interested in learning the views of others who read it. Your ideas can be added below this review in the area: Add Your Comments. Speak Your Mind.

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