Einstein and the Pole Shift
Albert Einstein did not support a rapid geographic pole shift

Albert Einstein
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Einstein carried on an extensive correspondence with Charles Hapgood

Prior to the theory of Plate Tectonics, various theories to explain the features of the earth were explored. One of these was Hapgood's "Earth Crust Displacement" (ECD) theory. Charles Hapgood came to public attention in the mid-1950s with this, and in turn attracted the support of Albert Einstein.

Einstein and Hapgood

Between 1952 and 1955 Einstein exchanged several letters with Hapgood, encouraging Hapgood to develop his theory, and to address certain deficiencies in the theory. These letters show that Albert Einstein was extensively involved in assisting Charles Hapgood in the development of his theory.

Letter to Hapgood

November 24, 1952

Mr. Charles H. Hapgood
2 Allerton Street
Provincetown, Mass.

Dear Sir:

I have read already some years ago in a popular article about the idea that excentric masses of ice, accumulated near a pole, could produce from time to time considerable dislocations of the floating rigid crust of the earth. I have never occupied myself with this problem but my impression is that a careful study of this hypothesis is really desirable.

I think that our factual knowledge of the underlying facts is at present not precise enough for a reliable answer based exclusively on calculations. Knowledge of geological and paleontological facts may be of decisive importance in the matter. In any case, it would not be justified to discard the idea a priori as adventurous.

The question whether high pressure may not be able to produce fusion of nuclei is also quite justified. It is not known to me if a quantitative theory has been worked out by astrophysicists. The action of pressure would not be a static effect as classical mechanics would suggest, but a kinetic effect corresponding not to temperature but to degeneracy of gases of high density. You should correspond about this with an astro-phycisist experienced in quantum theory, f.i. Dr. L. Schwarzschild at the Princeton University Observatory.

Sincerely yours,

Albert Einstein.

In this (his second) letter to Hapgood, Einstein wrote that the idea of earth crust displacement should not be ruled out a priori, but also said that Hapgood needed solid "geological and paleontological facts." Hapgood and Einstein exchanged several letters, with Einstein both encouraging Hapgood ( "I find your arguments very impressive and have the impression that your hypothesis is correct. One can hardly doubt that significant shifts of the crust have taken place repeatedly and within a short time." May 8th, 1953) and challenging him to supply evidence (e.g., exhorting Hapgood to address the "centrifugal momentum" problem in December 1953).

Foreword to the First Edition

In 1954 Einstein wrote a very favorable foreword for Hapgood's upcoming book (eventually published in 1958). Hapgood and Einstein met once in January of 1955, and continued to correspond up until Einstein's death in April of that year.

Foreword to the First Edition
by Albert Einstein

I frequently receive communications from people who wish to consult me concerning their unpublished ideas. It goes without saying that these ideas are very seldom possessed of scientific validity. The very first communication, however, that I received from Mr. Hapgood electrified me. His idea is original, of great simplicity, and—if it continues to prove itself—of great importance to everything that is related to the history of the earth’s surface.

A great many empirical data indicate that at each point on the earth’s surface that has been carefully studied, many climatic changes have taken place, apparently quite suddenly. This, according to Hapgood, is explicable if the virtually rigid outer crust of the earth undergoes, from time to time, extensive displacement over the viscous, plastic, possibly fluid inner layers. Such displacements may take place as the consequence of comparatively slight forces exerted on the crust, derived from the earth’s momentum of rotation, which in turn will tend to alter the axis of rotation, which in turn will tend to alter the axis of rotation of the earth’s crust.

In a polar region there is continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The earth’s rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses, and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the earth’s crust over the rest of the earth’s body, and this will displace the polar regions toward the equator.

Without a doubt the earth’s crust is strong enough not to give way proportionately as the ice is deposited. The only doubtful assumption is that the earth’s crust can be moved easily enough over the inner layers.

The author has not confined himself to a simple presentation of this idea. He has also set forth, cautiously and comprehensively, the extraordinarily rich material that supports his displacement theory. I think that this rather astonishing, even fascinating, idea deserves the serious attention of anyone who concerns himself with the theory of the earth’s development.

To close with an observation that has occurred to me while writing these lines: If the earth’s crust is really so easily displaced over its substratum as this theory requires, then the rigid masses near the earth’s surface must be distributed in such a way that they give rise to displace the crust by centrifugal effect. I think that this deduction might be capable of verification, at least approximately. This centrifugal momentum should in any case be smaller than that produced by the masses of deposited ice.

Notice the cautious but enthusiastic language. "… if it continues to prove itself…" and "The only doubtful assumption is that the earth’s crust can be moved easily enough over the inner layers." and of course the final paragraph which raises a doubt that the mass of ice is enough to offset the mass of the continents along the equator.

Hapgood's Theory

Hapgood argued that each shift took approximately 5,000 years, followed by 20,000- to 30,000-year periods with no polar movements. Also, in his calculations, the area of movement never covered more than 40 degrees. Hapgood's examples of recent locations for the North Pole include Hudson Bay (60˚N, 73˚W) , the Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway (72˚N, 10˚E) and Yukon (63˚N, 135˚W).

This stands in stark contrast to the modern "Pole Shift" ideas of various authors including Patrick Geryl, which have the pole shift occurring over the course of a few hours or days. Hapgood's ECD (Earth Crust Displacement) was claimed to occur over 5000 years!

Hapgood's Books

  • The Earth's Shifting Crust (1958) (which includes the foreword by Albert Einstein)
  • Path of the Pole (1970).

In The Path of the Pole, Hapgood conceded Einstein's point that the weight of the polar ice would be insufficient to bring about a polar shift. Instead, Hapgood argued that the forces that caused the shifts in the crust must be located below the surface. He had no satisfactory explanation for how this could occur.

Problems with the "Endorsement"

There are several problems with equating Albert Einstein's support for Charles Hapgood's ECD theory to Albert Einstein supporting the idea of a "rapid pole shift".

Hapgood's ECD is not "rapid pole shift"

As shown above, Hapgood felt that the 'Displacement' would occur over a period of 5000 years. Einstein had already seen many of Hapgood's manuscripts by the time that he wrote the foreword to Hapgood's book, so Einstein was aware of the time-frame proposed by Hapgood. When Einstein wrote that changes had occurred "…within a short time." he was therefore talking about a longer timescale than humans would typically consider "short". 5000 years is virtually instantaneous in geologic time scales.

Therefore, Einstein's support of Hapgood's ECD does not equate to Einstein supporting the idea of a pole shift that occurred within a year, or a day, or a few hours, as has been proposed by some authors.

Appeal to Authority

Another problem for the Einstein 'endorsement' of the "Rapid Pole Shift" (RPS) idea is that it is essentially an appeal to authority: "Einstein was very smart, and he liked the "Rapid Pole Shift" theory, therefore the Rapid Pole Shift theory is correct."

Even if the second premise were correct (and we have shown that it is incorrect), and even if Einstein was a world-renowned authority on geology (which he wasn't) then the argument would still be a fallacious one, because, even as smart as he was, Einstein did not define the entire field of geology. Theories are not valid because they have big-name support, they are valid if (and only if) they make testable predictions that are shown to be supported by evidence.1

Appeal to False Authority (or False Authority Syndrome)

And finally, the major problem with citing Albert Einstein's support for Hapgood's ECD theory is that it is an appeal to a false authority: Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist, and while he was much much smarter than any of us will ever be, he was not an authority in geological processes.

Problems with the theory


Another significant problem for ECD comes from a more modern understanding of geologic processes, specifically isostasy. Whereas Einstein and Hapgood considered the crust to be rigid, we now know that as ice builds up on a land mass, that the land mass is pushed down into the mantle. In fact parts of North America and Europe are still rebounding from the last ice age.

ECD fails to take isostasy into account, and the 'tipping point' of centrifugal force is never reached because of it. As more ice builds up, the farther down the continents under the ice are pushed, significantly decreasing the torque provided by centrifugal force.

Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonic theory arose out of the hypothesis of continental drift proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912[1] and expanded in his 1915 book The Origin of Continents and Oceans. He suggested that the present continents once formed a single land mass that drifted apart, thus releasing the continents from the Earth's core and likening them to "icebergs" of low density granite floating on a sea of denser basalt.

Without detailed evidence and a force sufficient to drive the movement, the theory was not generally accepted: the Earth might have a solid crust and a liquid core, but there seemed to be no way that portions of the crust could move around. Later science supported theories proposed by English geologist Arthur Holmes in 1920 that plate junctions might lie beneath the sea and Holmes' 1928 suggestion of convection currents within the mantle as the driving force.

The first evidence that the lithospheric plates did move came with the discovery of variable magnetic field direction in rocks of differing ages, first revealed at a symposium in Tasmania in 1956. Initially theorized as an expansion of the global crust, later collaborations developed the plate tectonic theory, which accounted for spreading as the consequence of new rock upwelling, but avoided the need for an expanding globe by recognizing subduction zones and conservative translation faults. It was at this point that Wegener's theory became generally accepted by the scientific community. Additional work on the association of seafloor spreading and magnetic field reversals by Harry Hess and Ron G. Mason pinpointed the precise mechanism which accounted for new rock upwelling.

Following the recognition of magnetic anomalies defined by symmetric, parallel stripes of similar magnetization on the seafloor on either side of a mid-ocean ridge, plate tectonics quickly became broadly accepted. Simultaneous advances in early seismic imaging techniques in and around Wadati-Benioff zones together with many other geologic observations soon made plate tectonics a theory with extraordinary explanatory and predictive power, much more so that Hapgood's ECD.

Study of the deep ocean floor was critical to development of the theory; the field of deep sea marine geology accelerated in the 1960s. Correspondingly, plate tectonic theory was developed during the late 1960s and has since been accepted by almost all scientists throughout all geoscientific disciplines. The theory revolutionized the Earth sciences, explaining a diverse range of geological phenomena and their implications in other studies such as paleogeography and paleobiology.

ECD Replaced

The new observations from the deep ocean floor, including expansion zones and subduction zones, sounds a death-knell for ECD. ECD requires that the earth's crust be rigid, and that it move as a whole body over the inner layers. We now know that the plates move, and subduct under each other, so the earth's crust is not rigid enough to support ECD. We have even used GPS technology to measure the rates that the plates move.


Albert Einstein did indeed support Hapgood's idea of Earth Crust Displacement (ECD). However, this does not lend support to a rapid pole shift, or cataclysmic events generated by such an event. ECD has been replaced by Plate Tectonics which better explains the evidence, and Einstein's support of ECD occurred before Plate Tectonics was fully developed. We question whether Einstein would support ECD over Plate Tectonics today.

1. Hughes Patrick. "Alfred Wegener (1880-1930): A Geographic Jigsaw Puzzle". On the shoulders of giants. Earth Observatory, NASA. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/Giants/Wegener/wegener_2.html.


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