It has long been recognized that the properties of the Cook–Austral chain (Fig. 1) of volcanoes in the South Pacific are difficult to reconcile with the theory that volcanic activity in plate interiors is produced by the drift of tectonic plates over narrow, stationary plumes1 of hot mantle material upwelling from depth. Radiometric dates2,3 from many island samples are younger or older than would be predicted if a single plume currently located at volcanically active Macdonald seamount4 was responsible for all of the volcanoes. Indeed, only the southernmost part of the Austral volcanic line has hitherto appeared to be consistent with plume activity, and then only within the past 6 million years (Myr)5,6. Here we report radiometric dates that demonstrate that these southern Austral volcanoes are actually composed of three distinct volcanic chains with a range of ages spanning 34 Myr and with inconsistent age progressions. Gravity anomalies and seafloor fabric suggest that the volume and location of volcanism in this region is controlled by stress in the lithosphere rather than the locus of narrow plumes rising from the deep Earth.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Morgan, W. J. Convection plumes in the lower mantle. Nature 230, 42–43 (1971).
Dalrymple, G. B., Jarrad, R. D. & Clague, D. A. K-Ar ages of some volcanic rocks from the Cook and Austral Islands. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 86, 1463–1467 (1975).
Turner, D. L. & Jarrard, R. D. K-Ar dating of the Cook-Austral Island chain: A test of the hot spot hypothesis. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 12, 187–220 (1982).
Johnson, R. H. Active submarine volcanism in the Austral Islands. Science 167, 977–979 (1970).
Krummenacher, D. & Noetzlin, J. Ages isotopiques K/Ar de roches prélevées dans les possessions françaises du Pacifique. Soc. Géol. Fr. Bull. 8, 173–175 (1966).
Duncan, R. A. & MacDougall, I. Linear volcanism in French Polynesia. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 1, 197–227 (1976).
Duncan, R. A. & Clague, D. A. in The Pacific Oceans (eds Nairn, A. E. M., Stehli, F. G. & Uyeda, S.) (Plenum, New York, (1985)).
Mammerickx, J. The Foundation Seamounts: tectonic setting of a newly discovered seamount chain in the South Pacific. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 113, 293–306 (1992).
Watts, A. B., Bodine, J. H. & Ribe, N. R. Observations of flexure and the geological evolution of the Pacific basin. Nature 283, 532–537 (1980).
McNutt, M. K. & Menard, H. W. Lithospheric flexure and uplifted atolls. J. Geophys. Res. 83, 1206–1212 (1978).
Calmant, S. & Cazenave, A. Anomalous elastic thickness of the oceanic lithosphere in the south-central Pacific. Nature 328, 236–238 (1987).
Goodwillie, A. M. & Watts, A. B. An altimetric and bathymetric study of elastic thickness of the central Pacific Ocean. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 118, 311–326 (1993).
Sleep, N. H. Lateral flow and ponding of starting plume material. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 10001–10012 (1997).
Cande, S. C. & Haxby, W. F. Eocene propagating rifts in the southwest Pacific and their conjugate features on the Nazca plate. J. Geophys. Res. 96, 19609–19622 (1991).
Johnson, R. H. in Research Reports (eds Oehser, P. H., Lea, J. S. & Powars, N. L.) 389–405 (National Geographic Society, Washington DC, (1971)).
Hart, S. R. Alarge-scale isotope anomaly in the southern hemisphere mantle. Nature 309, 753–757 (1984).
Barsczus, H. G. Les isles Australes (Polynesie Francaise) et la theorie des points chauds (Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer, (1980)).
Menard, H. W. & McNutt, M. K. Evidence for and consequences of thermal rejuvenation of the lithosphere. J. Geophys. Res. 87, 8570–8580 (1982).
Su, W.-J. The Three-Dimensional Shear-Wave Velocity Structure of the Earth's Mantle (Harvard Univ. Press, (1992)).
McNutt, M. K. & Judge, A. V. The superswell and mantle dynamics beneath the South Pacific. Science 248, 969–975 (1990).
Hedge, C. E. Strontium isotopes in basalts from the Pacific Ocean basin. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 38, 88–94 (1978).
Richter, F. M. & Ribe, N. M. On the importance of advection in determining the local isotopic composition of the mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 43, 212–222 (1979).
Hofmann, A. W. Mantle geochemistry: the message from oceanic volcanism. Nature 385, 219–229 (1997).
Smith, W. H. F. & Sandwell, D. T. New global seafloor topography from satellite altimetry. Eos 77, F315 (1996).
Müller, R. D., Roest, W. R., Royer, J.-Y., Gahagan, L. M. & Sclater, J. G. Digital isochrons of the world's ocean floor. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 3211–3214 (1997).
We thank W. Smith for providing the predicted bathymetry data, and J.-G. Schilling, M. Maia and N. Sleep for reviews. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation.
About this article
Cite this article
McNutt, M., Caress, D., Reynolds, J. et al. Failure of plume theory to explain midplate volcanism in the southern Austral islands. Nature 389, 479–482 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1038/39013
Nature Geoscience (2012)
Earth, Planets and Space (2000)