The volcanism responsible for creating the chain of the Hawaiian islands and seamounts is believed to mark the passage of the oceanic lithosphere over a mantle plume1,2. In this picture hot material rises from great depth within a fixed narrow conduit to the surface, penetrating the moving lithosphere3. Although a number of models describe possible plume–lithosphere interactions4, seismic imaging techniques have not had sufficient resolution to distinguish between them. Here we apply the S-wave ‘receiver function’ technique to data of three permanent seismic broadband stations on the Hawaiian islands, to map the thickness of the underlying lithosphere. We find that under Big Island the lithosphere is 100–110 km thick, as expected for an oceanic plate 90–100 million years old that is not modified by a plume. But the lithosphere thins gradually along the island chain to about 50–60 km below Kauai. The width of the thinning is about 300 km. In this zone, well within the larger-scale topographic swell, we infer that the rejuvenation model5 (where the plume thins the lithosphere) is operative; however, the larger-scale topographic swell is probably supported dynamically.
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We thank G. Asch and J. Mechie for their aid. We also thank the people of the Kaleahala National Park for supporting our station MAUI. This work has been supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft within the ICDP project and by the GeoForschungsZentrum, Potsdam. Waveform data have been provided by the IRIS, GEOSCOPE and GEOFON data centres.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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Li, X., Kind, R., Yuan, X. et al. Rejuvenation of the lithosphere by the Hawaiian plume. Nature 427, 827–829 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02349
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