Prediction of Emperor-Hawaii seamount locations from a revised model of global plate motion and mantle flow


The bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain is a prominent feature usually attributed to a change in Pacific plate motion 47 Myr ago. However, global plate motion reconstructions fail to predict the bend. Here we show how the geometry of the Hawaiian-Emperor chain and other hotspot tracks can be explained when we combine global plate motions with intraplate deformation and movement of hotspot plumes through distortion by global mantle flow. Global mantle flow models predict a southward motion of the Hawaiian hotspot. This, in combination with a plate motion reconstruction connecting Pacific and African plates through Antarctica, predicts the Hawaiian track correctly since the date of the bend, but predicts the chain to be too far west before it. But if a reconstruction through Australia and Lord Howe rise is used instead, the track is predicted correctly back to 65 Myr ago, including the bend. The difference between the two predictions indicates the effect of intraplate deformation not yet recognized or else not recorded on the ocean floor. The remaining misfit before 65 Myr ago can be attributed to additional intraplate deformation of similar magnitude.

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Figure 1: North–south mantle cross-section at 155° W.
Figure 2: Computed hotspot motion and tracks for the moving-source model.
Figure 3: Diagram showing relative plate motion chains considered for times older than chron 20 (43 Myr ago).
Figure 4: South Pacific reconstructions at chron 31y (68 Myr ago).
Figure 5: Age progression along hotspot tracks.


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We thank P. Molnar, J. Stock, T.H. Torsvik and R.A. Duncan for comments on the manuscript, and N. Sleep for a review. R.S. was supported by the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology, the Marsden Fund, and a Caltech Visiting Associate award. R.J.O. received support from the NSF.

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Correspondence to Bernhard Steinberger.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This contains: Supplementary Methods (a more detailed description of the computation of mantle flow and resulting hotspot motion), Supplementary Discussion (on the relation between the stress field in Antarctica inferred from the mantle flow model and the Antarctic deformation inferred from our plate chain model 2), references for the above sections, Supplementary Table S1 (relative plate motions in the Antarctic-Australian region), Supplementary Figure S1 (referred to only in the Supplementary Methods) and Supplementary Figures S2 and S3 (referred to only in the Supplementary Discussion). (PDF 152 kb)

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Steinberger, B., Sutherland, R. & O'Connell, R. Prediction of Emperor-Hawaii seamount locations from a revised model of global plate motion and mantle flow. Nature 430, 167–173 (2004).

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