Multiple volcanic episodes of flood basalts caused by thermochemical mantle plumes

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The hypothesis that a single mushroom-like mantle plume head can generate a large igneous province within a few million years has been widely accepted1. The Siberian Traps at the Permian–Triassic boundary2 and the Deccan Traps at the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary3 were probably erupted within one million years. These large eruptions have been linked to mass extinctions. But recent geochronological data4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 reveal more than one pulse of major eruptions with diverse magma flux within several flood basalts extending over tens of million years. This observation indicates that the processes leading to large igneous provinces are more complicated than the purely thermal, single-stage plume model suggests. Here we present numerical experiments to demonstrate that the entrainment of a dense eclogite-derived material at the base of the mantle by thermal plumes can develop secondary instabilities due to the interaction between thermal and compositional buoyancy forces. The characteristic timescales of the development of the secondary instabilities and the variation of the plume strength are compatible with the observations. Such a process may contribute to multiple episodes of large igneous provinces.

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Figure 1: Summary of the episodic major eruptions of the large igneous provinces in the last 200 million years.
Figure 2: Dense layer entrainment for models with Δ η = 102.
Figure 3: Snapshots showing the evolution of the plume and the development of secondary instabilities.
Figure 4: Time evolution of velocity and temperature at the plume axis of 600-km depth for three representative models.


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This research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Science Council of Taiwan, Republic of China.

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Correspondence to Shu-Chuan Lin.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Legends

Full text to accompany the Supplementary Video S1 and Supplementary Figures S1 and S2. (DOC 22 kb)

Supplementary Video S1

Evolution of the thermochemical plume for model in figure 3, showing two types of instabilities in the transitional regime for the formation of the thermochemical plumes. (GIF 1291 kb)

Supplementary Figures S1

Supplementary Figure S1 details the profile of reference excess density (eclogite). (JPG 6 kb)

Supplementary Figures S2

Supplementary Figure S2 shows time evolution of the plume strength for five representative models showing the diverse relative strengths of the following pulses with respect to the first event. (JPG 12 kb)

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Lin, S., van Keken, P. Multiple volcanic episodes of flood basalts caused by thermochemical mantle plumes. Nature 436, 250–252 (2005) doi:10.1038/nature03697

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