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Insights into the dynamics of mantle plumes from uranium-series geochemistry

Abstract

The long-standing paradigm that hotspot volcanoes such as Hawaii or Iceland represent the surface expression of mantle plumes—hot, buoyant upwelling regions beneath the Earth’s lithosphere—has recently been the focus of controversy. Whether mantle plumes exist or not is pivotal for our understanding of the thermal, dynamic and compositional evolution of the Earth’s mantle. Here we show that uranium-series disequilibria measured in hotspot lavas indicate that hotspots are indeed associated with hot and buoyant upwellings and that weaker (low buoyancy flux) hotspots such as Iceland and the Azores are characterized by lower excess temperatures than stronger hotspots such as Hawaii. This direct link between buoyancy flux and mantle temperature is evidence for the existence of mantle plumes.

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. McKenzie for the support of A.S. during his visit to IPGP. A.E.S.’s visit to Paris was supported by IPGP funds. We also thank D. McKenzie, A. Davaille, M. Moreira and C. Farnetani for numerous discussions about plumes. We are grateful to P. Olson and T. Kokfelt for comments.

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Correspondence to Bernard Bourdon.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file contains Supplementary Figure 1 and Supplementary Table 1. Supplementary Figure 1 shows the excess temperature in plumes at the base of the lithosphere as a function of the buoyancy flux. Supplementary Table 1 describes the parameters used in the modelling and their typical values. This file also contains a description of the model. (PDF 115 kb)

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Further reading

Figure 1: U-series activity ratios versus buoyancy fluxes for recent hotspot lavas.
Figure 2: U-series activity ratios as a function of distance from the centre of hotspots.
Figure 3: Relationship between U-series activity ratios in erupted melts and mantle upwelling velocity.
Figure 4: Models of U-series activity ratios versus buoyancy flux for recent hotspot lavas.
Figure 5: 206 Pb/ 204 Pb as a function of the distance from the centre of the Azores hotspot.

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