Letter | Published:

Broad plumes rooted at the base of the Earth's mantle beneath major hotspots

Nature volume 525, pages 9599 (03 September 2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Plumes of hot upwelling rock rooted in the deep mantle have been proposed as a possible origin of hotspot volcanoes, but this idea is the subject of vigorous debate1,2. On the basis of geodynamic computations, plumes of purely thermal origin should comprise thin tails, only several hundred kilometres wide3, and be difficult to detect using standard seismic tomography techniques. Here we describe the use of a whole-mantle seismic imaging technique—combining accurate wavefield computations with information contained in whole seismic waveforms4—that reveals the presence of broad (not thin), quasi-vertical conduits beneath many prominent hotspots. These conduits extend from the core–mantle boundary to about 1,000 kilometres below Earth’s surface, where some are deflected horizontally, as though entrained into more vigorous upper-mantle circulation. At the base of the mantle, these conduits are rooted in patches of greatly reduced shear velocity that, in the case of Hawaii, Iceland and Samoa, correspond to the locations of known large ultralow-velocity zones5,6,7. This correspondence clearly establishes a continuous connection between such zones and mantle plumes. We also show that the imaged conduits are robustly broader than classical thermal plume tails, suggesting that they are long-lived8, and may have a thermochemical origin9,10,11. Their vertical orientation suggests very sluggish background circulation below depths of 1,000 kilometres. Our results should provide constraints on studies of viscosity layering of Earth’s mantle and guide further research into thermochemical convection.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    Convection plumes in the lower mantle. Nature 230, 42–43 (1971)

  2. 2.

    Scoring hotspots: the plume and plate paradigms. Geol. Soc. Special Papers 388, 31–54 (2005)

  3. 3.

    & Implications of mantle plume structure for the evolution of flood basalts. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 99, 79–93 (1990)

  4. 4.

    & Whole-mantle radially anisotropic shear velocity structure from spectral-element waveform tomography. Geophys. J. Int. 199, 1303–1327 (2014)

  5. 5.

    & An unusually large ULVZ at the base of the mantle near Hawaii. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 355–356, 213–222 (2012)

  6. 6.

    , & Seismic evidence that the source of the Iceland hotspot lies at the core-mantle boundary. Nature 396, 251–255 (1998)

  7. 7.

    , , , & Mega ultra low velocity zone and mantle flow. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 364, 59–67 (2013)

  8. 8.

    & The influence of a chemical boundary layer on the fixity, spacing and lifetime of mantle plumes. Nature 418, 760–763 (2002)

  9. 9.

    Excess temperature of mantle plumes: the role of chemical stratification across D″. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 1583–1586 (1997)

  10. 10.

    & Dynamics of thermochemical plumes: 2. Complexity of plume structures and its implications for mapping mantle plumes. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 7, Q03003 (2006)

  11. 11.

    , , & Mantle plumes: thin, fat, successful or failing? Constraints to explain hot spot volcanism through time and space. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L16301 (2008)

  12. 12.

    , & Geographic correlation between hot spots and deep mantle lateral shear-wave velocity gradients. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 146, 47–63 (2004)

  13. 13.

    , & Tracking deep mantle reservoirs with ultra-low velocity zones. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 299, 1–9 (2010)

  14. 14.

    & in Treatise on Geophysics Vol. 7 (ed. ) 89–156 (Elsevier, 2007)

  15. 15.

    & Wavefront healing and the evolution of seismic delay times. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 19043–19054 (2000)

  16. 16.

    Global tomographic images of mantle plumes and subducting slabs: insight into deep earth dynamics. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 146, 3–34 (2004)

  17. 17.

    et al. Finite-frequency tomography reveals a variety of plumes in the mantle. Science 303, 338–343 (2004)

  18. 18.

    et al. South Pacific mantle plumes imaged by seismic observation on islands and seafloor. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 10, Q11014 (2009)

  19. 19.

    , & On the statistical significance of correlations between synthetic mantle plumes and tomographic models. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 167, 230–238 (2008)

  20. 20.

    , , & Coupling the spectral element method with a modal solution for elastic wave propagation in global earth models. Geophys. J. Int. 152, 34–67 (2003)

  21. 21.

    , & Waveform tomography reveals channeled flow at the base of the oceanic asthenosphere. Science 342, 227–230 (2013)

  22. 22.

    et al. Mapping the Hawaiian plume conduit with converted seismic waves. Nature 405, 939–941 (2000)

  23. 23.

    et al. Mantle P-wave velocity structure beneath the Hawaiian hotspot. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 303, 267–280 (2011)

  24. 24.

    et al. Asymmetric shallow mantle structure beneath the Hawaiian Swell—evidence from Rayleigh waves recorded by the PLUME network. Geophys. J. Int. 187, 1725–1742 (2011)

  25. 25.

    & The excess temperature of plumes rising from the core mantle boundary. Geophys. Res. Lett. 23, 3567–3570 (1996)

  26. 26.

    , , & Three distinct types of hotspots in the Earth’s mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 205, 295–308 (2003)

  27. 27.

    Plumes in a convecting mantle: models and observations for individual hotspots. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 11127–11152 (2000)

  28. 28.

    & Seismological detection of a mantle plume? Nature 364, 115–120 (1993)

  29. 29.

    , & Degree 12 model of shear velocity heterogeneity in the mantle. J. Geophys. Res. 99, 6945–6980 (1994)

  30. 30.

    & Subducted slabs stagnant above, penetrating through, and trapped below the 660 km discontinuity. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 1–19 (2013)

  31. 31.

    & Deep mantle high viscosity flow and thermochemical structure inferred from seismic and geodetic data. Nature 410, 1049–1056 (2001)

  32. 32.

    & Slab stagnation in the shallow lower mantle due to an increase in mantle viscosity. Nature Geosci. 8, 311–314 (2015)

  33. 33.

    , & Plume fluxes from seismic tomography. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 248, 685–699 (2006)

  34. 34.

    & Inferring upper-mantle structure by full waveform tomography with the spectral element method. Geophys. J. Int. 185, 799–831 (2011)

  35. 35.

    & The spectral element method: an efficient tool to simulate the seismic response of 2D and 3D geological structures. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 88, 368–393 (1998)

  36. 36.

    & Comparison of global waveform inversions with and without considering cross-branch modal coupling. Geophys. J. Int. 121, 695–709 (1995)

  37. 37.

    , , & Parallel Hessian assembly for seismic waveform inversion using global updates. In Proc. 29th IEEE Int. ‘Parallel and Distributed Processing’ Symp. (IEEE, (2015)

  38. 38.

    & The three-dimensional shear velocity structure of the mantle from the inversion of body, surface and higher-mode waveforms. Geophys. J. Int. 143, 709–728 (2000)

  39. 39.

    & A radial model of anelasticity consistent with long-period surface-wave attenuation. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 86, 144–158 (1996)

  40. 40.

    & Spherical-spline parametrization of three-dimensional earth models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 22, 3099–3102 (1995)

  41. 41.

    Inverse Problem Theory and Models for Model Parameter Estimation (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), 2005)

  42. 42.

    , & On the use of the checker-board test to assess the resolution of tomographic inversions. Geophys. J. Int. 115, 313–318 (1993)

  43. 43.

    , , , & High 3He/4He ratios in the Manus backarc basin: implications for mantle mixing and the origin of plumes in the western Pacific Ocean. Geology 26, 1007–1010 (1998)

  44. 44.

    , & Complex shear wave velocity structure imaged beneath Africa and Iceland. Science 286, 1925–1928 (1999)

  45. 45.

    Absolute plate motions constrained by shear wave splitting orientations with implications for hot spot motions and mantle flow. J. Geophys. Res. 114, B10405 (2009)

  46. 46.

    , , & S40RTS: a degree-40 shear-velocity model for the mantle from new Rayleigh wave dispersion, teleseismic traveltime and normal-mode splitting function measurements. Geophys. J. Int. 184, 1223–1236 (2011)

  47. 47.

    , , & A catalogue of deep mantle plumes: new results from finite-frequency tomography. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 7, Q11007 (2006)

  48. 48.

    , , & Shear and compressional velocity models of the mantle from cluster analysis of long-period waveforms. Geophys. J. Int. 174, 195–212 (2008)

  49. 49.

    , , & GyPSuM: a joint tomographic model of mantle density and seismic wave speeds. J. Geophys. Res. 115, B12310 (2010)

  50. 50.

    & Mineralogy and elasticity of the oceanic upper mantle: Origin of the low-velocity zone. J. Geophys. Res. 110, B03204 (2005)

  51. 51.

    Deformation of Earth Materials: Introduction to the Rheology of the Solid Earth (Cambridge Univ. Press., 2008)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the IRIS Data Management Center for providing the waveform data used in this study. This study was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to S.W.F., NSF grant EAR-1417229, and ERC Advanced Grant WAVETOMO. Computations were performed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Science (contract DE-AC02-05CH11231).

Author information

Author notes

    • Scott W. French

    Present address: National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Scott W. French
    •  & Barbara Romanowicz
  2. Institut de Physique du Globe, Paris 75238, France

    • Barbara Romanowicz
  3. Collège de France, Paris 75005, France

    • Barbara Romanowicz

Authors

  1. Search for Scott W. French in:

  2. Search for Barbara Romanowicz in:

Contributions

B.R. and S.W.F. collaborated in developing the concept of this paper. B.R. wrote the first draft, which was jointly finalized through successive iterations. S.W.F. is responsible for most of the technical aspects of this work, including the realization of most of the figures, with input from B.R. on figure design. B.R. is responsible for Fig. 4 and Extended Data Table 1.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Barbara Romanowicz.

Extended data

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains, Supplementary Text and Data, including a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figures 1-10 and additional references.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14876

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.