Letter | Published:

A rapid burst in hotspot motion through the interaction of tectonics and deep mantle flow

Nature volume 533, pages 239242 (12 May 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

Volcanic hotspot tracks featuring linear progressions in the age of volcanism are typical surface expressions of plate tectonic movement on top of narrow plumes of hot material within Earth’s mantle1. Seismic imaging reveals that these plumes can be of deep origin2—probably rooted on thermochemical structures in the lower mantle3,4,5,6. Although palaeomagnetic and radiometric age data suggest that mantle flow can advect plume conduits laterally7,8, the flow dynamics underlying the formation of the sharp bend occurring only in the Hawaiian–Emperor hotspot track in the Pacific Ocean remains enigmatic. Here we present palaeogeographically constrained numerical models of thermochemical convection and demonstrate that flow in the deep lower mantle under the north Pacific was anomalously vigorous between 100 million years ago and 50 million years ago as a consequence of long-lasting subduction systems, unlike those in the south Pacific. These models show a sharp bend in the Hawaiian–Emperor hotspot track arising from the interplay of plume tilt and the lateral advection of plume sources. The different trajectories of the Hawaiian and Louisville hotspot tracks arise from asymmetric deformation of thermochemical structures under the Pacific between 100 million years ago and 50 million years ago. This asymmetric deformation waned just before the Hawaiian–Emperor bend developed, owing to flow in the deepest lower mantle associated with slab descent in the north and south Pacific.

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Acknowledgements

M.G. was supported by the NSF (awards EAR-1161046 and EAR-1247022). R.D.M. and N.F. were supported by an ARC grant (IH130200012). This research was undertaken with the assistance of resources from the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), which is supported by the Australian Government.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. EarthByte Group, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • Rakib Hassan
    • , R. Dietmar Müller
    • , Simon E. Williams
    •  & Nicolas Flament
  2. Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Michael Gurnis

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Contributions

R.H. and R.D.M. developed the concept of the study. R.H. and M.G. designed the numerical experiments and developed the technical aspects of the study. All authors contributed both intellectually and to the writing of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rakib Hassan.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Videos

  1. 1.

    Evolution of mean poloidal flow in the deep lower mantle.

    The video shows the evolution of mean poloidal flow in a 300 km thick shell above the core mantle boundary over the last 140 million years. Cross sections along profiles through the Pacific LLSVP show the evolution of its edges driven by subduction-induced flow.

  2. 2.

    Trajectory of modelled Hawaiian plume.

    The video shows the southward motion of the modelled Hawaiian plume and the evolution of its tilt. The black contour marks the 75% chemical concentration isosurface 100 km above the core mantle boundary.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17422

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