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The concurrent emergence and causes of double volcanic hotspot tracks on the Pacific plate


Mantle plumes are buoyant upwellings of hot rock that transport heat from Earth’s core to its surface, generating anomalous regions of volcanism that are not directly associated with plate tectonic processes. The best-studied example is the Hawaiian–Emperor chain, but the emergence of two sub-parallel volcanic tracks along this chain1, Loa and Kea, and the systematic geochemical differences between them2,3 have remained unexplained. Here we argue that the emergence of these tracks coincides with the appearance of other double volcanic tracks on the Pacific plate and a recent azimuthal change in the motion of the plate. We propose a three-part model that explains the evolution of Hawaiian double-track volcanism: first, mantle flow beneath the rapidly moving Pacific plate strongly tilts the Hawaiian plume and leads to lateral separation between high- and low-pressure melt source regions; second, the recent azimuthal change in Pacific plate motion exposes high- and low-pressure melt products as geographically distinct volcanoes, explaining the simultaneous emergence of double-track volcanism across the Pacific; and finally, secondary pyroxenite, which is formed as eclogite melt reacts with peridotite4, dominates the low-pressure melt region beneath Loa-track volcanism, yielding the systematic geochemical differences observed between Loa- and Kea-type lavas3,5,6,7,8,9. Our results imply that the formation of double-track volcanism is transitory and can be used to identify and place temporal bounds on plate-motion changes.

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Figure 1: Bathymetric map of recent Hawaiian volcanism, highlighting the Loa and Kea tracks.
Figure 2: Schematic diagram of the tilted Hawaiian plume, the overlying Pacific plate and associated surface volcanism.
Figure 3: Evidence for a recent change in the motion of the Pacific plate.
Figure 4: Simulation of a three-dimensional mantle plume beneath a moving plate.


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T.D.J. is funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award (1183a/2010). D.R.D. is funded by the ARC, under grant numbers FT140101262 and DP170100058. S.C.K is funded by EPSRC grant EP/L000407/1. C.R.W. is funded by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers EAR-1141976 and OCE-1358091. Numerical simulations were undertaken on the NCI National Facility in Canberra, Australia, which is supported by the Australian Commonwealth Government.

Author information




T.D.J. and D.R.D. conceived this study, integrated all inter-disciplinary observational constraints and designed the numerical simulations. G.I. calculated the noise-mitigated polar wander path for the Pacific plate. T.D.J., I.H.C. and D.R.D. undertook the geochemical synthesis, and G.Y. guided the petrological interpretation. C.R.W. and S.C.K. supported the development and validation of the computational modelling framework Fluidity. T.D.J., D.R.D. and I.H.C. wrote the paper, with contributions from (and following discussion with) all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to T. D. Jones.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Reviewer Information Nature thanks G. Ito, N. Ribe and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Bathymetric maps of Pacific plate hotspots with recent double volcanic tracks.

a, Society Island chain with the geochemically distinct Moua (blue) and Roca (red) trends outlined10. b, Marquases Island chain with the geochemically distinct Nuku (blue) and Motu (red) trends outlined41. c, Foundation Seamount chain with the geochemically distinct northern seamount chain (blue) and southern seamount chain (red) outlined42. d, Samoa Island chain with the geochemically distinct Vai (blue) and Malu (red) trends outlined43,44. The encircled number indicates the approximate age at which volcanism along both trends first appears in each. Hawaii and these four hotspots make up all the volcanic chains on the Pacific plate that have displayed persistent volcanism for the past 5 Myr, with the exception of the McDonald chain, which lacks the clear age-progressive characteristics often associated with mantle plumes (the Pitcairn, Caroline and Louisville tracks display a hiatus in volcanism for at least 2 Myr during this time interval and, hence, do not satisfy our criteria)13,14.

Extended Data Figure 2 Phase relations and solidus curves.

a, Schematic liquidus phase relations for the peridotite–basaltic system at 3.5 GPa, modified from ref. 4. The green circle labelled ‘P’ represents average peridotite mantle composition, the pink circle labelled ‘E’ represents average eclogite composition, and ‘C’ is the cotectic on the thermal divide at which secondary pyroxenites begin melting. The liquidus fields are labelled: Ol, olivine; Ga, garnet; Opx-Cpx, pyroxene; Co, coesite. Blue lines represent melt pathways with black arrows indicating increasing temperature (which is considered analogous to decreasing pressure). The green, pink and yellow regions are psuedo-eutectic melt compositions for peridotite, eclogite and pyroxenite, respectively. Note that the arrows on the melt pathways point up temperature to ‘C’, showing that the two-phase cotectic on the thermal divide has a higher solidus temperature than both four-phase eutectics. Therefore, pyroxenites forming on the thermal divide will have a higher solidus temperature than the peridotite eutectic and therefore melt at lower pressures4. b, Pressure temperature conditions for peridotite (green) and eclogite (pink) melting from refs 38 and 39, respectively. The pyroxenite solidus (yellow line) is inferred to be 50 K above the peridotite solidus (see text). The solid red line highlights the plume temperature from the model presented in Fig. 4, with the kink marking the depth at which the uppermost part of the plume approaches the base of the lithosphere.

Extended Data Figure 3 Three-dimensional plume simulations.

a, Same as Fig. 4a, but illustrating the melt fraction for eclogite, peridotite and pyroxenite by contouring at 0.5, 0.1 and 0.1, respectively (see Methods). b, Perspective view of plume 2.5 Myr after case a.

Extended Data Figure 4 Instantaneous versus gradual changes in the direction of plate motion.

a, Results from the model presented in Fig. 4, in which an instantaneous change in plate-motion direction of 20° was imposed. The plotted lines are: (i) the azimuth of the imposed plate-motion (blue dashed line), and; (ii) the azimuth of a straight line between the melt-rate maxima for peridotite and pyroxenite (black dots with green dotted line). Initially, the two azimuths are parallel (not shown), but after the change in plate-motion direction they are offset by 20° and slowly converge over time, with realignment by 8 Myr. b, Results from a model in which a gradual change in plate-motion is imposed (otherwise identical to the model in a), and data on the azimuthal change in Pacific plate-motion at Hawaii from our kinematic reconstruction presented in Fig. 3 (red solid line). In contrast to the instantaneous case (a), the two azimuths gradually diverge following the change in plate-motion direction at 6 Ma. The offset between the two azimuths reaches a maximum at around 2 Ma, when the change in plate-motion direction ceases and the offset decreases (but remains significant) towards the present day.

Extended Data Table 1 Parameters for input into Redback
Extended Data Table 2 Physical parameters in numerical simulation

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Jones, T., Davies, D., Campbell, I. et al. The concurrent emergence and causes of double volcanic hotspot tracks on the Pacific plate. Nature 545, 472–476 (2017).

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