Letter | Published:

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

Nature volume 545, pages 472476 (25 May 2017) | Download Citation


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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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


  1. Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • T. D. Jones
    • , D. R. Davies
    • , I. H. Campbell
    •  & G. Yaxley
  2. Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • G. Iaffaldano
  3. Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College, London, UK

    • S. C. Kramer
  4. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

    • C. R. Wilson
  5. Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC, USA

    • C. R. Wilson


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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to T. D. Jones.

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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