Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Seismic imaging of melt in a displaced Hawaiian plume


The Hawaiian Islands are the classic example of hotspot volcanism: the island chain formed progressively as the Pacific plate moved across a fixed mantle plume1. However, some observations2 are inconsistent with simple, vertical upwelling beneath a thermally defined plate and the nature of plume-plate interaction is debated. Here we use S-to-P seismic receiver functions, measured using a network of land and seafloor seismometers, to image the base of a melt-rich zone located 110 to 155 km beneath Hawaii. We find that this melt-rich zone is deepest 100 km west of Hawaii, implying that the plume impinges on the plate here and causes melting at greater depths in the mantle, rather than directly beneath the island. We infer that the plume either naturally upwells vertically beneath western Hawaii, or that it is instead deflected westwards by a compositionally depleted root that was generated beneath the island as it formed. The offset of the Hawaiian plume adds complexity to the classical model of a fixed plume that ascends vertically to the surface, and suggests that mantle melts beneath intraplate volcanoes may be guided by pre-existing structures beneath the islands.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Map of the Hawaiian study region.
Figure 2: Cross-sections through the migrated receiver functions compared with shear velocity anomaly contours from surface-wave analysis.
Figure 3: Interpretative schematic of plume–plate interaction.


  1. Morgan, W. J. Convection plumes in lower mantle. Nature 230, 42–43 (1971).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. VonHerzen, R., Cordery, M., Detrick, R. & Fang, C. Heat flow and the thermal origin of hot spot swells: The Hawaiian Swell revisited. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 13783–13799 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Detrick, R. & Crough, S. Island subsidence, hot spots, and lithospheric thinning. J. Geophys. Res. 83, 1236–1244 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Li, X. Q., Kind, R., Yuan, X. H., Wolbern, I. & Hanka, W. Rejuvenation of the lithosphere by the Hawaiian plume. Nature 427, 827–829 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Sleep, N. H. Hotspots and mantle plumes—some phenomenology. J. Geophys. Res. 95, 6715–6736 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Yamamoto, M. & Morgan, J. P. North Arch volcanic fields near Hawaii are evidence favouring the restite-root hypothesis for the origin of hotspot swells. Terra Nova 21, 452–466 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hall, P. S. & Kincaid, C. Melting, dehydration, and the dynamics of off-axis plume-ridge interaction. Geochem. Geophys. Geosys. 4, 8510 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Jordan, T. H. in The Mantle Sample: Inclusions in Kimberlites and Other Volcanics Vol. 2 (eds Boyd, F. R. & Meyer, H. O. A.) 1–14 (AGU, 1979).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  9. Wolfe, C. J. et al. Mantle shear-wave velocity structure beneath the Hawaiian Hot Spot. Science 326, 1388–1390 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Laske, G. 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).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Rychert, C. et al. Seismically imaging destruction of continental lithosphere beneath the Afar and Ethiopian Rift Systems. Nature Geosci. 5, 406–409 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Leahy, G. M., Collins, J. A., Wolfe, C. J., Laske, G. & Solomon, S. C. Underplating of the Hawaiian Swell: Evidence from teleseismic receiver functions. Geophys. J. Int. 183, 313–329 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Stein, C. A. & Stein, S. A model for the global variation in oceanic depth and heat-flow with lithospheric age. Nature 359, 123–129 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Schmerr, N. The Gutenberg discontinuity: Melt at the lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary. Science 335, 1480–1483 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Li, X. et al. Mapping the Hawaiian plume conduit with converted seismic waves. Nature 405, 938–941 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Anderson, D. & Sammis, C. Partial melting in the upper mantle. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 3, 41–50 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kawakatsu, H. et al. Seismic evidence for sharp lithosphere–asthenosphere boundaries of oceanic plates. Science 324, 499–502 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Rychert, C. A., Rondenay, S. & Fischer, K. M. P-to-S and S-to-P imaging of a sharp lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary beneath eastern North America. J. Geophys. Res. 112, B08314 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Karato, S-I. On the origin of the asthenosphere. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 321–322, 95–103 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hammond, W. C. & Humphreys, E. D. Upper mantle seismic wave velocity: Effects of realistic partial melt geometries. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 10975–10986 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Lee, C. T. A., Luffi, P., Plank, T., Dalton, H. & Leeman, W. P. Constraints on the depths and temperatures of basaltic magma generation on Earth and other terrestrial planets using new thermobarometers for mafic magmas. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 279, 20–33 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Bryce, J. G., DePaolo, D. J. & Lassiter, J. C. Geochemical structure of the Hawaiian plume: Sr, Nd, and Os isotopes in the 2.8 km HSDP-2 section of Mauna Kea volcano. Geochem. Geophys. Geosys. 6, Q09G18 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Tarduno, J., Bunge, H. P., Sleep, N. & Hansen, U. The bent Hawaiian-Emperor Hotspot Track: Inheriting the mantle wind. Science 324, 50–53 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Steinberger, B. & Antretter, M. Conduit diameter and buoyant rising speed of mantle plumes: Implications for the motion of hot spots and shape of plume conduits. Geochem. Geophys. Geosys. 7, Q11018 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Cao, Q., van der Hilst, R. D., de Hoop, M. V. & Shim, S. H. Seismic imaging of transition zone discontinuities suggests hot mantle west of Hawaii. Science 332, 1068–1071 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Vidal, V. & Bonneville, A. Variations of the Hawaiian hot spot activity revealed by variations in the magma production rate. J. Geophys. Res. 109, B03104 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hieronymus, C. F. & Bercovici, D. Discrete alternating hotspot islands formed by interaction of magma transport and lithospheric flexure. Nature 397, 604–607 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Forsyth, D. W. et al. Imaging the deep seismic structure beneath a mid-ocean ridge: The MELT experiment. Science 280, 1215–1218 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hirth, G. & Kohlstedt, D. L. Water in the oceanic upper mantle: Implications for rheology, melt extraction and the evolution of the lithosphere. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 144, 93–108 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Faul, U. H. & Jackson, I. The seismological signature of temperature and grain size variations in the upper mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 234, 119–134 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank B. Schmandt for a helpful review. We thank K. Davis for assistance with the interpretive schematic. We acknowledge financial support from the Natural Environment Research Council, UK (NE/G013438/1).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



G.L. initiated and deployed the PLUME seismic experiment, calculated station orientations and provided regional expertise and surface wave velocity model. P.M.S. initiated the project and provided reflectivity code for seismic modelling of OBS data. C.A.R. carried out receiver function imaging and modelling and wrote the paper. N.H. carried out geodynamic modelling. C.A.R. and N.H. made figures and developed interpretation. All authors contributed to the manuscript at all stages.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Catherine A. Rychert.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 1206 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rychert, C., Laske, G., Harmon, N. et al. Seismic imaging of melt in a displaced Hawaiian plume. Nature Geosci 6, 657–660 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing