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Changbaishan volcanism in northeast China linked to subduction-induced mantle upwelling

Nature Geoscience volume 7, pages 470475 (2014) | Download Citation


Volcanism that occurs far from plate margins is difficult to explain with the current paradigm of plate tectonics. The Changbaishan volcanic complex, located on the border between China and North Korea, lies approximately 1,300 km away from the Japan Trench subduction zone and is unlikely to result from a mantle plume rising from a thermal boundary layer at the base of the mantle. Here we use seismic images and three-dimensional waveform modelling results obtained from the NECESSArray experiment to identify a slow, continuous seismic anomaly in the mantle beneath Changbaishan. The anomaly extends from just below 660 km depth to the surface beneath Changbaishan and occurs within a gap in the stagnant subducted Pacific Plate. We propose that the anomaly represents hot and buoyant sub-lithospheric mantle that has been entrained beneath the sinking lithosphere of the Pacific Plate and is now escaping through a gap in the subducting slab. We suggest that this subduction-induced upwelling process produces decompression melting that feeds the Changbaishan volcanoes. Subduction-induced upwelling may also explain back-arc volcanism observed at other subduction zones.

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We thank all the people in the NECESSArray project for installing and servicing the seismic array. Discussions with H. Zou and A. Forte were helpful in preparing the manuscript. The NECESSArray project was supported by NSF and JSPS.

Author information


  1. State Key Laboratory of Petroleum Resource and Prospecting, and Unconventional Natural Gas Institute, China University of Petroleum, Beijing 102249, China

    • Youcai Tang
    •  & Fenglin Niu
  2. Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

    • Youcai Tang
    •  & Stephen P. Grand
  3. Institute for Research on Earth Evolution, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, 2-15 Natsushima-cho, Yokosuka-city, Kanagawa 237-0061, Japan

    • Masayuki Obayashi
    •  & Satoru Tanaka
  4. Department of Earth Science, MS-126, Rice University, Houston, Texas 77005, USA

    • Fenglin Niu
  5. Institute of Theoretical and Applied Geophysics, SESS, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Yongshun John Chen
    •  & Jieyuan Ning
  6. Earthquake Research Institute, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo 113-0032, Japan

    • Hitoshi Kawakatsu
  7. Department of Physics, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88003-8001, USA

    • James F. Ni


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Y.T. conducted the S-wave tomography and three-dimensional waveform modelling; M.O. conducted the P-wave tomography; F.N. conducted the receiver-function analysis; S.P.G. took the lead in writing the manuscript. All of the authors contributed to the data acquisition and interpretation.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fenglin Niu.

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