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.

A continuous 55-million-year record of transient mantle plume activity beneath Iceland


In the North Atlantic Ocean, a mid-ocean ridge bisects the Icelandic mantle plume, and provides a window into its temporal evolution1,2,3. V-shaped ridges of thick oceanic crust observed south of Iceland are thought to record pulses of upwelling within the plume4,5,6,7. Specifically, excess crust is thought to form during the quasi-periodic generation of hot solitary waves triggered by thermal instabilities in the mantle8. Here we use seismic reflection data to show that V-shaped ridges have formed over the past 55 million years—providing the longest record of plume periodicity of its kind. We find evidence for minor, but systematic, asymmetric formation of crust, due to migration of the mid-ocean ridge with respect to the underlying plume. We also find changes in periodicity: from 55 to 35 million years ago, the V-shaped ridges form every 3 million years or so and reflect small fluctuations in plume temperature of about 5–10 °C. From 35 million years ago, the periodicity changes to about 8 million years and reflects changes in mantle temperature of 25–30 °C. We suggest that this change in periodicity is probably caused by perturbations in the thermal state at the plume source, either at the mantle-transition zone or core–mantle boundary.

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

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Location of seismic experiment.
Figure 2: Interpreted seismic images.
Figure 3: Analysis of VSR chronology and asymmetric crustal accretion.
Figure 4: Cut-away schematic diagram showing plume geometry.


  1. Vogt, P. R. Asthenosphere motion recorded by the ocean floor south of Iceland. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 13, 153–160 (1971).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. White, R. S. Rift-plume interaction in the North Atlantic. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 355, 319–339 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Schubert, G., Turcotte, D. L. & Olson, P. Mantle Convection in the Earth and Planets (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  4. Ito, G. Reykjanes ‘V’-shaped ridges originating from a pulsing and dehydrating mantle plume. Nature 411, 681–684 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Jones, S. M., White, N. J. & Maclennan, J. V-shaped ridges around Iceland: Implications for spatial and temporal patterns of mantle convection. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 3, 1–23 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Poore, H. R., White, N. J. & Jones, S. M. A Neogene chronology of Iceland plume activity from V-shaped ridges. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 283, 1–13 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Jones, S. M. et al. A joint geochemical-geophysical record of time-dependent mantle convection south of Iceland. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 386, 86–97 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Schubert, G., Olson, P., Anderson, C. & Goldman, P. Solitary waves in mantle plumes. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 9523–9532 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Loper, D. E. & Stacey, F. D. The dynamical and thermal structure of deep mantle plumes. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 33, 304–317 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Klein, E. M. & Langmuir, C. H. Global correlations of ocean ridge basalt chemistry with axial depth and crustal thickness. J. Geophys. Res. 92, 8089–8115 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. McKenzie, D. P. & Bickle, M. J. The volume and composition of melt generated by extension of the lithosphere. J. Petrol. 29, 625–679 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Rickers, F., Fichtner, A. & Trampert, J. The Iceland Jan Mayen plume system and its impact on mantle dynamics in the North Atlantic region: Evidence from full-waveform inversion. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 367, 39–51 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. White, R. S., Bown, J. & Smallwood, J. R. The temperature of the Iceland plume and origin of outward-propagating V-shaped ridges. J. Geol. Soc. 152, 1039–1045 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Poore, H. R., White, N. J. & Maclennan, J. Ocean circulation and mantle melting controlled by radial flow of hot pulses in the Iceland plume. Nature Geosci. 4, 558–561 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Smallwood, J. R. & White, R. S. Ridge-plume interaction in the North Atlantic and its influence on continental breakup and seafloor spreading. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 197, 15–37 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hey, R., Martinez, F., Höskuldsson, Á. & Benediktsdóttir, Á. Propagating rift model for the V-shaped ridges south of Iceland. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 11, Q03011 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Benediktsdóttir, Á., Hey, R., Martinez, F. & Höskuldsson, Á. Detailed tectonic evolution of the Reykjanes Ridge during the past 15 Ma. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 13, Q02008 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Smallwood, J. R. & White, R. S. Crustal accretion at the Reykjanes Ridge. J. Geophys. Res. 103, 5185–5201 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Parnell-Turner, R. E. et al. Crustal manifestations of a hot transient pulse at 60° N beneath the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 363, 109–120 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Parkin, C. J. & White, R. S. Influence of the Iceland mantle plume on oceanic crust generation in the North Atlantic. Geophys. J. Int. 173, 168–188 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Whitmarsh, R. B. Seismic anisotropy of the uppermost mantle absent beneath the east flank of the Reykjanes Ridge. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 61, 1351–1368 (1971).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hardarson, B., Godfrey Fitton, J., Ellam, R. M. & Pringle, M. S. Rift relocation — a geochemical and geochronological investigation of a palaeo-rift in northwest Iceland. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 153, 181–196 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Jung, W-Y. & Vogt, P. R. A gravity and magnetic anomaly study of the extinct Aegir Ridge, Norwegian Sea. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 5065–5089 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Olson, P., Schubert, G. & Anderson, C. Plume formation in the D′′-layer and the roughness of the core–mantle boundary. Nature 327, 409–413 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Crosby, A. G. & McKenzie, D. P. An analysis of young ocean depth, gravity and global residual topography. Geophys. J. Int. 178, 1198–1219 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sleep, N. H. Hotspots and mantle plumes: Some phenomenology. J. Geophys. Res. 95, 6715–6736 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Wold, C. N. Cenozoic sediment accumulation on drifts in the northern North Atlantic. Paleoceanography 9, 917–941 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hartley, R. A., Roberts, G. G., White, N. J. & Richardson, C. Transient convective uplift of an ancient buried landscape. Nature Geosci. 4, 562–565 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Sandwell, D. T. & Smith, W. H. F. Global marine gravity from retracked Geosat and ERS-1 altimetry: Ridge segmentation versus spreading rate. J. Geophys. Res. 114, B01411 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Shorttle, O., Maclennan, J. & Jones, S. M. Control of the symmetry of plume-ridge interaction by spreading ridge geometry. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 11, Q0AC05 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by NERC Grant NE/G007632/1 and by the Girdler Fund, University of Cambridge. We thank the Master, crew and technicians of RRS James Cook Cruise JC50 for their dedicated professionalism. We are grateful to J. Rudge for assisting with boundary layer scaling analysis and to M. Falder for pointing out an error. Earth Sciences contribution esc.3118.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



This project was conceived and managed by N.W. and co-authors. R.P-T. processed and interpreted seismic data with guidance from N.W. and T.H. The paper was written by R.P-T. and N.W. with contributions from co-authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ross Parnell-Turner or Nicky White.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 766 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Parnell-Turner, R., White, N., Henstock, T. et al. A continuous 55-million-year record of transient mantle plume activity beneath Iceland. Nature Geosci 7, 914–919 (2014).

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