Western US volcanism due to intruding oceanic mantle driven by ancient Farallon slabs

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The origin of late Cenozoic intraplate volcanism over the western United States is debated. One important reason is the lack of a clear understanding of the mantle dynamics during this volcanic history. Here we reconstruct the mantle thermal states beneath North America since 20 million years ago using a hybrid inverse geodynamic model with data assimilation. The model simultaneously satisfies the past subduction kinematics, present mantle tomographic image and the volcanic history. We find that volcanism in both the Yellowstone volcanic province and the Basin and Range province corresponds to a similar eastward-intruding mantle derived from beneath the Pacific Ocean and driven mostly by the sinking Farallon slab below the central-eastern United States. The hot mantle that forms the Columbia River flood basalt and subsequent Yellowstone–Newberry hotspot tracks first enters the western United States through tears within the Juan de Fuca slab. Subsequent coexistence of the westward asthenospheric flow above the retreating Juan de Fuca slab and eastward-propagating mantle beyond the back-arc region reproduces the bifurcating hotspot chains. A similar but weaker heat source intrudes below the Basin and Range around the southern edge of the slab, and can explain the diffuse basaltic volcanism in this region. According to our models, the putative Yellowstone plume contributes little to the formation of the Yellowstone volcanic province.

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The numerical models were performed using CitcomS ( and GPlates ( Figures were prepared using the GMT software package ( This work is supported by National Science Foundation grant EAR-1345135, EAR-1554554.

Author information


  1. Department of Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, 61820, USA

    • Quan Zhou
    • , Lijun Liu
    •  & Jiashun Hu


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Q.Z. carried out all the numerical simulations. L.L. designed and oversaw the project. Both Q.Z. and L.L. contributed to the results interpretation and manuscript preparation. J.H. contributed to the figure preparation.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Quan Zhou.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary description and figures.


  1. Supplementary Movie 1

    Mantle flow for model A4.

  2. Supplementary Movie 2

    Mantle flow for model A5.

  3. Supplementary Movie 3

    Mantle flow for model A6.

  4. Supplementary Movie 4

    Mantle flow for model A7.