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

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 19 February 2018

This article has been updated


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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Fig. 1: Topography of western United States.
Fig. 2: Evolution of mantle thermal structures along the NB–YS hotspot tracks from the reference model.
Fig. 3: 3D representation of mantle evolution in the reference model.
Fig. 4: Post-CRFB evolution of hot mantle anomalies at 70 km and the history of volcanisms.
Fig. 5: Evolution of mantle flow and volcanism in the western United States.

Change history

  • 19 February 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, data points representing mafic eruptions were missing from Fig. 4b, the corrected version is shown below. Furthermore, the authors omitted to include the following acknowledgements to the provider of the computational resources: “This research is part of the Blue Waters sustained-petascale computing project, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (awards OCI-0725070 and ACI-1238993) and the state of Illinois. Blue Waters is a joint effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its National Center for Supercomputing Applications. This work is also part of the ‘PRAC Title 4-D Geodynamic Modeling With Data Assimilation: Origin Of Intra-Plate Volcanism In The Pacific Northwest’ PRAC allocation support by the National Science Foundation (award number ACI 1516586). This work also used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), which is supported by National Science Foundation grant number ACI-1548562.” Figure 4 and the Acknowledgements section have been updated in the online version of the Article.


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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. This research is part of the Blue Waters sustained-petascale computing project, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (awards OCI-0725070 and ACI-1238993) and the state of Illinois. Blue Waters is a joint effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its National Center for Supercomputing Applications. This work is also part of the “PRAC Title 4-D Geodynamic Modeling With Data Assimilation: Origin Of Intra-Plate Volcanism In The Pacific Northwest” PRAC allocation support by the National Science Foundation (award number ACI 1516586). This work also used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), which is supported by National Science Foundation grant number ACI-1548562.

Author information




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.

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Correspondence to Quan Zhou.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary description and figures.


Supplementary Movie 1

Mantle flow for model A4.

Supplementary Movie 2

Mantle flow for model A5.

Supplementary Movie 3

Mantle flow for model A6.

Supplementary Movie 4

Mantle flow for model A7.

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Zhou, Q., Liu, L. & Hu, J. Western US volcanism due to intruding oceanic mantle driven by ancient Farallon slabs. Nature Geosci 11, 70–76 (2018).

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