Abstract

In the classical concept, a hotspot track is a line of volcanics formed as a plate moves over a stationary mantle plume. Defying this concept, intraplate volcanism in Greenland and the North Atlantic region occurred simultaneously over a wide area, particularly around 60 million years ago, showing no resemblance to a hotspot track. Here, we show that most of this volcanism can nonetheless be explained solely by the Iceland plume interacting with seafloor spreading ridges, global mantle flow and a lithosphere (the outermost rigid layer of the Earth) with strongly variable thickness. An east–west corridor of thinned lithosphere across central Greenland, as inferred from new, highly resolved tomographic images, could have formed as Greenland moved westward over the Iceland plume between 90 and 60 million years ago. Our numerical geodynamic model demonstrates how plume material may have accumulated in this corridor and in areas east and west of Greenland. Simultaneous plume-related volcanic activities starting about 62 million years ago on either side of Greenland could occur where and when the lithosphere was thin enough due to continental rifting and seafloor spreading, possibly long after the plume reached the base of the lithosphere.

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Acknowledgements

The geodynamic models were computed with the open-source software ASPECT (http://aspect.dealii.org) and performed with resources provided by the North-German Supercomputing Alliance (HLRN). The authors thank J. Dannberg, S. Williams, N. White and I. Bjarnason for comments and suggestions. This publication has emanated from research supported in part by research grants from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) under grant nos. 13/CDA/2192 and 13/RC/2092, co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund and by iCRAG industry partners. B.S. and T.H.T. also acknowledge support from the Research Council of Norway, through its Centre of Excellence scheme, project no. 223272 (CEED).

Author information

Author notes

    • Eva Bredow

    Present address: Institute of Geosciences, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Kiel, Germany

Affiliations

  1. Section 2.5 Geodynamic Modelling, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany

    • Bernhard Steinberger
    • , Eva Bredow
    •  & Trond H. Torsvik
  2. Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED), University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

    • Bernhard Steinberger
    •  & Trond H. Torsvik
  3. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, School of Cosmic Physics, Geophysics Section, Dublin, Ireland

    • Sergei Lebedev
    •  & Andrew Schaeffer
  4. Pacific Geoscience Centre, Geological Survey of Canada, Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

    • Andrew Schaeffer
  5. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

    • Andrew Schaeffer
  6. Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), Trondheim, Norway

    • Trond H. Torsvik
  7. School of Geosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, South Africa

    • Trond H. Torsvik

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Contributions

S.L. and B.S. conceived the paper. B.S. wrote the paper, with help from all other authors. E.B. performed the computations with ASPECT. A.S. and S.L. provided tomography and lithosphere thickness models. T.H.T. provided plate reconstructions and data on the distribution of volcanics. All authors jointly contributed to discussions.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bernhard Steinberger.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0251-0