Oceanic plateau formation by seafloor spreading implied by Tamu Massif magnetic anomalies


Tamu Massif is an immense Mesozoic submarine volcano, the main edifice of the Shatsky Rise oceanic plateau. It is located at a spreading ridge triple junction, but considered to be a shield volcano formed by effusive volcanism from an emerging mantle plume. However, it is unclear how Tamu Massif eruptions interacted with the spreading ridges, which are enormous linear volcanoes themselves. Here we create a magnetic anomaly map for Tamu Massif, which can provide clues about crustal formation. For Tamu Massif, we find dominantly linear magnetic field anomalies caused by crustal blocks of opposite magnetic polarity. This pattern suggests that Tamu Massif is not a shield volcano, but was emplaced by voluminous, focused ridge volcanism. If the magma source at the Shatsky Rise was a plume, it was closely connected to and controlled by seafloor spreading. By implication, even the largest oceanic plateau edifices can be formed by seafloor spreading. We suggest that the widely accepted analogy between continental flood basalts and oceanic plateaus requires reconsideration.

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Fig. 1: Tamu Massif bathymetry and existing magnetic lineations.
Fig. 2: Magnetic anomaly map and magnetization model of Tamu Massif.
Fig. 3: Reconstruction of magnetic anomaly formation within Tamu Massif.
Fig. 4: Schematics of an existing volcanic pulse model and a spreading model for the formation of Tamu Massif.

Data availability

All trackline magnetic data used in this study can be downloaded from the NCEI at https://ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/geodas/trackline.html. The magnetic data grid generated by this study can be downloaded from the EarthRef.org database at https://earthref.org/ERDA/2393.


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The authors thank the Schmidt Ocean Institute for granting the use of the RV Falkor for cruise FK151005, as well as the captain and crew of the vessel for their hard work supporting our research. J.Z. was supported by National Key R&D Program of China grant number 2018YFC0309800, National Natural Science Foundation of China grant numbers 41606069, 41776058, 91628301 and U1606401 and Chinese Academy of Sciences grant numbers Y4SL021001 and QYZDY-SSW-DQC005. Y.H. was supported by China Scholarship Council grant number 2011633114 and the Yangtze Youth Fund No. 2015cqn31. M.N. was partly supported by JSPS KAKENHI grant numbers JP15K05261 and JP18K03772. W.W.S. was partly supported by NSF grant number OCE-1458908; M.T. and J.A.G. acknowledge NSF grant number OCE-1543903. The National Geographic Society provided a grant to assist scientists and students with cruise travel.

Author information




W.W.S. conceived the project and Y.H. completed the primary project work as a part of their PhD studies. W.W.S. and J.Z. were chief scientists of the FK15005 cruise. J.Z. also provided part of the basement surface interpretation. M.T. and J.A.G. led the magnetic modelling efforts. M.N. assisted with the magnetic anomaly interpretations. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to William W. Sager or Yanming Huang or Jinchang Zhang.

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Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figs. 1–8.

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Sager, W.W., Huang, Y., Tominaga, M. et al. Oceanic plateau formation by seafloor spreading implied by Tamu Massif magnetic anomalies. Nat. Geosci. 12, 661–666 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0390-y

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