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Intraplate volcanism originating from upwelling hydrous mantle transition zone


Most magmatism occurring on Earth is conventionally attributed to passive mantle upwelling at mid-ocean ridges, to slab devolatilization at subduction zones, or to mantle plumes. However, the widespread Cenozoic intraplate volcanism in northeast China1,2,3 and the young petit-spot volcanoes4,5,6,7 offshore of the Japan Trench cannot readily be associated with any of these mechanisms. In addition, the mantle beneath these types of volcanism is characterized by zones of anomalously low seismic velocity above and below the transition zone8,9,10,11,12 (a mantle level located at depths between 410 and 660 kilometres). A comprehensive interpretation of these phenomena is lacking. Here we show that most (or possibly all) of the intraplate and petit-spot volcanism and low-velocity zones around the Japanese subduction zone can be explained by the Cenozoic interaction of the subducting Pacific slab with a hydrous mantle transition zone. Numerical modelling indicates that 0.2 to 0.3 weight per cent of water dissolved in mantle minerals that are driven out from the transition zone in response to subduction and retreat of a tectonic plate is sufficient to reproduce the observations. This suggests that a critical amount of water may have accumulated in the transition zone around this subduction zone, as well as in others of the Tethyan tectonic belt13 that are characterized by intraplate or petit-spot volcanism and low-velocity zones in the underlying mantle.

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Fig. 1: Geological/geophysical maps and Cenozoic volcanic fields in northeast China and offshore Japan.
Fig. 2: Dynamics of subduction-induced dehydration melting above and below the mantle transition zone.
Fig. 3: Volume of volcanics versus time.

Data availability

The dataset generated during the current study is available at

Code availability

Requests about the numerical modelling codes associated with this paper should be sent to the main code developer ( The map in Fig. 1a is created with open software GMT 5.4.3 which is under a GNU Lesser General Public License. The numerical 2D finite element code MVEP2 ( was used for the two-phase flow model in Extended Data Fig. 6.


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T. Gerya provided the I2VIS code. We acknowledge discussions with A. Marzoli, C. Meyzen, P. Nimis, D. Novella, M. Lustrino, K. Litasov, S.-i. Karato and X. Xu. J.Y. was financially supported by Dipartimento di Geoscienze, Università di Padova. M.F. acknowledges the European Research Council Starting Grant 758199.

Author information




M.F. conceived the study. J.Y. performed all the numerical experiments and wrote the first draft of the paper. Both authors contributed equally to the discussion of the results and to the conclusions of this study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Manuele Faccenda.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Esteban Gazel, Dapeng Zhao and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Solidus and liquidus of basalt and mantle.

a, The solidus and liquidus of basalt are obtained from experimental data42,59,60. The solidus from ref. 60 fits well within the uncertainty region of ref. 42 and is thus adopted. b, Solidus and/or liquidus of mantle collected from literature. Sol, solidus; Liq, liquidus; BrPe, MgSiO3–MgO (bridgmanite + periclase); Fiqul, MgSiO3–SiO2 (bridgmanite + stishovite). Experimental data are from refs. 41,44,61,62,63,64,65,66.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Melt density of basalt and mantle for different temperatures and/or water contents.

a, Basalt. PREM, density profile from Preliminary Reference Earth Model; dry melt density at temperatures of 1,673 K, 2,073 K and 2,473 K (ref. 47) and 2,735 K (ref. 67); dry and wet with 2 wt% and 8 wt% H2O melt density at 2,473 K (ref. 45); the modelled basalt (MB), hydrated basalt (hyMB) and basalt (MORB)68. b, Mantle. Melt density of dry peridotite47; dry and wet (2 wt% and 8 wt% H2O)45; wet peridotite (3 wt%, 5 wt%, 7 wt% H2O)46; dry peridotite and komatiite69 and perovskite (pv)70. Note the density crossover at around 13 GPa (refs. 45,46). All the profiles are fitted by third or fourth order of the Birch–Murnaghan equation of state.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Phase diagram of H2O-peridotite, after ref.

53. The solidus/liquidus curves are the same as in Extended Data Fig. 1. The grey lines are olivine–wadsleyite (Ol–Wd) and ringwoodite–perovskite (Rd–Pv) phase boundaries. The abbreviations of major hydrous phases are as follows: Chl, chlorite; Serp, serpentine; A, phase A; E, phase E; shyB, superhydrous phase B; D, phase D.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Falling block simulations with different parameters.

a, Reference model with initial MTZ water content of 0.3 wt%, melt density from ref. 45 and reference extraction timescale tref = 6 kyr. bf, Other tests are similar to this model except for (b) initial water content Cw = 0.2 wt%, (c) extraction timescale tref = 4 kyr, (d) tref = 8 kyr, (e) Cw = 0.2 wt% and tref = 15 kyr, (f) Cw = 0.3 wt% and tref = 4 kyr by using the melt density from ref. 47. Note that the extraction timescale is calculated only when the melt is less dense than the solid matrix.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Additional parameter tests.

a, b, Extraction timescales of 4 kyr (a) and 8 kyr (b), with 0.3 wt% initial water content in both. c, Initial water content 0.2 wt%. d, Melt density from ref. 47 and tref = 4 kyr. e, Wet inclusions in the transition zone with tref = 6 kyr. Note that all the models differ by only one parameter from the reference model (Fig. 2), except d.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Visco-plastic shear viscosity for melt percolation in two-phase flow.

ac, Melt percolation at three typical stages as (a), diapirism (b), channelling and (c), dyking from deep mantle to the surface. The numerical 2D finite element code MVEP2 was used to simulate melt migration dynamics. A small background strain rate (10−15 s−1; the model domain was extended by only 0.75 km after 12.2 kyr) was applied at the side boundaries. The top boundary is free surface. An initial porosity at the bottom boundary with Gaussian distribution (resulting in an average porosity of 0.127) was applied. The details of the approach allowing for its reproduction are provided elsewhere51,52.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Normalized bulk modulus Kb/k and shear modulus N/μ of skeleton (solid porous matrix) versus melt fraction.

The ratios of both bulk and shear modulus decrease with melt fraction. The numbers shown on the lines are dihedral angles.

Extended Data Table 1 Physical properties of rocks used in this study

Supplementary information

Video 1

Evolution of the reference model in Figs. 2, 3. The top panel shows compositional field and the bottom panel shows water content (in wt. %; the thick grey curves are isotherms in ºC). The horizontal black lines are traced at 410 km and 660 km depth.

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Yang, J., Faccenda, M. Intraplate volcanism originating from upwelling hydrous mantle transition zone. Nature 579, 88–91 (2020).

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