Hotspot (geology)

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Diagram showing a cross section through the Earth's lithosphere (in yellow) with magma rising from the mantle (in red) Hotspot(geology)-1.svg
Diagram showing a cross section through the Earth's lithosphere (in yellow) with magma rising from the mantle (in red)

In geology, the places known as hotspots or hot spots are volcanic regions thought to be fed by underlying mantle that is anomalously hot compared with the surrounding mantle.[ citation needed ] Their position on the Earth's surface is independent of tectonic plate boundaries. There are two hypotheses that attempt to explain their origins. One suggests that hotspots are due to mantle plumes that rise as thermal diapirs from the core–mantle boundary. [1] The other hypothesis is that lithospheric extension permits the passive rising of melt from shallow depths. [2] [3] This hypothesis considers the term "hotspot" to be a misnomer, asserting that the mantle source beneath them is, in fact, not anomalously hot at all. Well-known examples include the Hawaii, Iceland and Yellowstone hotspots.

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also include the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

A mantle is a layer inside a planetary body bounded below by a core and above by a crust. Mantles are made of rock or ices, and are generally the largest and most massive layer of the planetary body. Mantles are characteristic of planetary bodies that have undergone differentiation by density. All terrestrial planets, a number of asteroids, and some planetary moons have mantles.

Contents

Origin

Schematic diagram showing the physical processes inside the Earth that lead to the generation of magma. Partial melting begins above the fusion point. Partial melting asthenosphere EN.svg
Schematic diagram showing the physical processes inside the Earth that lead to the generation of magma. Partial melting begins above the fusion point.

The origins of the concept of hotspots lie in the work of J. Tuzo Wilson, who postulated in 1963 that the formation of the Hawaiian Islands resulted from the slow movement of a tectonic plate across a hot region beneath the surface. [4] It was later postulated that hotspots are fed by narrow streams of hot mantle rising from the Earth's core–mantle boundary in a structure called a mantle plume. [5] Whether or not such mantle plumes exist is the subject of a major controversy in Earth science. [3] [6] Estimates for the number of hotspots postulated to be fed by mantle plumes have ranged from about 20 to several thousands, over the years, with most geologists considering a few tens to exist. Hawaii, Réunion, Yellowstone, Galápagos, and Iceland are some of the most active volcanic regions to which the hypothesis is applied.

Hawaiian Islands An archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean, currently administered by the US state of Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaiʻi in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll. Formerly the group was known to Europeans and Americans as the Sandwich Islands, a name chosen by James Cook in honor of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The contemporary name is derived from the name of the largest island, Hawaii Island.

Heat energy transfer process, or its amount (and direction), that is associated with a temperature difference

In thermodynamics, heat is energy in transfer to or from a thermodynamic system, by mechanisms other than thermodynamic work or transfer of matter. The mechanisms include conduction, through direct contact of immobile bodies, or through a wall or barrier that is impermeable to matter; or radiation between separated bodies; or isochoric mechanical work done by the surroundings on the system of interest; or Joule heating by an electric current driven through the system of interest by an external system; or a combination of these. When there is a suitable path between two systems with different temperatures, heat transfer occurs necessarily, immediately, and spontaneously from the hotter to the colder system. Thermal conduction occurs by the stochastic (random) motion of microscopic particles. In contrast, thermodynamic work is defined by mechanisms that act macroscopically and directly on the system's whole-body state variables; for example, change of the system's volume through a piston's motion with externally measurable force; or change of the system's internal electric polarization through an externally measurable change in electric field. The definition of heat transfer does not require that the process be in any sense smooth. For example, a bolt of lightning may transfer heat to a body.

Core–mantle boundary Discontinuity where the bottom of the planets mantle meets the outer layer of the core

The core–mantle boundary of the Earth lies between the planet's silicate mantle and its liquid iron-nickel outer core. This boundary is located at approximately 2891 km (1796 mi) depth beneath the Earth's surface. The boundary is observed via the discontinuity in seismic wave velocities at that depth due to the differences between the acoustic impedances of the solid mantle and the molten outer core. P-wave velocities are much slower in the outer core than in the deep mantle while S-waves do not exist at all in the liquid portion of the core. Recent evidence suggests a distinct boundary layer directly above the CMB possibly made of a novel phase of the basic perovskite mineralogy of the deep mantle named post-perovskite. Seismic tomography studies have shown significant irregularities within the boundary zone and appear to be dominated by the African and Pacific large low-shear-velocity provinces (LLSVPs).

Composition

Most hotspot volcanoes are basaltic (e.g., Hawaii, Tahiti). As a result, they are less explosive than subduction zone volcanoes, in which water is trapped under the overriding plate. Where hotspots occur in continental regions, basaltic magma rises through the continental crust, which melts to form rhyolites. These rhyolites can form violent eruptions. [7] [8] For example, the Yellowstone Caldera was formed by some of the most powerful volcanic explosions in geologic history. However, when the rhyolite is completely erupted, it may be followed by eruptions of basaltic magma rising through the same lithospheric fissures (cracks in the lithosphere). An example of this activity is the Ilgachuz Range in British Columbia, which was created by an early complex series of trachyte and rhyolite eruptions, and late extrusion of a sequence of basaltic lava flows. [9]

Continental crust Layer of rock that forms the continents and continental shelves

Continental crust is the layer of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks that forms the continents and the areas of shallow seabed close to their shores, known as continental shelves. This layer is sometimes called sial because its bulk composition is richer in silicates and aluminium minerals and has a lower density compared to the oceanic crust, called sima which is richer in magnesium silicate minerals and is denser. Changes in seismic wave velocities have shown that at a certain depth, there is a reasonably sharp contrast between the more felsic upper continental crust and the lower continental crust, which is more mafic in character.

Basalt A magnesium- and iron-rich extrusive igneous rock

Basalt is a mafic extrusive igneous rock formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich lava exposed at or very near the surface of a terrestrial planet or a moon. More than 90% of all volcanic rock on Earth is basalt. Basalt lava has a low viscosity, due to its low silica content, resulting in rapid lava flows that can spread over great areas before cooling and solidification. Flood basalt describes the formation in a series of lava basalt flows.

Magma Mixture of molten or semi-molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth

Magma is the molten or semi-molten natural material from which all igneous rocks are formed. Magma is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and evidence of magmatism has also been discovered on other terrestrial planets and some natural satellites. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and gas bubbles. Magma is produced by melting of the mantle and/or the crust at various tectonic settings, including subduction zones, continental rift zones, mid-ocean ridges and hotspots. Mantle and crustal melts migrate upwards through the crust where they are thought to be stored in magma chambers or trans-crustal crystal-rich mush zones. During their storage in the crust, magma compositions may be modified by fractional crystallization, contamination with crustal melts, magma mixing, and degassing. Following their ascent through the crust, magmas may feed a volcano or solidify underground to form an intrusion. While the study of magma has historically relied on observing magma in the form of lava flows, magma has been encountered in situ three times during geothermal drilling projects—twice in Iceland, and once in Hawaii.

The hotspot hypothesis is now closely linked to the mantle plume hypothesis. [10]

Mantle plume An upwelling of abnormally hot rock within the Earths mantle

A mantle plume is a proposed mechanism of convection of abnormally hot rock within the Earth's mantle. Because the plume head partly melts on reaching shallow depths, a plume is often invoked as the cause of volcanic hotspots, such as Hawaii or Iceland, and large igneous provinces such as the Deccan and Siberian traps. Some such volcanic regions lie far from tectonic plate boundaries, while others represent unusually large-volume volcanism near plate boundaries or in large igneous provinces.

Comparison with island arc volcanoes

Hotspot volcanoes are considered to have a fundamentally different origin from island arc volcanoes. The latter form over subduction zones, at converging plate boundaries. When one oceanic plate meets another, the denser plate is forced downward into a deep ocean trench. This plate, as it is subducted, releases water into the base of the over-riding plate, and this water mixes with the rock, thus changing its composition causing some rock to melt and rise. It is this that fuels a chain of volcanoes, such as the Aleutian Islands, near Alaska.

Island arc Arc-shaped archipelago formed by intense seismic activity of long chains of active volcanoes

Island arcs are long chains of active volcanoes with intense seismic activity found along convergent tectonic plate boundaries. Most island arcs originate on oceanic crust and have resulted from the descent of the lithosphere into the mantle along the subduction zone. They are the principal way by which continental growth is achieved.

Subduction A geological process at convergent tectonic plate boundaries where one plate moves under the other

Subduction is a geological process that takes place at convergent boundaries of tectonic plates where one plate moves under another and is forced to sink due to gravity into the mantle. Regions where this process occurs are known as subduction zones. Rates of subduction are typically in centimeters per year, with the average rate of convergence being approximately two to eight centimeters per year along most plate boundaries.

Aleutian Islands Chain of islands in the northern Pacific Ocean

The Aleutian Islands, also called the Aleut Islands or Aleutic Islands and known before 1867 as the Catherine Archipelago, are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller ones belonging to both the U.S. state of Alaska and the Russian federal subject of Kamchatka Krai. They form part of the Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean, occupying an area of 6,821 sq mi (17,666 km2) and extending about 1,200 mi (1,900 km) westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and mark a dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Crossing longitude 180°, at which point east and west longitude end, the archipelago contains both the westernmost part of the United States by longitude and the easternmost by longitude. The westernmost U.S. island in real terms, however, is Attu Island, west of which runs the International Date Line. While nearly all the archipelago is part of Alaska and is usually considered as being in the "Alaskan Bush", at the extreme western end, the small, geologically related Commander Islands belong to Russia.

Hotspot volcanic chains

Over millions of years, the Pacific Plate has moved over the Hawaii hotspot, creating a trail of underwater mountains that stretch across the Pacific Hawaii hotspot.jpg
Over millions of years, the Pacific Plate has moved over the Hawaii hotspot, creating a trail of underwater mountains that stretch across the Pacific
Kilauea is the most active shield volcano in the world. The volcano erupted nonstop from 1983 to 2018 and it is part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. Puu Oo cropped.jpg
Kilauea is the most active shield volcano in the world. The volcano erupted nonstop from 1983 to 2018 and it is part of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain.
Mauna Loa is a large shield volcano. Its last eruption was in 1984 and it is part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. Mauna Loa Volcano.jpg
Mauna Loa is a large shield volcano. Its last eruption was in 1984 and it is part of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain.
Bowie Seamount is a dormant submarine volcano and it is part of the Kodiak-Bowie Seamount chain. Bowie Seamount1.jpg
Bowie Seamount is a dormant submarine volcano and it is part of the Kodiak-Bowie Seamount chain.
Axial Seamount is the youngest seamount of the Cobb-Eickelberg Seamount chain. Its last eruption was on 6 April 2011. Axial Exaggerated Bathymetry.jpg
Axial Seamount is the youngest seamount of the Cobb–Eickelberg Seamount chain. Its last eruption was on 6 April 2011.
Mauna Kea is the tallest volcano in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. It is dormant and it has cinder cones growing on the volcano. Mauna Kea from the ocean.jpg
Mauna Kea is the tallest volcano in the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain. It is dormant and it has cinder cones growing on the volcano.
Hualalai is a massive shield volcano in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. Its last eruption was in 1801. Hualalai 1996.jpg
Hualalai is a massive shield volcano in the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain. Its last eruption was in 1801.

The joint mantle plume/hotspot hypothesis envisages the feeder structures to be fixed relative to one another, with the continents and seafloor drifting overhead. The hypothesis thus predicts that time-progressive chains of volcanoes are developed on the surface. Examples are Yellowstone, which lies at the end of a chain of extinct calderas, which become progressively older to the west. Another example is the Hawaiian archipelago, where islands become progressively older and more deeply eroded to the northwest.

Geologists have tried to use hotspot volcanic chains to track the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates. This effort has been vexed by the lack of very long chains, by the fact that many are not time-progressive (e.g. the Galápagos) and by the fact that hotspots do not appear to be fixed relative to one another (e.g. Hawaii and Iceland. [12] )

Postulated hotspot volcano chains

An example of mantle plume locations suggested by one recent group. Figure from Foulger (2010). CourtHotspots.png
An example of mantle plume locations suggested by one recent group. Figure from Foulger (2010).

List of volcanic regions postulated to be hotspots

Distribution of hotspots in the list to the left, with the numbers corresponding to those in the list. The Afar hotspot (29) is misplaced. Hotspots-more.jpg
Distribution of hotspots in the list to the left, with the numbers corresponding to those in the list. The Afar hotspot (29) is misplaced.
Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML  ·  GPX

Eurasian Plate

African Plate

Antarctic Plate

South American Plate

North American Plate

Indo-Australian Plate

Nazca Plate

Pacific Plate

Over millions of years, the Pacific Plate has moved over the Bowie hotspot, creating the Kodiak-Bowie Seamount chain in the Gulf of Alaska Kodiak-Bowie Seamounts.jpg
Over millions of years, the Pacific Plate has moved over the Bowie hotspot, creating the Kodiak-Bowie Seamount chain in the Gulf of Alaska

Former hotspots

See also

Related Research Articles

Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain A mostly undersea mountain range in the Pacific Ocean that reaches above sea level in Hawaii.

The Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain is a mostly undersea mountain range in the Pacific Ocean that reaches above sea level in Hawaii. It is composed of the Hawaiian ridge, consisting of the islands of the Hawaiian chain northwest to Kure Atoll, and the Emperor Seamounts: together they form a vast underwater mountain region of islands and intervening seamounts, atolls, shallows, banks and reefs along a line trending southeast to northwest beneath the northern Pacific Ocean. The seamount chain, containing over 80 identified undersea volcanoes, stretches over 5,800 kilometres (3,600 mi) from the Aleutian Trench in the far northwest Pacific to the Loʻihi seamount, the youngest volcano in the chain, which lies about 35 kilometres (22 mi) southeast of the Island of Hawaiʻi.

Large igneous province Huge regional accumulation of igneous rocks

A large igneous province (LIP) is an extremely large accumulation of igneous rocks, including intrusive and extrusive, arising when magma travels through the crust towards the surface. The formation of LIPs is variously attributed to mantle plumes or to processes associated with divergent plate tectonics. The formation of some of the LIPs the past 500 million years coincide in time with mass extinctions and rapid climatic changes, which has led to numerous hypotheses about the causal relationships. LIPs are fundamentally different from any other currently active volcanoes or volcanic systems.

Iceland hotspot

The Iceland hotspot is a hotspot which is partly responsible for the high volcanic activity which has formed the Iceland Plateau and the island of Iceland.

W. Jason Morgan American geophysicist

William Jason Morgan is an American geophysicist who has made seminal contributions to the theory of plate tectonics and geodynamics. He retired as the Knox Taylor Professor emeritus of geology and professor of geosciences at Princeton University. He currently serves as a visiting scholar in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University.

Galápagos hotspot

The Galápagos hotspot is a volcanic hotspot in the East Pacific Ocean responsible for the creation of the Galapagos Islands as well as three major aseismic ridge systems, Carnegie, Cocos and Malpelo which are on two tectonic plates. The hotspot is located near the Equator on the Nazca Plate not far from the divergent plate boundary with the Cocos Plate. The tectonic setting of the hotspot is complicated by the Galapagos Triple Junction of the Nazca and Cocos plates with the Pacific Plate. The movement of the plates over the hotspot is determined not solely by the spreading along the ridge but also by the relative motion between the Pacific Plate and the Cocos and Nazca Plates.

Hawaii hotspot A volcanic hotspot located near the Hawaiian Islands, in the northern Pacific Ocean

The Hawaii hotspot is a volcanic hotspot located near the namesake Hawaiian Islands, in the northern Pacific Ocean. One of the most well-known and heavily studied hotspots in the world, the Hawaii plume is responsible for the creation of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, a 5,800-kilometre (3,600 mi) mostly undersea volcanic mountain range. Four of these volcanoes are active, two are dormant; more than 123 are extinct, most now preserved as atolls or seamounts. The chain extends from south of the island of Hawaiʻi to the edge of the Aleutian Trench, near the eastern coast of Russia.

Southwest Indian Ridge A mid-ocean ridge on the bed of the south-west Indian Ocean and south-east Atlantic Ocean

The Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR) is a mid-ocean ridge located along the floors of the south-west Indian Ocean and south-east Atlantic Ocean. A divergent tectonic plate boundary separating the African Plate to the north from the Antarctic Plate to the south, the SWIR is characterised by ultra-slow spreading rates combined with a fast lengthening of its axis between the two flanking triple junctions, Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean and Bouvet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Southeast Indian Ridge A mid-ocean ridge in the southern Indian Ocean

The Southeast Indian Ridge (SEIR) is a mid-ocean ridge in the southern Indian Ocean. A divergent tectonic plate boundary stretching almost 6,000 km (3,700 mi) between the Rodrigues Triple Junction in the Indian Ocean and the Macquarie Triple Junction in the Pacific Ocean, the SEIR forms the plate boundary between the Australian and Antarctic plates since the Oligocene (anomaly 13).

Louisville hotspot A volcanic hotspot that formed the Louisville Ridge in the southern Pacific Ocean

The Louisville hotspot is a volcanic hotspot responsible for the volcanic activity that has formed the Louisville Ridge in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Samoa hotspot

The Samoa hotspot is a volcanic hotspot located in the south Pacific Ocean. The hotspot model describes a hot upwelling plume of magma through the Earth's crust as an explanation of how volcanic islands are formed. The hotspot idea came from J. Tuzo Wilson in 1963 based on the Hawaii volcanic island chain.

Macdonald hotspot hotspot in the Pacific Ocean

The Macdonald hotspot is a volcanic hotspot in the southern Pacific Ocean. The hotspot was responsible for the formation of the Macdonald Seamount, and possibly the Austral-Cook Islands chain. It probably did not generate all of the volcanism in the Austral and Cook Islands as age data imply that several additional hotspots were needed to generate some volcanoes.

Ocean island basalt

Ocean island basalt (OIB) is a volcanic rock, usually basaltic in composition, erupted in oceans away from tectonic plate boundaries. Although ocean island basaltic magma is mainly erupted as basalt lava, the basaltic magma is sometimes modified by igneous differentiation to produce a range of other volcanic rock types, for example, rhyolite in Iceland, and phonolite and trachyte at the intraplate volcano Fernando de Noronha. Unlike mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORBs), which erupt at spreading centers, and volcanic arc lavas, which erupt at subduction zones, ocean island basalts are the result of intraplate volcanism. However, some ocean island basalt locations coincide with plate boundaries like Iceland, which sits on top of a mid-ocean ridge, and Samoa, which is located near a subduction zone.

Shona hotspot

The Shona or Meteor hotspot is a volcanic hotspot located in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Its zig-zag-shaped hotspot track, a chain of seamounts and ridges, stretches from its current location at or near the southern end of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to South Africa.

Geology of the Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean evolved in the Mesozoic from the Panthalassic Ocean, which had formed when Rodinia rifted apart around 750 Ma. The first ocean floor which is part of the current Pacific Plate began 160 Ma to the west of the central Pacific and subsequently developed into the largest oceanic plate on Earth.

Arago hotspot

Arago hotspot is a hotspot in the Pacific Ocean, presently located below the Arago seamount close to the island of Rurutu, French Polynesia.

The Tarava seamounts are a group of seamounts in the southern Pacific Ocean, southwest of the Society Islands. They are formed by five guyots and a number of cone-shaped seamounts. Of Eocene-Oligocene age, they may have formed under the influence of a hotspot.

Foundation Seamounts A series of seamounts in the southern Pacific Ocean in a chain which starts at the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge

Foundation Seamounts are a series of seamounts in the southern Pacific Ocean. Discovered in 1992, these seamounts form a 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) long chain which starts from the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge. Some of these seamounts may have once emerged from the ocean.

Musicians Seamounts A chain of seamounts in the Pacific Ocean, north of the Hawaiian Ridge

Musicians Seamounts are a chain of seamounts in the Pacific Ocean, north of the Hawaiian Ridge. There are about 65 seamounts, some of which are named after musicians. These seamounts exist in two chains, one of which has been attributed to a probably now-extinct hotspot called the Euterpe hotspot. Others may have formed in response to plate tectonics associated with the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the former Farallon Plate.

Rarotonga hotspot

The Rarotonga hotspot is a volcanic hotspot in the southern Pacific Ocean. The hotspot was responsible for the formation of Rarotonga and some volcanics of Aitutaki.

References

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Further reading