Do Continents Part Passively, or Do They Need a Shove?

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Science  10 Oct 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5336, pp. 240-241
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5336.240

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From time to time in geologic history, immense quantities of magma pour from the Earth, forming what are known as flood basalts. The mechanism is still not completely understood: Does continental rifting lead to the release of basaltic magma, or does the flow of magma drive the plate motion? In his Perspective, Carlson discusses a paper in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in which the authors used isotope ratios of rhenium and osmium to study the flood basalts of the Columbia River region of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The evidence indicates that breakup of the continents may be driven by volcanic plumes from below.