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Three-Dimensional Simulations of Plume-Lithosphere Interaction at the Hawaiian Swell

Science  13 Feb 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5353, pp. 1008-1011
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5353.1008

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Abstract

Rapid lithospheric thinning by mantle plumes has not been achieved in numerical experiments performed to date. Efficient thinning depends on small-scale instabilities that convectively remove lithospheric material. These instabilities are favored by hotter plumes or stronger temperature dependence of viscosity, and a simple scaling independent of rheology controls their onset. This scaling allows extrapolation of the results of numerical experiments to the Earth's mantle. Mantle plumes between 100 and 150 kelvins hotter than the background mantle should exhibit small-scale convective rolls aligned with the plate motion. The unusual variation in heat flow across the Hawaiian swell may be due to such instabilities. It was found that the spreading of the plume creates a downwelling curtain of material that isolates it from the rest of the mantle for distances of at least 1000 kilometers from the plume origin. This isolation has important consequences for the geochemical heterogeneity of the lithosphere and upper mantle.

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