Sea-Floor Study Gives Plumes From the Deep Mantle a Boost

Science  04 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5958, pp. 1330
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5958.1330

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The great debate about how Earth's interior operates to shed internal heat and shape the surface began with disagreements over whether the upper and lower mantle always remain separate, like oil and water, and ended when seismologists imaged Earth's cold, brittle surface scum, the tectonic plates, and saw some of them diving all the way into the lower mantle. For the past decade, geoscientists have been focusing on the opposite question: whether plumes of hot, buoyant rock from the lower mantle are rising to the surface to fuel volcanic hot spots. On page 1388 of this week's issue of Science, eight researchers weigh in with the most detailed seismic imaging yet beneath the world's most iconic hot spot, the island of Hawaii. The quality of the data and the apparent Hawaiian plume's resemblance to theorists' expectations have won some cautious support for the work.