The Superswell and Mantle Dynamics Beneath the South Pacific

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Science  25 May 1990:
Vol. 248, Issue 4958, pp. 969-975
DOI: 10.1126/science.248.4958.969


The region of sea floor beneath French Polynesia (the "Superswell") is anomalous in that its depth is too shallow, flexural strength too weak, seismic velocity too slow, and geoid anomaly too negative for its lithospheric age as determined from magnetic isochrons. These features evidently are the effect of excess heat and extremely low viscosity in the upper mantle that maintain a thin lithospheric plate so easily penetrated by volcanism that 30 percent of the heat flux from all hot spots is liberated in this region, which constitutes only 3 percent of the earth's surface. The low-viscosity zone may facilitate rapid plate motion and the development of small-scale convection. A possible heat supply for the Superswell is a mantle reservoir enriched in radioactive isotopes as suggested by the geochemical signature of lavas from Superswell volcanoes.

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