Seismic evidence for partial melting at the root of major hot spot plumes

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Science  28 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6349, pp. 393-397
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0760

Iceland's molten roots

Major hot spot plumes are responsible for basaltic ocean island chains such as Hawaii. Yuan and Romanowicz used seismic tomography, which constructs an x-ray–like picture of Earth's interior from seismic waves, to show that the root of Iceland's hot spot plume is partially molten. The partially molten region is located near Earth's core-mantle boundary and has been challenging to image with geophysical methods. This approach may be applicable to other hot spots with similar areas of melts or other enigmatic regions in the lower mantle.

Science, this issue p. 393


Ultralow-velocity zones are localized regions of extreme material properties detected seismologically at the base of Earth's mantle. Their nature and role in mantle dynamics are poorly understood. We used shear waves diffracted at the core-mantle boundary to illuminate the root of the Iceland plume from different directions. Through waveform modeling, we detected a large ultralow-velocity zone and constrained its shape to be axisymmetric to a very good first order. We thus attribute it to partial melting of a locally thickened, denser- and hotter-than-average layer, reflecting dynamics and elevated temperatures within the plume root. Such structures are few and far apart, and they may be characteristic of the roots of some of the broad mantle plumes tomographically imaged within the large low-shear-velocity provinces in the lower mantle.

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