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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Plume Assignment

A new study by a multi-institutional research team, which includes the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, has opened up a window into Hawaii’s deep roots and given the best picture yet of a plume of magma rising from Earth’s lower mantle. The findings, published in Science magazine, suggest that the Hawaiian hot spot is the result of a high-temperature plume upwelling from the lower mantle.

The National Science Foundation-funded project, called the Plume-Lithosphere Undersea Melt Experiment (PLUME), deployed a large network of seafloor seismometers at 73 sites off Hawaii to record data over more than two years and four research cruises. It represented the largest ocean-bottom seismometer experiment in the world, reaching deeper into the lower mantle than ever before.

“The PLUME team has unambiguously traced the Hawaiian plume from the seafloor through Earth’s mantle transition zone,” says geophysicist Gabi Laske, who led the experiment. The existence of a deep mantle plume has fundamental implications—not just for Hawaii, but more generally for the form of convection in the solid Earth, Earth’s composition with depth, its evolution over geologic time and how the earth releases heat.

—Annie Reisewitz