Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Research aims to settle debate over origin of Yellowstone volcano

Date:
April 15, 2013
Source:
University of Rhode Island
Summary:
A debate among scientists about the geologic formation of the supervolcano encompassing the region around Yellowstone National Park has taken a major step forward, thanks to new evidence.

A debate among scientists about the geologic formation of the supervolcano encompassing the region around Yellowstone National Park has taken a major step forward, thanks to new evidence provided by a team of international researchers led by University of Rhode Island Professor Christopher Kincaid.

Related Articles


In a publication appearing in last week's edition of Nature Geoscience, the URI team demonstrated that both sides of the debate may be right.

Using a state-of-the-art plate tectonic laboratory model, they showed that volcanism in the Yellowstone area was caused by severely deformed and defunct pieces of a former mantle plume. They further concluded that the plume was affected by circulation currents driven by the movement of tectonic plates at the Cascades subduction zone.

Mantle plumes are hot buoyant upwellings of magma inside Earth. Subduction zones are regions where dense oceanic tectonic plates dive beneath buoyant continental plates. The origins of the Yellowstone supervolcano have been argued for years, with sides disagreeing about the role of mantle plumes.

According to Kincaid, the simple view of mantle plumes is that they have a head and a tail, where the head rises to the surface, producing immense magma structures and the trailing tail interacts with the drifting surface plates to create a chain of smaller volcanoes of progressively younger age. But Yellowstone doesn't fit this typical mold. Among its oddities, its eastward trail of smaller volcanoes called the Snake River Plain has a mirror-image volcanic chain, the High Lava Plain, that extends to the west. As a result, detractors say the two opposite trails of volcanoes and the curious north-south offset prove the plume model simply cannot work for this area, and that a plates-only model must be at work.

To examine these competing hypotheses, Kincaid, former graduate student Kelsey Druken, and colleagues at the Australian National University built a laboratory model of Earth's interior using corn syrup to simulate fluid-like motion of Earth's mantle. The corn syrup has properties that allow researchers to examine complex time changing, three-dimensional motions caused by the collisions of tectonic plates at subduction zones and their effect on unsuspecting buoyant plumes.

By using the model to simulate a mantle plume in the Yellowstone region, the researchers found that it reproduced the characteristically odd patterns in volcanism that are recorded in the rocks of the Pacific Northwest.

"Our model shows that a simple view of mantle plumes is not appropriate when they rise near subduction zones, and that these features get ripped apart in a way that seems to match the patterns in magma output in the northwestern U.S. over the past 20 million years," said Kincaid, a professor of geological oceanography at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. "The sinking plate produces a flow field that dominates the interaction with the plume, making the plume passive in many ways and trapping much of the magma producing energy well below the surface. What you see at the surface doesn't look like what you'd expect from the simple models."

The next step in Kincaid's research is to conduct a similar analysis of the geologic formations in the region around the Tonga subduction zone and the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific, another area where some scientists dispute the role of mantle plumes.

According to Kincaid, "A goal of geological oceanography is to understand the relationship between Earth's convecting interior and our oceans over the entire spectrum of geologic time. This feeds directly into the very pressing need for understanding where Earth's ocean-climate system is headed, which clearly hinges on our understanding of how it has worked in past."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Rhode Island. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. Kincaid, K. A. Druken, R. W. Griffiths & D. R. Stegman. Bifurcation of the Yellowstone plume driven by subduction-induced mantle flow. Nature Geoscience, 07 April 2013 DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1774

Cite This Page:

University of Rhode Island. "Research aims to settle debate over origin of Yellowstone volcano." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130415151436.htm>.
University of Rhode Island. (2013, April 15). Research aims to settle debate over origin of Yellowstone volcano. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130415151436.htm
University of Rhode Island. "Research aims to settle debate over origin of Yellowstone volcano." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130415151436.htm (accessed April 19, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nervous Return to Everest a Year After Deadly Avalanche

Nervous Return to Everest a Year After Deadly Avalanche

AFP (Apr. 18, 2015) In the Himalayan town of Lukla, excitement mingles with fear as mountaineers make their way up to Everest a year after an avalanche killed 16 guides and triggered an unprecedented shut-down of the world&apos;s highest peak. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
L.A. Water Cops Remind Residents of Water Conservation

L.A. Water Cops Remind Residents of Water Conservation

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 18, 2015) "Water cops" in Los Angeles remind the public about water conservation methods amid California&apos;s prolonged drought. Julie Noce reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Planet Defence Conference Tackles Asteroid Threat

Planet Defence Conference Tackles Asteroid Threat

AFP (Apr. 17, 2015) Scientists gathered at a European Space Agency (ESA) facility outside Rome this week for the Planetary Defence Conference 2015 to discuss how to tackle the potential threat from asteroids hitting Earth. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Gulf Scarred, Resilient 5 Years After BP Spill

Gulf Scarred, Resilient 5 Years After BP Spill

AP (Apr. 17, 2015) Five years after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, splotches of oil still dot the seafloor and wads of tarry petroleum-smelling material hide in pockets in the marshes of Barataria Bay. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins