Kilauea is the most active shield volcano in the world
Original Published Date: 
Thursday, December 19, 2019

Full article issued by Curtin University.

ARC-supported researchers at Curtin University suggest a ‘chicken-and-egg’ relationship exists between the Earth’s mantle-located superplumes and surface-located supercontinents, adding to our understanding of what is happening deep inside the planet’s surface.

Researchers from Curtin’s Earth Dynamics Group analysed the abundance of nickel, chromium and iron in over 40,000 basalt rocks samples taken from Earth’s continents and the ocean floor, with the oldest sample being about three billion years old.

“Nearly 3,000km below the Earth’s surface, just above the boundary between the Earth’s liquid outer core and solid mantle layer, there are two gigantic, hot, dense piles of rocks, each being hundreds of kilometres high and thousands of kilometres in diameter. These mountains are known as Large Low Shear Velocity Provinces, or ‘superplumes’,” says John Curtin Distinguished Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Zheng-Xiang Li, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

"Our research reports new evidence that these superplumes form and disintegrate in a cyclical manner, similar to what the tectonic plates do on the Earth’s surface. And interestingly, our research shows this activity is almost exactly synchronised with a 500 to 700 million years-long supercontinent cycle.”

“The supercontinent cycle leads to the plume and superplume cycle, but at the same time, the superplumes cause the break-up of the supercontinents. So it appears that tectonic plates and superplumes have a bit of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ relationship, but the plates appear to have a slight upper hand in the process," says Professor Li.

Photo credit: 

Image: Kilauea is the most active shield volcano in the world, and sits above a superplume. Credit: G.E. Ulrich (Public Domain).