Heat sources for mantle plumes

C. Beier*, T. Rushmer, S. P. Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Melting anomalies in the Earth's upper mantle have often been attributed to the presence of mantle plumes that may originate in the lower mantle, possibly from the core-mantle boundary. Globally, mantle plumes exhibit a large range in buoyancy flux that is proportional to their temperature and volume. Plumes with higher buoyancy fluxes should have higher temperatures and experience higher degrees of partial melting. This excess heat in mantle plumes could reflect either (1) an enrichment of the heat-producing elements (HPE: U, Th, K) in their mantle source leading to an increase of heat production by radioactive decay, (2) material transport from core to mantle (either advective or diffusive), or (3) conductive heat transport across the core-mantle boundary. The advective/diffusive transport of heat may result in a physical contribution of material from the core to the lower mantle. If core material is incorporated into the lower mantle, mantle plumes with a higher buoyancy flux should have higher core tracers, e.g., increased 186Os, 187Os, and Fe concentrations. Geophysical and dynamic modeling indicate that at least Afar, Easter, Hawaii, Louisville, and Samoa may all originate at the core-mantle boundary. These plumes encompass the whole range of known buoyancy fluxes from 0.9 Mg s-1 (Afar) to 8.7 Mg s-1 (Hawaii), providing evidence that the buoyancy flux is largely independent of other geophysical parameters. In an effort to explore whether the heat-producing elements are the cause of excess heat we looked for correlations between fractionation-corrected concentrations of the HPE and buoyancy flux. Our results suggest that there is no correlation between HPE concentrations and buoyancy flux (with and without an additional correction for variable degrees of partial melting). As anticipated, K, Th, and U are positively correlated with each other (e.g., Hawaii, Iceland, and Galapagos have significantly lower concentrations than, e.g., Tristan da Cunha, the Canary Islands, and the Azores). We also find no correlation between Fe and buoyancy flux. The apparent lack of correlations suggests that excess heat may be a result of conductive heat contribution from the core or from the adjacent boundary layer. Thus, the formation of mantle plumes along the core-mantle boundary may be largely controlled by distance of enriched material from the coremantle boundary.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberQ06002
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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