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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Professor Yaoling Niu

Niu, Yaoling, Shi, Xuefa, Li, Tiegang, Wu, Shiguo, Sun, Weidong & Zhu, Rixiang (2017). Testing the mantle plume hypothesis: An IODP effort to drill into the Kamchatka-Okhotsk Sea system. Science Bulletin 62(21): 1464-1472.

Author(s) from Durham


The great mantle plume debate (GPD) has been going on for ∼15 years (Foulger and Natland, 2003; Anderson, 2004; Niu, 2005; Davies, 2005; Foulger, 2005; Campbell, 2005; Campbell and Davies, 2006), centered on whether mantle plumes exist as a result of Earth’s cooling or whether their existence is purely required for convenience in explaining certain Earth phenomena (Niu, 2005). Despite the mounting evidence that many of the so-called plumes may be localized melting anomalies, the debate is likely to continue. We recognize that the slow progress of the debate results from communication difficulties. Many debaters may not truly appreciate (1) what the mantle plume hypothesis actually is, and (2) none of the petrological, geochemical and geophysical methods widely used can actually provide smoking-gun evidence for or against mantle plume hypothesis. In this short paper, we clarify these issues, and elaborate a geologically effective approach to test the hypothesis. According to the mantle plume hypothesis, a thermal mantle plume must originate from the thermal boundary layer at the core-mantle boundary (CMB), and a large mantle plume head is required to carry the material from the deep mantle to the surface. The plume head product in ocean basins is the oceanic plateau, which is a lithospheric terrane that is large (1000’s km across), thick (>200 km), shallow (2–4 km high above the surrounding seafloors), buoyant (∼1% less dense than the surrounding lithosphere), and thus must be preserved in the surface geology (Niu et al., 2003). The Hawaiian volcanism has been considered as the surface expression of a type mantle plume, but it does not seem to have a (known) plume head product. If this is true, the Hawaiian mantle plume in particular and the mantle plume hypothesis in general must be questioned. Therefore, whether there is an oceanic plateau-like product for the Hawaiian volcanism is key to testing the mantle plume hypothesis, and the Kamchatka-Okhotsk Sea basement is the best candidate to find out if it is indeed the Hawaiian mantle plume head product or not (Niu et al., 2003; Niu, 2004).