The role of a mantle plume in the formation of Yellowstone volcanism

Tiffany Leonard, Lijun Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The origin of the Yellowstone volcanic province remains debated. Proposed hypotheses involve either a mantle plume or not. Recent tomographic images allow a quantitative evaluation of the plume hypothesis and its interaction with the Farallon slabs. Using 4-D geodynamic models with data assimilation, we find that the slab is always in the way of the initially rising plume and that the plume could reach the surface only through the broken slab hinge at ∼15 Ma. For most of the time, the sinking slabs dominate the mantle flow and prohibit upwelling. We find that a plume that satisfies the present mantle image beneath Yellowstone fails to predict both voluminous hot materials at shallow depths beneath the western U.S. and the age migration of the hot spot tracks. We suggest that a plume is likely to have much less influence on the Yellowstone volcanism than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1132-1139
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 16 2016


  • Columbia River flood basalt
  • Farallon subduction
  • Yellowstone hot spot
  • mantle plume
  • seismic tomography
  • slab-plume interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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