New research published this week on the evolution of volcanoes sheds light on what lies deep beneath the Earth’s surface.
The research, published in Nature, suggests that the plume of hot material that provides Hawaii’s volcanoes with its continuous supply of molten lava originates from a depth of almost 3000 km, at the border between the Earth’s core and its rocky mantle. This is far deeper than had been thought possible by many scientists.
Plumes are hot, narrow currents that well up in the mantle and which are responsible for the formation of long chains of volcanoes such as those of the Hawaiian Islands. The question of whether plumes rise from the boundary between the core of the Earth and the mantle that surrounds it, or from a much shallower boundary layer within the mantle, has been hotly debated for more than a quarter of a century.
The new research proved the presence of material from the Earth’s core by using a new type of mass spectrometer to analyse the isotope signature of the element thallium in Hawaiian volcanic rocks. Isotope analysis can reveal the physical, chemical and biological processes to which a single element has been subjected.
Laura Gallagher | alfa
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