Implications of lower-mantle structural heterogeneity for the existence and nature of whole-mantle plumes

Edward Garnero, Thorne Lay, Allen McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Recent seismological studies demonstrate the presence of strong deep-mantle elastic heterogeneity and anisotropy, consistent with a dynamic environment having chemical anomalies, phase changes, and partially molten material. The implications for deep-mantle plume genesis are discussed in the light of the seismological findings. Nearly antipodal large low-shear velocity provinces (LLSVPs) in the lowermost mantle beneath the Pacific Ocean and Africa are circumscribed by high-velocity regions that tend to underlie upper-mantle downwellings. The LLSVPs have sharp boundaries, low VS/VP ratios, and high densities; thus, they appear to be chemically distinct structures. Elevated temperature in LLSVPs may result in partial melting, possibly accounting for the presence of ultra-low-velocity zones detected at the base of some regions of LLSVPs. Patterns in deep-mantle fast shear wave polarization directions within the LLSVP beneath the Pacific are consistent with strong lateral gradients in the flow direction. The thermal boundary layer at the base of the mantle is a likely location for thermal instabilities that form plumes, but geodynamical studies show that the distribution of upwellings is affected when piles of dense chemical heterogeneities are present. The location of lowermost mantle plume upwellings is predicted to be near the boundaries of the large thermochemical complexes comprising LLSVPs. These observations suggest that any large mantle plumes rising from the deep mantle that reach the surface are likely to be preferentially generated in regions of distinct mantle chemistry, with nonuniform spatial distribution. This hypothesis plausibly accounts for some attributes of major hotspot volcanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-101
Number of pages23
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2007


  • Core-mantle boundary
  • D
  • Hotspots
  • Plumes
  • Thermochemical piles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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