The source location of mantle plumes from 3D spherical models of mantle convection

Mingming Li, Shijie Zhong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Mantle plumes are thought to originate from thermal boundary layers such as Earth's core-mantle boundary (CMB), and may cause intraplate volcanism such as large igneous provinces (LIPs) on the Earth's surface. Previous studies showed that the original eruption sites of deep-sourced LIPs for the last 200 Myrs occur mostly above the margins of the seismically-observed large low shear velocity provinces (LLSVPs) in the lowermost mantle. However, the mechanism that leads to the distribution of the LIPs is not clear. The location of the LIPs is largely determined by the source location of mantle plumes, but the question is under what conditions mantle plumes form outside, at the edges, or above the middle of LLSVPs. Here, we perform 3D geodynamic calculations and theoretical analyses to study the plume source location in the lowermost mantle. We find that a factor of five decrease of thermal expansivity and a factor of two increase of thermal diffusivity from the surface to the CMB, which are consistent with mineral physics studies, significantly reduce the number of mantle plumes forming far outside of thermochemical piles (i.e., LLSVPs). An increase of mantle viscosity in the lowermost mantle also reduces number of plumes far outside of piles. In addition, we find that strong plumes preferentially form at/near the edges of piles and are generally hotter than that forming on top of piles, which may explain the observations that most LIPs occur above LLSVP margins. However, some plumes originated at pile edges can later appear above the middle of piles due to lateral movement of the plumes and piles and morphologic changes of the piles. ∼65–70% strong plumes are found within 10 degrees from pile edges in our models. Although plate motion exerts significant controls over the large-scale mantle convection in the lower mantle, mantle plume formation at the CMB remains largely controlled by thermal boundary layer instability which makes it difficult to predict geographic locations of most mantle plumes. However, all our models show consistently strong plumes originating from the lowermost mantle beneath Iceland, supporting a deep mantle plume origin of the Iceland volcanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-57
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Nov 15 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • large igneous province
  • lowermost mantle
  • plume source location

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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