egaa111.pdf (1.27 MB)
Download file

The role of lithospheric thickness in the formation of ocean islands and seamounts: contrasts between the Louisville and Emperor-Hawaiian hotspot trails

Download (1.27 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 24.06.2021, 15:13 by JG Fitton, R Williams, TL Barry, AD Saunders
The Hawaii-Emperor and Louisville seamounts form the two most prominent time-progressive hotspot trails on Earth. Both formed over a similar time interval on lithosphere with a similar range of ages and thickness. The Hawaii-Emperor seamounts are large and magma productivity appears to be increasing at present. The Louisville seamounts, by contrast, are smaller and the trail appears to be waning. We present new major-and trace element data from five of the older (74-50 Ma) Louisville seamounts drilled during International Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 330 and compare these to published data from the Emperor seamounts of the same age. Despite drilling deep into the shield-forming volcanic rocks at three of the Louisville seamounts, our data confirm the results of earlier studies based on dredge samples that the Louisville seamounts are composed of remarkably uniform alkali basalt. The basalt composition can be modelled by ~1.5–3% partial melting of a dominantly garnet lherzolite mantle with a composition similar to that of the Ontong Java Plateau mantle source. Rock samples recovered by dredging and drilling on the Emperor Seamounts range in composition from tholeiitic to alkali basalt and require larger degrees of melting (2–10%) and spinel-to garnet lherzolite mantle sources. We use a simple decompression melting model to show that melting of mantle with a potential temperature of 1500ºC under lithosphere of varying thickness can account for the composition of the shield-forming tholeiitic basalts from the Emperor seamounts, while post-shield alkali basalt requires a lower temperature (1300–1400ºC). This is consistent with the derivation of Hawaii-Emperor shield-forming magmas from the hotter axis of a mantle plume and the post-shield magmas from the cooler plume sheath as the seamount drifts away from the plume axis. The composition of basalt from the Louisville seamounts shows no significant variation with lithosphere thickness at the time of seamount formation, contrary to the predictions of our decompression melting model. This lack of influence of lithospheric thickness ischaracteristic of basalt from most ocean islands. Theproblem can be resolved if the Louisville seamounts were formed by dehydration melting of mantle containinga small amount of water in a cooler plume. Hydrous melting in a relatively cool mantle plume (Tp=1350–1400°C) could produce a small amount of melt and then be inhibited by increasing viscosity from reaching the dry mantle solidus and melting further. The failure of the plume to reach the dry mantle solidus or the base of the lithosphere means that the resulting magmas would have the same composition irrespective of lithosphere thickness. A hotter mantle plume (Tp≈1500°C) beneath the Emperor seamounts and the Hawaiian Islands would have lower viscosity before the onset of melting, melt to a larger extent, and decompress to the base of the lithosphere. Thus our decompression melting model could potentially explain the composition of both the Emperor and Louisville seamounts. The absence of a significant lithospheric control on the composition of basalt from nearly all ocean islands suggests that dehydration melting is the rule and the Hawaiian islands the exception. Alternatively, many ocean islands may not be the product of mantle plumes but instead be formed by decompression melting of heterogeneous mantle sources composed of peridotite containing discrete bodies of carbonated and silica-oversaturated eclogite within the general upper mantle convective flow.



Journal of Petrology, Volume 61, Issue 11-12, December 2020, egaa111,

Author affiliation

School of Geography, Geology and the Environment


VoR (Version of Record)

Published in

Journal of Petrology








Oxford University Press (OUP)

Acceptance date


Copyright date


Available date




Usage metrics