Potassium–argon (K–Ar) ages on whole rock samples have been measured on lavas from the subaerial Samoa Islands, which form a broadly linear volcanic chain that extends from the ESE to the WNW for about 360 km. The Manu'a Islands near the southeast limit of the chain exhibit youthful ages, with most <0.4 Ma, in keeping with the geological observations. Tutuila consists of several volcanoes, and previous work yielded a mean K–Ar age of 1.26 ± 0.15 Ma for the shield-building volcanism. Upolu, to the WNW of Tutuila, gives a mean age of 2.15 ± 0.35 Ma for the shield-building phase, represented by the Fagaloa Volcanics, with much of the island covered by significantly younger volcanic rocks. Savai'i, further to the WNW, is dominated by youthful volcanism, extending into historic times. In a restricted area, adjacent to the NE coast of Savai'i, previously thought to have volcanic rocks correlating with the Fagaloa Volcanics of Upolu, the ages are much younger than those on Upolu, lying between 0.32 and 0.42 Ma. Considering only the subaerial volcanism from Ta'u to Upolu, but also including Vailulu'u, the volcanism has migrated in a systematic ESE direction at 130 ± 8 mm a−1 over 300 km in the last 2.2 Ma. This rate is nearly twice that obtained from GPS measurements of Pacific Plate motion of 72 mm a−1 at N64°W in this area. However, if the much older age of shield-building volcanism from the submarine foundations of Savai'i is included, the regression yields a volcanic migration rate of 72 ± 14 mm a−1, in keeping with the measured GPS rate and consistent with a hotspot origin for the island chain. This suggests that the volcanic migration rates determined from the age of subaerial volcanism can be considerably overestimated, and this is now evident in other Pacific Ocean island chains. Clearly, the ages of the main shield-building volcanism from subaerial volcanism are minima, and if the older submarine lavas can be measured, these may yield a migration rate more in keeping with current plate motions.

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