Abstract

It has been claimed that focused hot cylindrical upwelling plumes cause many of the surface volcanic hotspots on Earth. It has also been argued that they must originate from thermal boundary layers. In this paper, we present spherical simulations of mantle circulation at close to Earth-like vigor with significant internal heating. These show, in addition to thermal boundary layer plumes, a new class of plumes that are not rooted in thermal boundary layers. These plumes develop as instabilities from the edge of bowls of hot mantle, which are produced by cold downwelling material deforming hot sheets of mantle. The resulting bowl and plume structure can look a bit like the “splash” of a water droplet. These splash plumes might provide an explanation for some hotspots that are not underlain by thermal boundary layer–sourced plumes and not initiated by large igneous provinces. We suggest that in Earth's mantle, lithospheric instabilities or small pieces of subducting slab could play the role of the model downwelling material in initiating splash plumes. Splash plumes would have implications for interpreting ocean-island basalt geochemistry, plume fixity, excess plume temperature, and estimating core heat flux. Improved seismic imaging will ultimately test this hypothesis.

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