Fundamental features of the geology and tectonic setting of the northeast-propagating Yellowstone hotspot are not explained by a simple deep-mantle plume hypothesis and, within that framework, must be attributed to coincidence or be explained by auxiliary hypotheses. These features include the persistence of basaltic magmatism along the hotspot track, the origin of the hotspot during a regional middle Miocene tectonic reorganization, a similar and coeval zone of northwestward magmatic propagation, the occurrence of both zones of magmatic propagation along a first-order tectonic boundary, and control of the hotspot track by preexisting structures. Seismic imaging provides no evidence for, and several contraindications of, a vertically extensive plume-like structure beneath Yellowstone or a broad trailing plume head beneath the eastern Snake River Plain. The high helium isotope ratios observed at Yellowstone and other hotspots are commonly assumed to arise from the lower mantle, but upper-mantle processes can explain the observations. The available evidence thus renders an upper-mantle origin for the Yellowstone system the preferred model; there is no evidence that the system extends deeper than ∼200 km, and some evidence that it does not. A model whereby the Yellowstone system reflects feedback between upper-mantle convection and regional lithospheric tectonics is able to explain the observations better than a deep-mantle plume hypothesis.

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