Abstract

New K-Ar dates of volcanic rocks from five of the nine islands of the Society Archipelago (Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Maupiti), confirm a Pacific plate velocity of around 11 cm/a during the last 4.3 m.y. These new data allow us to analyse the age-distance relationship along the chain and to evaluate possible temporal variations in the activity of the Society hotspot. A clear increase of ages is observed along the linear chain away from the present Society hotspot location. The time-space relationship between Taiarapu, Tahiti-Nui and Moorea can be explained by a simple hotspot model. Nevertheless, the simple fixed hotspot model assuming constant Pacific plate velocity may need adjustments to fully explain the age progression along the Archipelago. The slight departures from a linear age distribution can be explained by changes in Pacific plate motion which occurred at 5 and 3 Ma. In addition, the contemporaneous magmatic activities in the pairs Bora-Bora/Tahaa, Raiatea/Huahine, Maiao/Moorea require additional lithospheric control on magma transport. Combined with the hotspot activity, lithospheric loading may have produced extension and triggered volcanism along already existing fractures linking paired islands.

The most likely model for the Society chain, proposed by McNutt [1998], involves a plume originating from a wide deep thermally anomalous zone (the Pacific Superswell) as a rising diapir (hotspot of secondary type according to the classification of Courtillot et al. [2003]). It melted during ascent and ponded beneath the Pacific plate to form short linear island chains showing rather good age vs. distance correlations.

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