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Geosciences LibreTexts

4.4: Hot Spots

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    5480
  • Overview

    Another line of evidence that can be used to track plate motion is the location of hot spots. Hot spots are volcanically active areas on the Earth’s surface that are caused by anomalously hot mantle rocks underneath. This heat is the result of a mantle plume that rises from deep in the mantle toward the surface resulting in melted rocks and volcanoes. These mantle plumes occur deep in the Earth such that they are unaffected by the movement of the continents or the crust under the ocean. Mantle plumes appear to be stationary through time, but as the tectonic plate moves over the hot spot a series of volcanoes are produced. This gives geologists a wonderful view of the movement of a plate through time with the distribution of volcanoes indicating the direction of motion and their ages revealing the rate at which the plate was moving.

     

    One of the most striking examples of a hot spot is underneath Hawaii. The mantle plume generates heat that results in an active volcano on the surface of the crust. Each eruption causes the volcano to grow until it eventually breaks the surface of the ocean and forms an island. As the crust shifts the volcano off the hot spot the volcano loses its heat and become inactive. The volcano then cools down, contracts, erodes, sinks slowly beneath the ocean surface, and is carried by the tectonic plate as it moves through time. As each island moves away from the mantle plume a new island will then be formed at the hot spot in a continual conveyor belt of islands. Therefore, the scars of ancient islands near Hawaii give a wonderful view of the movement of the tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean.