The relationships between plate tectonics and volcanism are shown on Figure 4.1.1. As summarized in Chapter 3, magma is formed at three main plate-tectonic settings: divergent boundaries (decompression melting), convergent boundaries (flux melting), and mantle plumes (decompression melting).
Exercise 4.1 How Thick Is the Oceanic Crust?
Figure 4.1.2a shows a triangular zone about 60 km thick; within this zone, approximately 10% of the mantle rock melts to form oceanic crust. Based on this information, approximately how thick do you think the resulting oceanic crust should be?
At an ocean-continent or ocean-ocean convergent boundary, oceanic crust is pushed far down into the mantle (Figure 4.1.2b). It is heated up, and while there isn’t enough heat to melt the subducting crust, there is enough to force the water out of some of its minerals. This water rises into the overlying mantle where it contributes to flux melting of the mantle rock. The mafic magma produced rises through the mantle to the base of the crust. There it contributes to partial melting of crustal rock, and thus it assimilates much more felsic material. That magma, now intermediate in composition, continues to rise and assimilate crustal material; in the upper part of the crust, it accumulates into plutons. From time to time, the magma from the plutons rises toward surface, leading to volcanic eruptions. Mt. Garibaldi (Figures 4.1 and 4.2) is an example of subduction-related volcanism.
A mantle plume is an ascending column of hot rock (not magma) that originates deep in the mantle, possibly just above the core-mantle boundary. Mantle plumes are thought to rise at approximately 10 times the rate of mantle convection. The ascending column may be on the order of kilometres to tens of kilometres across, but near the surface it spreads out to create a mushroom-style head that is several tens to over 100 kilometres across. Near the base of the lithosphere (the rigid part of the mantle), the mantle plume (and possibly some of the surrounding mantle material) partially melts to form mafic magma that rises to feed volcanoes. Since most mantle plumes are beneath the oceans, the early stages of volcanism typically take place on the sea floor. Over time, islands may form like those in Hawaii.
Volcanism in northwestern B.C. (Figures 4.1.3 and 4.1.4) is related to continental rifting. This area is not at a divergent or convergent boundary, and there is no evidence of an underlying mantle plume. The crust of northwestern B.C. is being stressed by the northward movement of the Pacific Plate against the North America Plate, and the resulting crustal fracturing provides a conduit for the flow of magma from the mantle. This may be an early stage of continental rifting, such as that found in eastern Africa.