A sinking, melting ancient tectonic plate may fuel Yellowstone’s supervolcano | Science News

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A sinking, melting ancient tectonic plate may fuel Yellowstone’s supervolcano

Computer simulations suggest that a core-deep plume of magma isn’t needed to power the massive eruptions

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7:00am, January 2, 2018
Yellowstone

HOT SPOT  The Yellowstone supervolcano has a 17-million-year history of eruptions in the western United States. Now scientists say the source of the supervolcano’s heat isn’t a deep mantle plume, but the downward drag of an ancient subducting slab stirring up the mantle.

The driving force behind Yellowstone’s long and explosive volcanic history may not be as deep as once thought. A new study suggests that instead of a plume of hot mantle that extends down to Earth’s core, the real culprit is a subducting tectonic plate that began sinking beneath North America hundreds of millions of years ago.

Computer simulations show that movement of broken-up remnants of the ancient Farallon Plate could be stirring the mantle in a way that fuels Yellowstone, researchers report December 18 in Nature Geoscience. “The fit is so good,” says study coauthor Lijun Liu, a geodynamicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The giant supervolcano now beneath Yellowstone National Park, located mostly in Wyoming, has a 17-million-year history — much of it on the move. In that time, the locus of volcanism has moved northeastward from

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