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Explain How The Plate Tectonics Theory Helps Our Understanding Of The Formation Of Island Chains Such As Hawaii

1284 words - 6 pages

According to the theory of plate tectonics there is constant motion in the lithosphere which causes the many plates lying upon it to move relatively to one another due to convection currents. There are 3 boundaries where volcanic and seismic events, but not limited to, occur. The constructive plate boundary is where 2 plates, such as the North American plate and the Eurasian plate move apart causing sea-floor spreading and volcanic activity – when the less dense basaltic lava from the asthenosphere rises and forms new crust.
The destructive plate margin is where dense oceanic plate is subducted under a continental plate forming a sea trench and fold mountains (e.g. the Nazca plate ...view middle of the document...

However, although there is significant evidence to suggest that volcanic and seismic events occur along plate boundaries, there are volcanic islands located away from plate boundaries. The theory of plate tectonics couldn’t provide an answer for the occurrence of intraplate volcanism. In 1963, J. Tuzo Wilson proposed the hot spot hypothesis. A hot spot is where a concentration of radioactive elements in the mantle causes a magma plume (streams of hot mantle rising from the Earth’s core-mantle boundary) to rise towards the surface, melting into the oceanic plate and eventually erupting lava through weaknesses and fissures. Over geological time this lava builds upon each other and forms volcanoes on the surface. The Hawaiian Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, are believed to be situated over a hot spot created by a magma plume, evidence of the existence of the plume has been via the eruption of olivine rock formed in the mantle. As the Hawaiian Islands are situated approximately 3200km away from the nearest plate boundary this also suggests that it must have been created by a hot spot. They also show the movement of the pacific plate as the hot spot is stationary (although recent studies disagree), the line of islands demonstrates that the plate has moved over it in recent geological time.
The Hawaiian hot spot initially formed submarine volcanoes, where pillow basalts which are alkali formed when in contact with water. This is the submarine stage, the Lo’ihi seamount is currently a submarine volcano. The emergent stage followed where the basaltic volcano emerges from the sea. The eruptions at this stage are explosive due to reduced pressure. The following stage is the shield building stage where the less vicious basaltic lava solidifies at smaller angles, these volcanos have large, shallow magma chambers which erupt frequently. Here the surface flows are ropy (pahoehoe) and blocky (aa) lava. An example of this stage is seen at Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The next stage is the declining stage as the volcano moves past the hot spot the magma chamber solidifies. This results in the formation of cinder and spatter cones. Mauna Kea, Hualalai, and Haleakala are at this stage of activity. The movement of plates causes the magma plume to dragged along with it, this causes some volcanoes to have a dormant period and then suddenly erupt.
During the erosional stage, erosion forms gullies and cliffs as it outpaces lava production. The volcano no longer feels the buoyant effects of the hot spots and therefore it begins to subside. This encourages the growth of coral reefs around the volcano. The Kohala volcano is at this stage of activity. Following this is the rejuvenation stage where an eruption of highly alkali lava occurs over a geologic time. Examples at this stage are Ko’olau and West Maui. The final 2...

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