SOCORRO, N.M., December 4, 2001 -- Mantle plumes, mushroom-shaped regions of hot rock that rise up from deep below the Earth's crust, have taken a "back seat" to plate tectonics ever since both geologic processes were introduced to and accepted by the Earth science community in the late-1960s and early 1970s.
But now, because of recent advances in computer modeling and seismic tomography, combined with new data garnered from the preliminary explorations of Mars and Venus, scientific interest in mantle plumes "has increased exponentially," writes a noted geochemistry professor at New Mexico Tech.
In his newly published book, Mantle Plumes and Their Record in Earth History, New Mexico Tech's Kent C. Condie, examines the role of mantle plumes throughout the geologic record and describes the newest, exciting results of cutting-edge research on mantle plumes conducted by geologists, geophysicists, and geochemists at various locations around the world.
"Now seemed a good time to bring together under one cover a summary of the truly enormous amount of data that have been published, principally during the 1990s, related to mantle plumes and their role in Earth history," Condie says.
Mantle plumes typically consist of a large, buoyant blob in the Earth's mantle that pushes up against the Earth's plates, connected to a "tail" that descends to the core-mantle interface.
The intense, localized heat which results from upwellings of mantle plumes often sustain long-lasting, exceptionally hot regions called "hotspots," where volcanic and geothermal activities abound, such as the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount chain,
Iceland, and Yellowstone National Park.
"Mantle plumes are becoming more important when considering the formation of continents here on Earth," Condie says, "but where you really see strong evidence of mantle plumes is on Venus and Mars. . . . On a planet like Mars, where there are no plate tectonics involved, you can see evidence of gigantic mantle plumes by huge volcanoes on the surface."
Condie's newest book also covers "superplumes" -- huge, catastrophic, volcanic eruptions that may have been responsible for many of the Earth's major extinctions.
"Mantle plumes also may have been responsible for breaking up the supercontinents," the geoscientist/author relates.
"I have approached the subject of mantle plumes in such a way that the book can be used as a university textbook in advanced undergraduate or graduate courses in geophysics, geochemistry, or general geology," Condie says. "The book is also intended as a reference for Earth scientists from a variety of disciplines."
Mantle Plumes and Their Record in Earth History, which was published by Cambridge University Press, currently is available in bookstores in both hardbound and paperbound editions.
Condie has taught at New Mexico Tech since 1970. His previous textbook Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution, which is widely used in upper division and graduate courses in the Earth sciences, was first published in 1976 and has gone through four editions -- the most recent in 1997.
Condie also is the author of Archean Greenstone Belts, and co-author of a beginning textbook in geology, Origin and Evolution of Earth: Principals of Historical Geology. In addition, Condie is the author of the interactive CD-ROM, Plate Tectonics and How the Earth Works and the editor of two books, Proterozoic Crustal Evolution and Archean Crustal Evolution.