The Yellowstone volcano hotspot has fed past eruptions in a chain of at least seven volcanic fields in the northwestern US. US Geological Survey (USGS) maps show the volcanic fields have emerged near the border of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, before ending in Wyoming. The hotspot, which currently supplies the Yellowstone volcano, was pushed along the northwest by the moving North American tectonic plate.
According to Idaho Geological Survey geologist Zach Lifton, tectonic movements pushed the hotspot along for 16 million years.
In an article for the USGS’ weekly Caldera Chronicles, the geologist said Yellowstone is an example of a hotspot volcano.
The geologist said: “Volcanic hotspots are fed by plumes of hot material rising from deep in the Earth, which can result in the formation of magma closer to the surface and that might eventually erupt
“As the North American tectonic plate moved southwest through time over the mostly stationary plume, a series of eruptions occurred, forming a hotspot ‘track’.
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“The result is a chain of ancient volcanic fields that started over 16 million years ago near the Idaho/Nevada/Oregon border and that gets progressively younger across southwestern Idaho and the eastern Snake River Plain.”
Geologists have identified seven volcanic fields in the northwest US, starting with the McDermitt field about 16.5 million years ago.
The volcanic field formed on the border between Oregon and Nevada just south of the Columbia River Basalt.
About 15 million years ago, the hotspot then fed the Owyhee-Humboldt field to the east of McDermitt.
The hotspot then continued northeast, forming the Bruneau-Jarbidge, Twin Falls and Heise fields.
Eventually, the hotpot gave birth to the Yellowstone volcano field approximately 2 million years ago.
Volcanic hotspots are fed by plumes of hot material rising from deep in the Earth
Zach Lifton, Idaho Geological Survey (IGS)
As the Yellowstone hotspot migrated across the US, it also likely affected earthquake activity in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Montana.
Geologists have found evidence of a similar hotspot track in Hawaii, where the migration of volcanic material created the Emperor Seamount-Hawaiian Ridge.
Most of the volcanoes from that track are buried deep under the ocean, stretching across 3,500 miles up to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
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But the youngest volcanoes born from the hotspot’s movements are still seen today in the form of the Hawaiian Islands.
Dr Lifton said: “While most volcanic activity occurs near the boundaries of tectonic plates, hotspot volcanoes are unique because they can develop in the interiors of plates far from their boundaries.
“Hotspots were first recognised after plate tectonic theory revolutionised geology.
“As geologists began collecting more and better seafloor data in the 1950s and 1960s, they noticed strings of volcanoes lined up along straight paths.”
Yellowstone volcano is believed to have had three major eruptions in its past, with the most recent one 640,000 years ago.
The so-called Lava Creek eruption formed the Yellowstone Caldera and Lava Creek Tuff in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Before that, Yellowstone suffered the Mesa Falls eruption 1.3 million years ago and the Huckleberry Ridge eruption 2.1 million years ago.
Since the Lava Creek event, there have been 80 nonexplosive eruptions.
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