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This is a drawing of how a hot spot under the crust builds land on the surface.
Click on image for full size
Image copyright 1997 by the American Geophysical Union. Further electronic distribution is not allowed.

Plume Volcanism

The Hawaiian Islands are an example of the way some volcanoes are made. A rising hot plume of material makes it's way to the lithosphere of the Earth from the deep interior, and erupts material unto the surface. Such a plume is called a "hot spot". Lava from eruptions turns to layers of rock and builds a volcanic "cone". Continual eruptions eventually build a whole island on the surface.

On Earth, the hot spot is still, and the portion of crust on which the islands are formed moves past the hot spot. In this drawing, the crustal plate moves to the left, past the stationary hot spot or plume. Each island which is created has a volcano associated with it. The oldest island is at the upper left, the youngest at the lower right. This way, a chain of islands are formed, each one younger than the last. The oldest islands are eroded away, and eventually are covered by ocean water.

A similar process built the Tharsis Ridge of Mars and many volcanic rises on Venus. On these planets the crust did not move past the hot spot, but remained stationary. The volcanoes of Mars which were built this way became very large indeed.

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Volcano Formation

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Flowing Lava

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF