The elusive Hawaiian hot spot spoils a nice geological story

posted in: Challenges, Dating | 2
Pool of magma interpreted to be under the earth's crust west of Hawaii
Huge pool of magma (dark pink) interpreted to be under the earth's crust west of Hawaii superimposed on a seismic scattering image (from Cao, Q., et al., ref. 4).
It is often claimed that the Hawaiian Islands provide an impossible problem for biblical geology and the young earth. One skeptic put it this way:

The key observation that must be explained away is the linear relationship between the measured ages of these islands (more than 100 independent measurements) and their distance from the volcanic hotspot. You see, we have two independent sets of data (age and distance) that support the uniformity of movement of the Pacific plate over a period of 65 million years.1

Of course, the creationist Plate Tectonic Model is well able to account for this pattern within the biblical time scale.2

However, research reported just this week in Science raised questions about the hot-spot story itself.3 From the beginning of the paper the authors spoke about the problems of finding the hot spot:

The Hawaiian hotspot is often attributed to hot material rising from depth in the mantle, but efforts to detect a thermal plume seismically have been inconclusive.4

Instead of a hot spot, the researchers found what they have described as a pool of magma (molten rock) 800- to 2000-kilometer-wide over 1000 km west of Hawaii. They said:

hot material does not rise from the lower mantle through a narrow vertical plume.

In other words, they have not found any hot-spot under Hawaii. Instead, they reported:

[the hot material] accumulates near the base of the transition zone before being entrained in flow toward Hawaii and, perhaps, other islands.

They included a diagram of what they envisage may be happening (above). They conclude:

This implies that geochemical trends in Hawaiian lavas cannot constrain lower mantle domains directly.

In other words, the trend in potassium-argon dates and other chemical elements does not seem to be connected with plate movement over an alleged hot spot.

Of course, this all depends on the reliability of the geophysical data and its interpretation, and the story will change as more investigations are carried out.

Which brings us back to the crux of the issue: what are we going to put our trust in? Are we going to trust the speculations of people who are inventing stories to agree with their non-biblical beliefs about the past—stories that are constantly changing? Or are we going to trust the Word of God, which claims to be an eyewitness report?

References and Notes

  1. Comment by David E. Levin during discussion on a readers review A Powerful Refutation of Dawkins’ Greatest Show On Earth on Amazon, October 4, 2010,
  2. See The Creation Answers Book, Ch 11, What about continental drift?
  3. See, Scott Johnson, Hawaii’s volcanic hotspot appears badly off-center, 2 June 2011,
  4. Cao, Q., et al., Seismic Imaging of Transition Zone Discontinuities Suggests Hot Mantle West of Hawaii, Science 332(6033):1068–1071, 27 May 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1202731

2 Responses

  1. Ashley Haworth-Roberts (Mr)

    Tas Walker
    (c pages 102 and 101, if you read with the newest posts listed first)

    As I suggested in early June, I see no need to invoke a biblical paradigm in order to try and re-interpret the data following the paper in Science. Including trying to explain everything by inventing ‘catastrophic plate tectonics’, assuming that any initial argon in the rocks can and does explain the formation of the islands in just 6,000 years not around 65 million, invoking a speculative process triggered by the biblical flood (for which mainstream science has found a complete lack of evidence), and suggesting that the Hawaiian islands’ formation might also be explained in part by a non-stationary hot spot (if such exist).

    Comment: Ashley, There are many lines of evidence that the global Flood described in the Bible really happened. When you start with that worldview you gain lots of insights into the geological evidence. You said, “I see no need to invoke a biblical paradigm” but what I think you mean is that you would prefer not to consider it. Otherwise, you would at least consider the possibility but you have shown yourself to be strenuously resistant to any idea that the Bible may be true. Romans 1:18 may shed some light on why that is.

    You have provided no alternative model that fully explains what we see today under a 6,000 year paradigm instead of a c65 million year one.

    Comment: I did provide links to an alternative model. There is a wealth of geological literature by biblical geologists today.

    Another link you forwarded said: “Now, the reigning explanation of the Hawaiian hotspot has been that a plume of hot material is rising more or less vertically from the deep mantle all the way to the surface. Imaging seemed to indicate that it might be rising from slightly southeast of the big island of Hawaii. The authors of this paper instead see evidence for a large body of hot material far west of Hawaii that is essentially trapped in the upper mantle. Magma rising from the eastern edge of the body would feed the Hawaiian volcanoes. The authors state that this large body must be fueled from below, but they can’t say anything about where in the mantle that material is sourced.”

    I’m unclear what difference this possibly could make if the hot spot arrives at the surface further west than originally thought, or the magma originates at shallower depth than previously assumed.

    As I said to you in June, it was not clear to me from the wording in the Ars Technica article that it ‘spoilt’ “the nice, neat story about the hot spots” – as outlined by soest and David Levin – though it possibly might complicate it (no map was provided to show where they think the mantle magma is actually erupting from the crust and whether that is significantly further – further west – from the main island of Hawaii than previously assumed).

    Comment: The neat story was that the crust was moving over a stationary hotspot and that explained the line of islands and the dates, but this report suggests the lava comes from the edge of a magma chamber. The neat correlation of the plate movement with the island chain is therefore not so neat.

    I was also unclear why you thought the speculation about the depth from which the magma – which erupts as lava – might originate could either alter the radiometric dates of the volcanoes or else make them now look ‘wrong’.

    Early on 4 June BST (late on 3 June PDT as shown at, where I later edited my post) I emailed you saying:
    “I’m afraid you are misquoting me. I wrote: “it possibly might complicate it” not “it will complicate it”.

    I had assumed that the area of the hot spot/magma reaching the SURFACE/SEAFLOOR was still about the same in extent, and that it was only a small amount further west than previously thought (near the Big Island). None of the volcanoes on the more north westerly islands are currently/recently (geologically speaking) active.

    You seem to assume there is more argon at the northwest end of the magma pool, resulting in the ‘older radiometric ages’. Why should that be?

    Comment: I didn’t give a reason but it could be due to the timing of the eruption. If the mantle is degassing then the later lavas would have less argon. The Hawaiian basalts are well-known for retaining excess argon.

    How does the apparently new/changed information (IF it does indeed change in the ‘scientific consensus’) fit in with the YEC ‘catastrophic plate tectonics’ concept?

    The ‘excess argon’ issue has been dealt with in the literature eg here:

    Following an email exchange with two of the people participating in recent discussion here – – I too now have access to the full Science paper (though I couldn’t make very much of it!).”


    Comment: I corresponded with you for a few exchanges. Check out Luke 10:10–12.

    I also mentioned to David Levin – who still thinks the islands were formed in the same manner – by email in early June: “If the new findings suggested that the more northwesterly islands had been formed closer to where they are now (and rather more recently than previously assumed), from a previously erupting mantle pool below them – rather than closer to the Big Island live volcanoes as currently assumed – surely the (rather technical sounding) Abstract would have flagged this possibility. The oddly worded final sentence merely appears to me to imply that the erupting lava might not have come from the lower mantle below the Big Island, as others have assumed.”

    Comment: It’s well known that papers cannot deviate too far from the party-line otherwise they could be rejected. I don’t know if that is the case for this paper, but the circumspect wording is curious.

  2. Ashley Haworth-Roberts (Mr)

    “There are many lines of evidence that the global Flood described in the Bible really happened.” No, there are not. There are merely inventions by young Earth creationists and a few ‘flood stories’ from Middle Eastern cultures.
    “I did provide links to an alternative model.” No, you did NOT. (page 112 of this thread)
    “The neat correlation of the plate movement with the island chain is therefore not so neat.” In what way?
    “If the mantle is degassing then the later lavas would have less argon”. My first, not considered, reaction is that the EARLIER lavas might have less argon if degassing has taken place since it erupted (and the islands drifted north west).

    It should not be necessary to attack – and deliberately twist – science if a religion and its God are both true, I would have thought. Many Christians don’ attack science though – I have no problem with them.

    Comment from Tas: Ashley, your comment that I “attack – and deliberately twist – science” shows you do not understand how science works. Science is about what scientists observe, not necessarily what they say. What they say is based on their opinions and beliefs and needs to be tested against the evidence. You always need to ask yourself what was actually observed. That is the power of the scientific method; truth is determined, not by a person’s status, but by evidence.