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In geology, a hotspot is a location on the Earth's surface that has experienced active volcanism for a long period of time.


J. Tuzo Wilson came up with the idea in 1963 that volcanic chains like the Hawaiian Islands result from the slow movement of a tectonic plate across a "fixed" hot spot deep beneath the surface of the planet. Hotspots are thought to be caused by a narrow stream of hot mantle convecting up from the Earth's core-mantle boundary called a mantle plume, although some geologists prefer upper-mantle convection as a cause.This in turn has re-raised the antipodal pair impact hypothesis, the idea that pairs of opposite hotspots may result from the impact of a large meteor.Geologists have identified some 40–50 such hotspots around the globe, with Hawaiimarker, Réunion, Yellowstone, Galápagosmarker, and Iceland overlying the most currently active.

Most hotspot volcanoes are basaltic because they erupt through oceanic lithosphere (e.g., Hawaii, Tahitimarker). As a result, they are less explosive than subduction zone volcanoes, in which water is trapped under the overriding plate. Where hotspots occur under continental crust, basaltic magma is trapped in the less dense continental crust, which is heated and melts to form rhyolites. These rhyolites can be quite hot and form violent eruptions, despite their low water content. For example, the Yellowstone Calderamarker was formed by some of the most powerful volcanic explosions in geologic history. However, when rhyolitic magma is completely erupted, it may eventually turn into basaltic magma because it is no longer trapped in the less dense continental crust. An example of this activity is the Ilgachuz Rangemarker in British Columbia, which was created by an early complex series of trachyte and rhyolite eruptions, and late extrusion of a sequence of basaltic lava flows.


As the continents and seafloor drift across the mantle plume, "hotspot" volcanoes generally leave unmistakable evidence of their passage through seafloor or continental crust. In the case of the Hawaiian hotspot, the islands themselves are the remnant evidence of the movement of the seafloor over the hotspot in the Earth's mantle. The Yellowstonemarker hotspot emerged in the Columbia Plateaumarker of the US Pacific Northwest. The Deccan Trapsmarker of India are thought to be the result of the emergence of the hotspot currently under Réunion Islandmarker, off the coast of eastern Africa.

Geologists use hotspots to help track the movement of the Earth's plates. Such hotspots are so active that they often record step-by-step changes in the direction of the Earth's magnetic poles. Thanks to lava flows from a series of eruptions in the Columbia Plateaumarker, scientists now know that the reversal of magnetic poles takes about 5,000 years, fading until there is no detectable magnetism, then reforming in near-opposite directions.

Notable hotspot trails

Possible hotspot trails

Comparison with island arc

Hotspot volcanoes should not be confused with island arc volcanoes. While each will appear as a string of volcanic islands, island arcs are formed by the subduction of converging tectonic plates. When one oceanic plate meets another, the denser plate is forced downward into a deep ocean trench. This plate, as it is subducted, releases water into the base of the over-riding plate, and this water causes some rock to melt. It is this that fuels a chain of volcanoes, such as the Aleutian Islandsmarker, near Alaskamarker.

List of hotspots

World map showing the locations of selected prominent hotspots.
1) Divergent plate boundaries, 2) Transform plate boundaries, 3) Convergent plate boundaries, 4) Plate boundary zones, 5) Selected prominent hotspots

Former hotspots

See also


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