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Convection dynamics of hot mantle plume and cold downwelling curtains in Hawaii 
A joint electromagnetic and seismic experiment  

 PI:  E. Attias (UTIG)  
co-PIs:  A. Haroon (HIGP), N. Harmon and C. Rychert (WHOI)
Collaborators: S. Wang (NTNU), A. Ray (Geoscience Australia), A. Grayver (Univ. of Cologne), H. Turner (Chaminade University)


The Hawaiian hotspot consists of two crucial geological/tectonic components: A plume of molten rock that connects the Hawaiian Islands to the deep mantle, whose location, diameter, and depth extent are still subject to heated debate, and an associated bathymetric rise (swell) whose dynamics and geology also are still subject to debate. While progress has been made using seismic methods to address the geometry of the Hawaiian plume, detecting and quantifying variations in temperature, composition, and melt fraction are still challenging. Apart from the hot plume, geodynamic numerical models  (Ballmer et al., 2011) and Ps receiver function data (Agius et al., 2017) suggest the existence of large-scale cold mantle downwelling curtains situated laterally ~150 km from the plume axis. 

3D schematic showing plume dynamics within the transition zone and upper mantle beneath Hawaii  (Agius et al., 2017). As the plume rises (black arrow), the uppermost mantle melting and flow may result in the downwelling of cold material (blue arrows), sinking to at least 410 km depth. 



The non-invasive MagnetoTelluric (MT) method uses natural time variations in Earth’s magnetic field, primarily caused by solar winds, to measure the crust’s and mantle's electrical conductivity. Conductivity is highly sensitive to changes in temperature and melt content. In this project, we will conduct a large-scale amphibious deployment of 80 marine MT instruments and 12 land MT sites to study the plume and swell associated with the Hawaiian hotspot. Our proposed amphibious MT experiment in Hawaii will complement legacy MT/seismic data collected by the SWELL (1997) and the PLUME (2005) experiments. This enables us to test hypotheses relating to the nature of the Hawaiian plume that cannot be unequivocally tested with either MT or seismic data alone. More importantly,  this study will provide new insights into the convection dynamics of a hot plume and adjacent downwelling curtains,  improving our understanding of hot plume mechanics. 


NUCLEI experiment: Map of archived and proposed MT receivers and ocean bottom differential pressure gauge (DPG) as seismometers.

’Hawaiian’ plume MT simulations: 3D forward modeling inverted in 2D  

3D finite-element discretization of Hawaii's plume forward (true) model. The true model represents a  conceptual model derived from seismic OBS data (Laske et al., 2011).  

MT forward modeling using COMSOL: The finite-element meshing that includes the 3D geometry of the conduit, upwelling hot plume, and downwelling curtains.  These COMSOL simulations will help us determine the frequency range that will maximize the skin depth so that the apparent resistivity and phase responses will be sensitive to the resistivity structure of the plume down to the deep conduit. 

2D inversion (MARE2DEM) of the 3D true forward model converged to an RMS misfit of 2.0 (error floor of 10%). The inverted triangles mark 11 MT sites. Seismic-driven (Laske et al., 2011) discontinuity (penalty cut) applied to the deep conduit and plume beneath the Island of Hawaii (i.e., Big Island). The model mash combines triangles and quadrilaterals, finely discretized along the conduit/plume structure. This simulation demonstrates that seismically-constrained 2D inversion of long-period MT data can potentially resolve the electrical resistivity structure of the ’Hawaiian’ plume from the lithosphere down to its asthenospheric base.


A seismically constrained 2D synthetic MT inversion model simulates a dynamic convection scenario where Hawaii's hot mantle plume rises from the lower mantle to the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB), coupled by large-scale cold curtains (slabs) downwelling at the plume flanks. The upper panel shows the true model based on the geodynamic modeling of Ballmer et al. (2011) and Agius et al.'s Ps receiver function data (2017). The lower panel displays the resulting electrical resistivity inversion model, highlighting the potential spatial and depth sensitivity of seismically constrained MT inversion to both the upwelling plume and downwelling slabs.  Inversion RMS misfit = 1.99, error floor = 10%, with enforced discontinuity of 0.1 (cut penalty).

In this study, we will conduct a series of 2D deterministic (MARE2DEM), 1D/2D Bayesian modeling (RTO-TKO, TDGP), and 3D MT inversions using advanced algorithms such as RLM3D, GoFEM, and CustEM and compare the resulting models to a 3D finite-element code that we will develop as part of this [project (see below). For joint inversion, we will apply the RLM3D multiphysics inversion code (Soyer et al., 2020, 2021) that includes solvers for MT, CSEM, gravity, magnetics, and MEQ data (Vp, Vs, and event re-locations).


Thus, NUCLEI will provide powerful constraints on the 3D subsurface geology, including the position and lateral extent of the region of magma upwelling beneath Hawaii, its depth of origin, the amount of melt within this volcanic system, and the spatiotemporal extent and thermal structure of the presumed downwelling curtains. Our integrated approach will contribute to our understanding of one of the essential magmatic systems on Earth in terms of planetary convection, plate tectonics, and island-building mechanisms. 

  • In collaboration with WHOI, HIGP, and NTNU, the NUCLEI project will enhance the capabilities of a 3D marine MT finite-element inversion algorithm to consider Hawaii's plume complex morphology, fluctuating seafloor topography, and strong coast effects. The resulting 3D marine MT code will be made publically available upon completion.  

  • To promote DEI, the NUCLEI project, in collaboration with Chaminade University (a native Hawaiian institution that serves underprivileged students), constructed a three-phase plan to integrate Chaminade's students in this project through (1) undergraduate and master students' participation in both of our research cruises, (2) supporting data science research internships for indigenous and underrepresented students to work on the NUCLEI data, and (3) organizing Culture-Science exploration workshops for students, scientists, and the Hawaiian community to share information, findings, additional knowledge which evolved from NUCLEI. 




NSF-OCE Proposal to be submitted to NSF (OCE-EAR) on December,  2024




Cruise location: Hawaii Islands

Potential ships: UNOLS
Seagoing days: 15 (1st leg), 25 (2nd leg)
Months range: TBD
Year: 2025/6