Testing the Volcano Mantle Plume Theory with Corn Syrup

One scientist tests the theory of mantle plumes by using 200 gallons of corn syrup to represent the Earth's mantle.

Hot springs in Yellowstone. Photo by C.Sagan

For decades scientists have argued over the presence, or absence, of mantle plumes, huge jets of molten rock that begin near the Earth’s core and rise up through the overlying material, or mantle. The tectonic plates composing the Earth’s surface move slowly across the plumes, and, according to scientists who give credence to the plume theory, that’s when a line of volcanoes (think the Hawaiian Islands, which are located far away from the edges of tectonic plates, the typical place where a volcano would form) are created.

And Yellowstone, a site known and loved for the supervolcanic activity seen there, has been at the center of this “heated” debate.

"Yellowstone is one key area where arguments against plumes are focused," Christopher Kincaid, a geophysical fluid dynamicist at the University of Rhode Island, told Yahoo News.

Kincaid decided to test the mantle plume theory. But he did so by making the assumption that even though mantle plumes are generally used to explain volcanoes found far from tectonic plate borders, they could also rise up in subduction zones, areas near the edge of tectonic plates where one plate grinds beneath another.

To create the experiment, he and his students used a 200-gallon, rectangular tank filled with corn syrup.

"We use a very sticky, high-viscosity grade of corn syrup to represent the Earth's mantle for a couple of reasons," Kincaid said, going on to list corn syrup’s lack of inertia, temperature-dependent viscosity, and non-toxicity.

When Kincaid heated up a section of the tank’s floor, a jet of syrup shot up, showing that a split mantle plume could replicate real life geological occurrences.

"Most plume arguments only consider a simple view of a plume, rising into an otherwise stagnant system," he said. "We found that plumes near subduction zones are like a prairie dog sticking its head up from its hole during a tornado."

Kincaid adds that students love watching the experiment.

"We often get large crowds gathered in the lab when we are running these things," he said. "The room is dark and the plumes are illuminated with micro tracers that sparkle and glow in the light sheets we shine through the tank. It is like you are looking directly into the Earth's insides."

Source: news.yahoo.com


Geothermic Hotspots In (Yellow) and Near Yellowstone

Scientists study Yellowstone geothermic hotspot

Using thermal satellite images, scientists take the earth’s temperature hundreds of miles away from a destination to hopefully predict volcano eruptions.


Yellowstone Volcano Caldera Rises, Falls and Rises Again

Deep beneath Yellowstone, forces of heat and pressure cause the surface to rise and fall much like the breathing of a gigantic, slumbering beast.


Docudrama Movie 'Supervolcano' by BBC and Discovery Channel

BBC Science and Discovery Channel produced the docudrama called “Super-Volcano,” followed by the documentary, “Supervolcano: The Truth About Yellowstone.”

Magma plume

How the Yellowstone Caldera Formed

The Yellowstone caldera was formed after an explosion of magma nearly 600,000 years ago.

Geyser in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin

Yellowstone is Leaking Helium

Yellowstone is releasing a about 60 tons of helium from underground stores each year, an amount hundreds, possibly thousands, of times more than expected.

Crust waves of a geyser at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Scientists Find 4X Magma Under Yellowstone's Supervolcano

Yellowstone’s plumbing system is no larger - nor closer to erupting - than before but now we have advanced techniques to map the system. See animation of magma chamber.

Fake Explosion

Is Yellowstone Going to Blow? Exaggerated Reports of Volatility

As long as there's been a National Park seated on a super volcano, there's been erroneous reports of impending doom.

Yellowstone's Castle Geyser

History of Yellowstone’s Supervolcano

The Yellowstone area has seen tremendous volcanic activity in its past. 3 giant eruptions have occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago.

Seismic Monitor from iris.edu

Who is Watching Yellowstone's Volcano and Nearby Earthquakes?

Seismic activity is monitored around the clock by staff of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory with help from the University of Utah. No eruption soon.