“Mantle Wind” Blows Through Slab Window Beneath Panama


Volcanic gases are helping researchers track large-scale movements in Earth’s deep interior. 

Volcanic gases are helping researchers track large-scale movements in Earth’s deep interior. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists, together with a group of international collaborators, have discovered anomalous geochemical compositions beneath Panama.

This interdisciplinary team used helium isotopes and other geochemical data from fluids and rocks to show that volcanic material is sourced from the Galapagos plume, over 900 miles (1500 km) away. The findings of this study, “High 3He/4He in central Panama reveals a distal connection to the Galápagos plume”, were published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“The lateral transport of plume material represents an understudied mechanism that scatters enriched geochemical signatures in mantle domains far from plumes,” said David Bekaert, postdoctoral scholar at WHOI, and lead author of the paper.

“We can compare volcanic systems to the body of a living organism; when the organism bleeds, it’s kind of like magma bleeding out of the Earth. And you can measure the composition of that magma, just like you can measure a blood type. In this study, we measured an unexpected volcanic gas composition, sort of like when a human has a rare blood type. In the case of the Earth, we then try to explain where it came from in terms of deep geological processes.”

Read more at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Image: A small pool of water sourced from a deep spring in Panama. A collaborative team, including WHOI researchers, discovered abnormal geochemical compounds beneath this region, revealing details about Earth as a dynamic system (Credit: Peter Barry © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)