HAWAII IS A hotspot in every sense of the word: It’s a popular tourist destination, a balmy locale—and it was created by plumes of magma gushing through the Earth’s mantle. Think you know about hotspots, hotshot? Well, think again: Geoscientists have been debating the nature of Hawaii’s hotspot for more than a decade, disagreeing on everything from how deep it is to whether it moves. And now, researchers from the University of Sydney and Caltech are proposing an entirely new mechanism for it, backed up by unprecedentedly-detailed numerical models.
Specifically, they’re speculating about Hawaii and an older chain of underwater islands, called the Emperor Seamounts, which together make up a massive formation. “It’s one of the biggest features on the planet,” says Ken Hon, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The Emperor Seamounts angle up north and west from the Hawaiian Islands, extending practically to Russia. The whole thing looks a bit like a pencil snapped in two.