The isotopic origin of Lord Howe Island reveals secondary mantle plume twinning in the Tasman Sea

Angus Rogers, Michaela Flanigan, Oliver Nebel, Yona Nebel-Jacobsen, Xueying Wang, Richard J. Arculus, Laura Miller, Ian Smith, Ben R. Mather, Mark Kendrick, Hugh St C. O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Thermochemical convective instabilities in the mantle, often referred to as mantle plumes, cause mantle melting that give rise to ocean island basalts (OIB) in intraplate settings. The array of radiogenic isotope signatures in global intraplate OIB indicate that although plumes are individual entities, they share enriched components that resemble various parts of subducted crust and a hypothetical mantle matrix termed “focal zone” (FOZO). Each plume is expected to rise with an individual buoyancy flux, thereby producing variable volumes of melting with some OIB forming subaerial islands, whereas others produce submarine volcanoes. Here, we report the first radiogenic isotope data (Sr, Nd, Pb and Hf) for lavas of Lord Howe Island (LHI) in the Tasman Sea, the most prominent subaerial expression of the hypothesised Lord Howe mantle plume. Major element data are consistent with a moderate degree of partial melting, and heavy rare earth element depletion indicates melting occurred in the presence of garnet, consistent with other global plume lavas. Radiogenic Sr–Nd isotopic data are similar to those defining the relatively primitive FOZO component with no clear enriched mantle affinity. The nearby Tasmantid Seamounts are also sourced from a mantle plume, and have similar Sr–Nd character. However, combined 208Pb/204Pb and 207Pb/204Pb vs 206Pb/204Pb ratios of LHI lavas are inconsistent with a FOZO-type source. Instead, Pb isotopes overlap with typical enriched mantle 1 (EM1) lavas (e.g., Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha), trending slightly higher than the Northern Hemisphere Reference Line (NHRL). Hafnium isotopes follow trends observed in lavas of the archetypal EM1 Pitcairn-Gambier islands, and are partially decoupled from 143Nd/144Nd; this decoupling is rare among OIB. The combined element-isotope data indicate that LHI forms the most recent expression of a mantle plume track in the Tasman Sea. Albeit unique in its 208Pb*/206Pb* isotope code among global mantle plumes, the resemblance of LHI lavas with the spatially related and contemporaneous Taupo seamount of the parallel Tasmantid plume track in the Tasman sea supports a genetic relation of both plumes. The proposed common origin of the two parallel plume tracks requires a larger plume underpinning the Tasman sea with individual plume fingers rising towards the surface, possibly in a triple plume network considering the on-shore Cosgrove track in eastern Australia. The subaerial expression of LHI contrasts the submarine Tasmantid Seamounts; this expression is only possible due to the continental ribbon that forms the island's foundation, suggesting secondary plume fingers display similar low buoyancy fluxes. Plain language summary: Lord Howe Island is predominantly composed of basaltic rocks, which are created when mantle underneath the crust melts and the subsequent magma rises to the surface and erupts out of a volcano. The chemical composition of these volcanic rocks can provide us with valuable information about geologic processes. Moreover, we can compare the composition of islands like Lord Howe to better investigate and understand volcanic networks that exist deep within the Earth. The composition of Lord Howe Island basalts was investigated for the first time using specialised instruments that can separate individual elements into different isotopes. The ratios of these different isotopes reflects the composition of the mantle source which can be enriched by the presence of subducted crustal rocks, oceanic rocks and sediments. Our data indicate the distinctive reservoir that Lord Howe Island samples were derived from is the same reservoir as that of the nearby Taupo Seamount volcano. We infer from this that a piece of ancient crust is stuck in the mantle, and the two volcanoes are sampling it. This study supports a theory of a large, linked volcanic network under the Tasman Sea, and adds to the growing body of research investigating ‘double-chain’ volcanism in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121374
Number of pages14
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2023


  • Double-chain volcanism
  • Eastern Australia
  • Mantle plumes
  • Radiogenic isotopes

Cite this