There are two competing theories concerning the origins of volcanism associated with the Marquesas hotspot. Many geoscientists maintain that the area is underlain by a
mantle plume which has transported hot material from the lower mantle to the surface, forming the chain of islands and seamounts as the
Pacific Plate moved in a north-westerly direction relative to the stationary plume.Radiometric dating of the youngest volcanic rocks suggests that volcanism is still active. Evidence for a plume origin comes mainly from
seismic imaging, with large-scale low velocity anomalies being observed from the
core-mantle boundary to around 1000 km depth and interpreted as a superplume, and smaller, shallow anomalies interpreted as narrow secondary plumes generated by the superplume.Geochemical analysis of the lavas has also been argued to favour a deep-mantle source, though the extent to which source depth can be determined by lava geochemistry has been disputed.
Some features of the Marquesas, such as the trend of the islands and seamounts, non-fixity of the source, and short-lived volcanic activity, have been argued to conflict with the plume model. The trend of the chain and non-fixity of the source, however, may be explained by the plume conduit either being deflected by convection currents in the upper mantle or melt being channelled through zones of structural weakness. Volcanic activity may be much longer-lived if the plume also created Hess Rise and Shatsky Ridge to the northwest, both of which follow the same trend as the Marquesas and are dated at 100 Ma and 145–125 Ma respectively.
Nevertheless, some scientists dispute the plume model, arguing instead that volcanic activity associated with the Marquesas hotspot and others in the southern Pacific results from
shallow tectonic processes. In this interpretation, volcanism in the Marquesas is a consequence of intraplate stresses caused primarily by reorganisations of plate boundaries and thermal contraction of the lithosphere. These processes, it is argued, have generated a system of fissures which enable pre-existing melt in the
crust and upper
mantle to escape to the surface. The primary evidence for this interpretation is the timing of volcanic activity and orientation of the Marquesas chain, which coincide closely with major reorganisations of
plate boundaries and consequent changes in the
lithospheric stress field.
abcNatland, J.H.; Winterer, E.L. (2005). "Fissure control on volcanic action in the Pacific". In Foulger, G.R.; Natland, J.H.; Presnall, D.C.; Anderson, D.L. (eds.). Plates, plumes, and paradigms: Geological Society of America Special Paper 388. Geological Society of America. pp. 687–710.
^Anderson, D.L. (2005). "Scoring hotspots: The plume and plate paradigms". In Foulger, G.R.; Natland, J.H.; Presnall, D.C.; Anderson, D.L. (eds.). Plates, plumes, and paradigms: Geological Society of America Special Paper 388. Geological Society of America. pp. 31–54.