Skip to main content Accessibility help

Magma production along the Lord Howe Seamount Chain, northern Zealandia

  • Maria Seton (a1), Simon Williams (a1), Nick Mortimer (a2), Sebastien Meffre (a3), Steven Micklethwaite (a4) and Sabin Zahirovic (a1)...


One of the world’s most notable intraplate volcanic regions lies on the eastern Australian plate and includes two age-progressive trails offshore (Tasmantid and Lord Howe seamount chains) and the world’s longest continental hotspot trail (Cosgrove Track). While most studies agree that these chains formed by the rapid northward motion of the Australian plate over a slowly moving mantle source, the volcanic output along these trails, their plate–mantle interactions and the source of the magmatism remain unconstrained. A geophysical mapping and dredging campaign on the RV Southern Surveyor (ss2012_v06) confirmed the prolongation of the Lord Howe Seamount Chain to the South Rennell Trough, ∼200 km further north than previously sampled. Radiometric dating of these new samples at 27–28 Ma, together with previously published results from the southern part of the chain, indicate straightforward northward motion of the Australian plate over a quasi-stationary hotspot as predicted by Indo-Atlantic and Pacific hotspot models. A peak in Lord Howe Seamount Chain magmatism in late Oligocene time, also seen in the Tasmantid and Cosgrove trails, matches a 27–23 Ma slowdown of Australian plate motion. The average magma flux of the Lord Howe hotspot is estimated at 0.4 m3 s−1, similar to rates of crustal production at the South Rennell Trough prior to cessation of spreading in middle Oligocene time, supporting a potential genetic relationship to this spreading system. In addition, plate tectonic modelling suggests that the seamounts and plateaus in the Coral Sea may host the earliest evidence of plume activity in the area.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Maria Seton, Email:


Hide All
Adam, C, Vidal, V and Escartín, J (2007) 80-Myr history of buoyancy and volcanic fluxes along the trails of the Walvis and St. Helena hotspots (South Atlantic). Earth and Planetary Science Letters 261, 432–42.
Bird, P (2003) An updated digital model of plate boundaries. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 4, doi: 10.1029/2001GC000252.
Bryan, SE and Ernst, RE (2008) Revised definition of large igneous provinces (LIPs). Earth-Science Reviews 86, 175202.
Coffin, MF, Duncan, RA, Eldholm, O, Fitton, JG, Frey, FA, Larsen, HC, Mahoney, JJ, Saunders, AD, Schlich, R and Wallace, PJ (2006) Large igneous provinces and scientific ocean drilling: status quo and a look ahead. Oceanography 19, 150–60.
Coffin, MF, Pringle, M, Duncan, R, Gladczenko, T, Storey, M, Müller, R and Gahagan, L (2002) Kerguelen hotspot magma output since 130 Ma. Journal of Petrology 43, 1121–37.
Cohen, B, Knesel, K, Vasconcelos, P and Schellart, WP (2013) Tracking the Australian plate motion through the Cenozoic: constraints from 40Ar/39Ar geochronology. Tectonics 32, 1371–83.
Cohen, B, Vasconcelos, P and Knesel, K (2007) 40Ar/39Ar constraints on the timing of Oligocene intraplate volcanism in southeast Queensland. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 54, 105–25.
Cooper, PA and Taylor, B (1985) Polarity reversal in the Solomon Islands arc. Nature 314, 428.
Cowley, S, Mann, P and Gahagan, L (1998) Tectonic history of the northern Louisiade Plateau based on deep penetration seismic reflection lines. Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 79, 870.
Crossingham, TJ, Vasconcelos, PM, Cunningham, T and Knesel, KM (2017) 40Ar/39Ar geochronology and volume estimates of the Tasmantid Seamounts: support for a change in the motion of the Australian plate. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 343, 95108.
Cundari, A (1989) East Australian leucitite suite. In Intraplate Volcanism in Eastern Australia and New Zealand (ed. Johnson, RW), pp. 131–2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Davies, D, Rawlinson, N, Iaffaldano, G and Campbell, I (2015) Lithospheric controls on magma composition along Earth’s longest continental hotspot track. Nature 525, 511–14.
Doubrovine, PV, Steinberger, B and Torsvik, TH (2012) Absolute plate motions in a reference frame defined by moving hot spots in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 117, doi: 10.1029/2011JB009072.
Exon, N, Bernardel, G, Brown, J, Cortese, A, Findlay, C, Hoffmann, K, Howe, R and Quilty, P (2006a) The geology of the Mellish Rise region off northeast Australia: a key piece in a tectonic puzzle – Southern Surveyor Cruise SS02/2005 (Geoscience Australia Survey 274). Canberra: Geoscience Australia Record, 2006/08.
Exon, N, Hill, P, Lafoy, Y, Burch, G, Post, A, Heine, C, Quilty, P, Howe, R and Taylor, L (2005) The Geology of the Kenn Plateau off Northeast Australia: Results of Southern Surveyor Cruise SS5/2004 (Geoscience Australia Cruise 270). Canberra: Geoscience Australia Record, 2005/04.
Exon, N, Hill, P, Lafoy, Y, Heine, C and Bernardel, G (2006b) Kenn Plateau off northeast Australia: a continental fragment in the southwest Pacific jigsaw. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 53, 541–64.
Feary, DA, Champion, DC, Bultitude, RJ and Davies, PJ (1993) Igneous and metasedimentary basement lithofacies of the Queensland Plateau (Sites 824 and 825). In Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results, vol. 133 (eds McKenzie, JA and Davies, PJ), pp. 535–40. College Station, Texas.
Fichtner, A, Kennett, BL, Igel, H and Bunge, H-P (2010) Full waveform tomography for radially anisotropic structure: new insights into present and past states of the Australasian upper mantle. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 290, 270–80.
Finn, CA, Müller, RD and Panter, KS (2005) A Cenozoic diffuse alkaline magmatic province (DAMP) in the southwest Pacific without rift or plume origin. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 6, doi: 10.1029/2004GC000723.
Gaina, C, Müller, DR, Royer, JY, Stock, J, Hardebeck, J and Symonds, P (1998) The tectonic history of the Tasman Sea: a puzzle with 13 pieces. Journal of Geophysical Research 103, 12413–33.
Gaina, C, Müller, RD, Royer, JY and Symonds, P (1999) Evolution of the Louisiade triple junction. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 104, 12927–39.
Harris, P, Heap, A, Passlow, V, Sbaffi, L, Fellows, M, Porter-Smith, R, Buchanan, C and Daniell, J (2003) Geomorphic Features of the Continental Margin of Australia. Canberra: Geoscience Australia.
Hoffmann, K, Exon, N, Quilty, P and Findlay, C (2008) Mellish Rise and adjacent deep water plateaus off northeast Australia: new evidence for continental basement from Cenozoic micropalaeontology and sedimentary geology. In Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) Eastern Australian Basins Symposium III, 14–17 September, Sydney, Australia (ed. Wickins, B), pp. 317–23.
Johnson, RW, Knutson, J and Taylor, SR (1989) Intraplate Volcanism: In Eastern Australia and New Zealand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones, I and Verdel, C (2015) Basalt distribution and volume estimates of Cenozoic volcanism in the Bowen Basin region of eastern Australia: implications for a waning mantle plume. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 62, 255–63.
Kalnins, L, Cohen, B, Fitton, J, Mark, D, Richards, F and Barfod, D (2015) The East Australian, Tasmantid, and Lord Howe Volcanic Chains: possible mechanisms behind a trio of hotspot trails. In American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2015, Abstract, DI41A-2591.
King, SD and Adam, C (2014) Hotspot swells revisited. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 235, 6683.
Knesel, KM, Cohen, BE, Vasconcelos, PM and Thiede, DS (2008) Rapid change in drift of the Australian plate records collision with Ontong Java plateau. Nature 454, 754.
Koppers, AA, Gowen, MD, Colwell, LE, Gee, JS, Lonsdale, PF, Mahoney, JJ and Duncan, RA (2011) New 40Ar/39Ar age progression for the Louisville hot spot trail and implications for inter-hot spot motion. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 12, doi: 10.1029/2011GC003804.
McDougall, I and Duncan, RA (1988) Age progressive volcanism in the Tasmantid Seamounts. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 89, 207–20.
McDougall, I, Embleton, B and Stone, D (1981) Origin and evolution of Lord Howe Island, southwest Pacific Ocean. Journal of the Geological Society of Australia 28, 155–76.
Missègue, F and Collot, J-Y (1987) Etude géophysique du Plateau des Chesterfield (Pacifique sud-ouest): résultats préliminaires de la campagne ZOE200 du N/O Coriolis. Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences, Serie 2 304, 279–83.
Mjelde, R and Faleide, J (2009) Variation of Icelandic and Hawaiian magmatism: evidence for co-pulsation of mantle plumes? Marine Geophysical Researches 30, 6172.
Mjelde, R, Wessel, P and Müller, RD (2010) Global pulsations of intraplate magmatism through the Cenozoic. Lithosphere 2, 361–76.
Montelli, R, Nolet, G, Dahlen, F, Masters, G, Engdahl, ER and Hung, S-H (2004) Finite-frequency tomography reveals a variety of plumes in the mantle. Science 303, 338–43.
Morgan, WJ (1971) Convection plumes in the lower mantle. Nature 230, 42.
Mortimer, N, Campbell, HJ, Tulloch, AJ, King, PR, Stagpoole, VM, Wood, RA, Rattenbury, MS, Sutherland, R, Adams, CJ, Collot, J andSeton, M (2017) Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent. GSA Today 27, 2735.
Mortimer, N, Gans, P, Meffre, S, Martin, CE, Seton, M, Williams, S, Turnbull, RE, Quilty, PG, Micklethwaite, S, Timm, C, Sutherland, R, Bache, F, Collot, J, Maurizot, P and Rouillard, P (2018) Regional volcanism of northern Zealandia: post-Gondwana break-up magmatism on an extended, submerged continent. In Large Igneous Provinces from Gondwana and Adjacent Regions (eds Sensarma, S and Storey, BC), pp. 199226. Geological Society of London, Special Publication no. 463.
Mortimer, N, Gans, PB, Palin, JM, Herzer, RH, Pelletier, B and Monzier, M (2014) Eocene and Oligocene basins and ridges of the Coral Sea-New Caledonia region: tectonic link between Melanesia, Fiji, and Zealandia. Tectonics 33, 1386–407.
Mortimer, N, Hauff, F and Calvert, A (2008) Continuation of the New England Orogen, Australia, beneath the Queensland Plateau and Lord Howe Rise. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 55, 195209.
Müller, RD, Royer, J-Y and Lawver, LA (1993) Revised plate motions relative to the hotspots from combined Atlantic and Indian Ocean hotspot tracks. Geology 21, 275–8.
Müller, RD, Seton, M, Zahirovic, S, Williams, SE, Matthews, KJ, Wright, NM, Shephard, GE, Maloney, KT, Barnett-Moore, N and Hosseinpour, M (2016) Ocean basin evolution and global-scale plate reorganization events since Pangea breakup. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 44, 107–38.
Norvick, M, Langford, R, Hashimoto, T, Rollet, N, Higgins, K and Morse, M (2008) New insights into the evolution of the Lord Howe Rise (Capel and Faust basins), offshore eastern Australia, from terrane and geophysical data analysis. In Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) Eastern Australasian Basins Symposium III: Energy Security for the 21st Century (eds Blevin, JE, Bradshaw, BE and Uruski, C), pp. 291310.
O’Neill, C, Müller, D and Steinberger, B (2005) On the uncertainties in hot spot reconstructions and the significance of moving hot spot reference frames. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 6, doi: 10.1029/2004GC000784.
Quilty, PG (1993) Tasmantid and Lord Howe seamounts: biostratigraphy and palaeoceanographic significance. Alcheringa 17, 2753.
Récy, J, Dubois, J, Daniel, J, Dupont, J and Launay, J (1977) Fossil subduction zones: examples in the South West Pacific. In International Symposium, Geodynamics in South-West Pacific, Noumea, 1976, pp. 345–55. Paris: Editions Technip.
Sandwell, DT and Smith, WH (2009) Global marine gravity from retracked Geosat and ERS-1 altimetry: ridge segmentation versus spreading rate. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 114, doi: 10.1029/2008JB006008.
Seton, M, Mortimer, N, Williams, S, Quilty, P, Gans, P, Meffre, S, Micklethwaite, S, Zahirovic, S, Moore, J and Matthews, KJ (2016) Melanesian back-arc basin and arc development: constraints from the eastern Coral Sea. Gondwana Research 39, 7795.
Seton, M, Williams, S, Mortimer, N, Meffre, S and Micklethwaite, S (2017) Voyage report for SS2012V06 Eastern Coral Sea Tectonics (ECOSAT), R/V Southern Surveyor, October–November 2012. GNS Science Report 2016/49. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: GNS Science, 51 pp.
Smith, WH and Sandwell, DT (1997) Global sea floor topography from satellite altimetry and ship depth soundings. Science 277, 1956–62.
Spice, HE Fitton, JG and Kirstein, LA (2016) Temperature fluctuation of the Iceland mantle plume through time. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 17, 243–54.
Sreejith, K and Krishna, K (2015) Magma production rate along the Ninetyeast Ridge and its relationship to Indian plate motion and Kerguelen hot spot activity. Geophysical Research Letters 42, 1105–12.
Steinberger, B, Sutherland, R and O’Connell, RJ (2004) Prediction of Emperor-Hawaii seamount locations from a revised model of global plate motion and mantle flow. Nature 430, 167.
Sutherland, F (1983) Timing, trace and origin of basaltic migration in eastern Australia. Nature 305, 123–6.
Sutherland, FL, Graham, IT, Meffre, S, Zwingmann, H and Pogson, RE (2012) Passive-margin prolonged volcanism, East Australian Plate: outbursts, progressions, plate controls and suggested causes. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 59, 9831005.
Terrill, A (1975) Part 1. East Australian margin and the western marginal basins: depositional and tectonic patterns in the northern Lord Howe Rise-Mellish rise area. Exploration Geophysics 6, 37–9.
Timm, C, Hoernle, K, Werner, R, Hauff, F, van den Bogaard, P, White, J, Mortimer, N and Garbe-Schönberg, D (2010) Temporal and geochemical evolution of the Cenozoic intraplate volcanism of Zealandia. Earth-Science Reviews 98, 3864.
Tulloch, A, Ramezani, J, Mortimer, N, Mortensen, J, van den Bogaard, P and Maas, R (2009) Cretaceous felsic volcanism in New Zealand and Lord Howe Rise (Zealandia) as a precursor to final Gondwana break-up. In Extending a Continent: Architecture, Rheology and Heat Budget (eds Ring, U and Wernicke, B), pp. 89118. Geological Society of London, Special Publication no. 321.
Vasconcelos, PM, Knesel, KM, Cohen, B and Heim, J (2008) Geochronology of the Australian Cenozoic: a history of tectonic and igneous activity, weathering, erosion, and sedimentation. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 55, 865914.
Vidal, V and Bonneville, A (2004) Variations of the Hawaiian hot spot activity revealed by variations in the magma production rate. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 109, doi: 10.1029/2003JB002559.
Wellman, P and McDougall, I (1974) Cainozoic igneous activity in eastern Australia. Tectonophysics 23, 4965.
Wessel, P (2016) Regional-residual separation of bathymetry and revised estimates of Hawaii plume flux. Geophysical Journal International 204, 932–47.
Wessel, P and Kroenke, LW (2008) Pacific absolute plate motion since 145 Ma: an assessment of the fixed hot spot hypothesis. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 113, doi: 10.1029/2007JB005499.
Wessel, P, Smith, WH, Scharroo, R, Luis, J and Wobbe, F (2013) Generic mapping tools: improved version released. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 94, 409–10.
White, RS (1993) Melt production rates in mantle plumes. Philosophical Transactions: Physical Sciences and Engineering, 342, 137–53.
Whittaker, J, Afonso, J, Masterton, S, Müller, R, Wessel, P, Williams, S and Seton, M (2015) Long-term interaction between mid-ocean ridges and mantle plumes. Nature Geoscience 8, 479.
Willcox, J, Symonds, P, Hinz, K and Bennett, D (1980) Lord Howe Rise, Tasman Sea—preliminary geophysical results and petroleum prospects. BMR Journal of Australian Geology Geophysics 5, 225–36.
Williams, S, Flament, N, Müller, RD and Butterworth, N (2015) Absolute plate motions since 130 Ma constrained by subduction zone kinematics. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 418, 6677.
Wilson, JT (1973) Mantle plumes and plate motions. Tectonophysics 19, 149–64.
Zahirovic, S, Matthews, KJ, Flament, N, Müller, RD, Hill, KC, Seton, M and Gurnis, M (2016) Tectonic evolution and deep mantle structure of the eastern Tethys since the latest Jurassic. Earth-Science Reviews 162, 293337.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Magma production along the Lord Howe Seamount Chain, northern Zealandia

  • Maria Seton (a1), Simon Williams (a1), Nick Mortimer (a2), Sebastien Meffre (a3), Steven Micklethwaite (a4) and Sabin Zahirovic (a1)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.