Scientists Solve Mystery Of Earth’s Longest Continental Volcano Chain
There’s a gargantuan chain of volcanoes lurking beneath Australia’s surface, and scientists have long been puzzled by how these volcanoes came to be, until now.
The world’s longest known chain of continental volcanoes stretches approximately 1,243 miles across the continent from Cape Hillsboro in central Queensland to near Melbourne in central Victoria. It’s nearly three times the length of North America’s Yellowstone volcanic track.
According to a new study, published online in the journal Nature on Sept. 14, the earliest volcanoes in the chain formed 33 million years ago as the continent of Australia shifted northward over a so-called “hotspot,” which is a mantle plume fed by hot rock that slowly made its way to the Earth’s surface from about 1,864 miles underground.
Surprisingly, the hotspot sits away from tectonic plate boundaries, where most volcanoes are found.
“We are not the first to find these volcanoes. Most of them have been known about for at least 40 years,” Dr. Rhodri Davies, a researcher at Australian National University’s School of Earth Sciences and lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post in a telephone interview. “What we provide in this study is a mechanism for explaining why they are where they are … It’s the first study to explain why the volcanoes pop up where they do along this track.”
Researchers analyzed the surface geology and geochemistry of 15 volcanoes in eastern Australia to determine when volcanic activity began in the region, Live Science reported. The researchers then compared that data to previous research outlining how the tectonic plate that makes up the Australian continent has shifted over millions of years.