Volcanic Chains and Hotspot Tracks

Alan Feuerbacher

Three independent lines of evidence point to similar age sequences and absolute ages in the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount volcanic chain.

1. Radioisotope dating with the potassium-argon method shows increasing age with distance northwest of the island of Hawaii, up to 4.4 million years at Kauai, and radioisotope dating of dredgings from the Emperor Seamounts yields similar increasing age with distance from Hawaii.

2. Starting from a reconstruction of the original shapes and volumes of the islands and comparing it to the present volume, an average depth of erosion may be calculated. This average depth increases smoothly with distance from Hawaii. Plotting on a graph the radioisotope derived age versus the average depth of erosion yields a smooth curve.

3. The average age of the oceanic crust on which the Hawaiian Islands and Emperor Seamounts lie, determined by both the thermal subsidence and radioisotope dating of the crust, increases smoothly with distance from Hawaii.70

This sort of evidence, including the bend in the chain, can also be seen in two other volcanic chains, the Tuamotu Archipelago-Line Island chain, and the chain formed by the Austral, Gilbert and Marshall islands. The three chains

are approximately parallel and could all have been formed by the same motion of the Pacific plate over three fixed hot spots. In each case the most recent volcanic activity has taken place near the southeastern end of the chain, and the islands and seamounts get progressively older to the northwest.71

The almost perfect fit of volcanic chains in the Pacific Plate with a pole of rotation at 70Deg N, 101Deg W and a rate of rotation about this pole of 1 deg/[million years] for the last 10 [million years] provides strong support for the hotspot model.72

The above mentioned hotspot tracks can be seen on depth maps of the ocean floor, as well as maps showing gravitational anomalies over the ocean. See Islands,73 "The Earth's Hot Spots,"74 "The Oceanic Crust"75 and Exploring Our Living Planet.76 Landprints77 contains a clear map of the net crustal motion that produced the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount chain. That the hotspot activity continues is shown by the existence of the Loihi Seamount, an active underwater volcano thirty miles southeast of Hawaii. Its summit is 3,200 feet below the ocean surface,78 making it an undersea mountain with a summit 12,000 feet above the ocean floor.

The track of the hotspot under Yellowstone Park can be spectacularly seen on any 3-dimensional topographic map of the region, as well as maps in "Yellowstone Park as a Window on the Earth's Interior,"79 "Our Restless Planet Earth"80 and "Measuring Crustal Deformation in the American West."81 The hotspot clearly appears to have "burned" the Snake River plain through the Rocky Mountains as the North American tectonic plate drifted westward over the past 50 million years. For this to have occurred, the Rocky Mountains, up to 14,000 feet in elevation, must already have been in existence. This is further evidence that high mountains have existed far longer than the 4400 years since the Flood.

The existence of the Yellowstone hotspot illustrates many other interesting geological phenomena that bear on the Flood.

Several times in the past two million years magma.... has filled immense chambers under the [Yellowstone] plateau. The now partially crystallized and solidified magma is the source of heat of the numerous hydrothermal features in Yellowstone National Park: geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumeroles.... Over the past two million years thousands of cubic kilometers of rhyolitic magma has erupted to the surface. The average rate of magma production has been comparable to the rate at the most active volcanic regions of the earth, including Hawaii, Iceland and the mid-ocean ridges. The volcanism of Yellowstone is more episodic. Periods of voluminous eruption lasting for only a few hours, days or months are separated by quiescent intervals lasting for as much as hundreds of thousands of years.

.... most of the rhyolite was erupted not as lava flows but as particulate flows of volcanic ash and hot gas. Work [on the latest sequence] has shown that most of the rhyolite erupted in three catastrophic cycles over the past two million years....

.... The voluminous hot-ash flows were on a scale known nowhere else in recorded geological history. The ash, which flowed for tens of kilometers, welded to form hard rhyolites covering thousands of square kilometers. The massive eruptions of each cycle considerably drained the sub-surface magma chambers, causing the chambers roofs to collapse to form huge calderas: craterlike basins tens of kilometers across. In the course of these explosive eruptions fragments of glassy and crystalline volcanic material were thrown high into the atmosphere and carried for thousands of kilometers. Remnants of these materials have been found as far away as Saskatchewan, Texas and California....

The ages of the volcanic rocks created in the three cycles of volcanism were determined by [the potassium-argon method]. This dating in conjunction with geological mapping and stratigraphy suggests that the first and most voluminous cycle of volcanism began about 2.2 million years ago.... and reached its climax two million years ago with the first catastrophic ash-flow eruption. The resulting cooling unit.... has a volume of more than 2,500 cubic kilometers....

The climactic eruption of the third cycle expelled 1,000 cubic kilometers of magma.... giving rise to a caldera 45 kilometers wide and 75 kilometers long.82

See also "Giant Volcanic Calderas"83 for information on other giant eruptions like those at Yellowstone. The calderas have been found worldwide. This article says about the last Yellowstone eruption, "The camouflaging effects of vegetation and glaciation have made the traces of that eruption quite difficult to recognize today." The article also describes the Cerro Galan caldera in northwestern Argentina. It is 2.6 million years old, 34 kilometers long, 6 kilometers high, and left ash layers half a kilometer thick. Many of the ash layers are welded into a "hard, dense rock" which has been heavily eroded.

One huge eruption about ten million years ago buried a herd of extinct rhinoceroses in Nebraska,84, 85 which were found buried in a farmer's field. The rhinoceroses had not been killed instantly, but had been buried by an ash fall over a period of hours or days. This was shown by the trampling of juvenile rhinoceroses and other small animals by the larger ones.

Numerous hotspots have been found all over the earth. When the tracks they left in the oceans and on continents are mapped, they indicate the same general pattern of continental drift shown by oceanic volcanic chains and transform faults. See 'The Earth's Hot Spots', Scientific American, April, 1985, pp. 52-53 for such a map.

Another striking hotspot track that illustrates continental drift is seen in the geology of the Reunion Island hotspot, the Seychelles islands and India. The article "Volcanism at Rifts", Scientific American, July, 1989 describes the production of flood basalts that formed India's Deccan Plateau:

Sixty-six million years ago the earth rifted open on the west side of India, and huge volumes of molten rock poured onto the land. Close to two million cubic kilometers of lava were released in less than half a million years, blanketing much of west-central India in layers of basalt hundreds of meters thick. The episode may have dealt a major blow to the climatic and ecological stability of the planet, and some theories even blame it for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Yet it was far from unique; many similar cataclysms have taken place on rifting continents during the course of geologic time.

.... the largely submerged continental block that bears the Seychelles islands rifted away from western India.... This rift extruded vast amounts of magma onto the continental margins.... The melt also poured hundreds of kilometers inland, forming a vast basalt plateau called the Deccan Traps.

After the rifting the Indian subcontinent continued to drift northward on a collision course with Asia. It left the plume responsible for the volcanism far to the south, where it now lies under the volcanic island of Reunion. A trail of volcanic islands, sea mounts and ridges left on the oceanic crust that has moved across the hot spot shows that 66 million years ago it lay directly under the developing rift.

A catastrophic series of flood basalts formed the Columbia Plateau of eastern Washington and Oregon somewhere between 13 and 17 million years ago. That this was a series occurring over a long period of time, and not a single event, is clear. Landprints86 says

Between the periods of eruption there was time for grasslands to reestablish themselves and again become inhabited by horses, camels, rhinoceroses, mastodons, and other creatures.

.... Remnants of a forest were preserved at Ginkgo Petrified Forest.... in central Washington.

A rhinoceros fossil was found in 1935 in the basalts of Grand Coulee in Washington, and described by a Professor Beck. It is known locally as the Blue Lake Rhino and is a favorite summer hiking goal. How to Deep-Freeze a Mammoth87 describes the events.

The original discovery was made by a party of hikers. In the basalts which crop out along Jasper Canyon, they observed a number of small caves, and amused themselves with investigating them further. In one of the caves they found some bone fragments, which were eventually turned over to Dr. Beck and which the paleontologist Chester Stock identified as belonging to an extinct rhinoceros. Dr. [D. E.] Savage later identified it as the genus Diceratherium, which lived in North America during the Miocene epoch, some 20 million years ago.

Beck and one of his assistants visited the cave and found it to be small, elongated, and of a very odd shape. On the right there were two pairs of short, pipelike extensions, one pair being located at the very entrance of the cave.... while the other pair was located further inside the cave. Beyond that pair, the cave narrowed, then widened again, and ended.

The two scientists must have been thrilled to realize that they were in fact poking their heads into a 20-million-year old rhinoceros, through its left hind leg. This seemed to be the only rational explanation. Apparently, the flowing lava had engulfed the carcass of the rhinoceros, and when the lava cooled and the carcass decayed, the mold and the bones within it were preserved in about the same way as the famous molds in volcanic ash preserved at Pompeii. The mold had then remained buried for millions of years, until the river finally cut its way into the ancient lava flow.... exposing the cave.

.... It turns out that the lava had been flowing out into a lake, where it formed pillow lava -- large, plastic lumps with a tough and cooled surface but with a liquid, burning hot interior. These pillows were packed around the carcass of the rhino, which had been floating in the lake, and so have preserved the shape of its exterior....

Casts of the rhino have been made from the basalt mold; one of them is on exhibit in the Burke Museum of the University of Washington in Seattle. It seems to record faithfully the shape of the body of the extinct rhino. The head is especially rhino-like.... The head has been pulled up in a typical rigor mortis position....

The animal was lying on its left side, and its body is very bloated, which suggests that it had died some time prior to its being embedded in the basalt. Perhaps it died from the heat and the gas that was given off by the eruptions. The final reconstruction thus shows a much slimmer animal, not unlike a modern rhino.... It confirms in all essentials the image that had been formed earlier of this animal, on the basis of fossil skeletons.

The Deccan and Columbia flood basalts could not have formed during or after the Flood -- there is simply not enough time for the sequence of events to occur. The Columbia basalts are composed of several hundred individual flows, forming a plateau averaging half a mile thick. The flows buried the roots of already existing mountain ranges, leaving the tops of the mountains exposed. The highest in Oregon, the Wallowas, are about ten thousand feet. They are eroded remnants of ancient sea sediments. The Wallowa mountains first had to form and erode, then several hundred lava flows had to fill the canyons to a half-mile depth, with some of the flows cooling down enough for soil to form in the time between flows -- enough to support a population of animals, some of which became trapped in subsequent lava flows. Then the Snake and Columbia Rivers later had to cut completely through the flows that had entered their valleys. Finally the Bonneville and Missoula floods (see the following sections on ice ages) had to come through and deposit giant gravel bars in the Snake River Canyon and Columbia Gorge. To claim all this happened in the 4400 years since the Flood is stretching credulity.

The only alternative is that the Flood waters must have been deep enough to cover the Wallowas, over ten thousand feet. But there is not enough water on earth today for that.


70 H. W. Menard, Islands, pp. 118-127, Scientific American Books, Inc., New York, 1986.

71 Gregory E. Vink, et al, op cit, p. 52.

72 Kent C. Condie, op cit, p. 169.

73 H. W. Menard, op cit, p. 44.

74 Gregory E. Vink, et al, op cit, p. 50.

75 Jean Francheteau, Scientific American, pp. 116-117, New York, September, 1983.

76 Robert D. Ballard, op cit, p. 166.

77 Walter Sullivan, Landprints, p. 53, Times Books, New York, NY, 1984.

78 ibid, p. 178.

79 Robert B. Smith and Robert L. Christiansen, Scientific American, p. 116, New York, February, 1980.

80 National Geographic Magazine, Washington, D.C., August, 1985.

81 Thomas H. Jordan and J. Bernard Minster, Scientific American, p. 49, New York, August, 1988.

82 ibid, pp. 104-106.

83 Peter Francis, Scientific American, New York, June, 1983.

84 Norman D. Newell, op cit, p. 78.

85 Antony Sutcliffe, op cit, p. 43.

86 Walter Sullivan, op cit, p. 152.

87 Bjorn Kurten, op cit, pp. 42-48.