A Seismic Tomography, Gravity, and Flexure Study of the Crust and Upper Mantle Structure Across the Hawaiian Ridge: 2. Ka'ena

R. A. Dunn, A. B. Watts, C. Xu, D. J. Shillington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Hawaiian Ridge, a classic intraplate volcanic chain in the Central Pacific Ocean, has long attracted researchers due to its origin, eruption patterns, and impact on lithospheric deformation. Thought to arise from pressure-release melting within a mantle plume, its mass-induced deformation of Earth's surface depends on load distribution and lithospheric properties, including elastic thickness (Te). To investigate these features, a marine geophysical campaign was carried out across the Hawaiian Ridge in 2018. Westward of the island of O'ahu, a seismic tomographic image, validated by gravity data, reveals a large mass of volcanic material emplaced on the oceanic crust, flanked by an apron of volcaniclastic material filling the moat created by plate flexure. The ridge adds ∼7 km of material to pre-existing ∼6-km-thick oceanic crust. A high-velocity and high-density core resides within the volcanic edifice, draped by alternating lava flows and mass wasting material. Beneath the edifice, upper mantle velocities are slightly higher than that of the surrounding mantle, and there is no evidence of extensive magmatic underplating of the crust. There is ∼3.5 km of downward deflection of the sediment-crust and crust-mantle boundaries due to flexure in response to the volcanic load. At Ka'ena Ridge, the volcanic edifice's height and cross-sectional area are no more than half as large as those determined at Hawai'i Island. Together, these studies confirm that volcanic loads to the west of Hawai'i are largely compensated by flexure. Comparisons to the Emperor Seamount Chain confirm the Hawaiian Ridge's relatively stronger lithospheric rigidity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023JB028118
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Hawaiian Ridge
  • lithospheric flexure
  • marine gravity
  • plate loading
  • seismic tomography
  • volcano structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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