World's Longest Volcano Chain is Located Across the Continent of Australia

First Posted: Sep 14, 2015 04:49 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered the world's longest known chain of continental volcanoes. The volcanoes themselves run 2,000 kilometers across Australia from the Whitsundays in North Queensland to near Melbourne in central Victoria.

The volcanic chain was actually created over the past 33 million years. During this time period, Australia moved northwards over a hotspot in Earth's mantle.

"We realized that the same hotspot had caused volcanoes in the Whitsundays and the central Victoria region, and also some rare features in New South Wales, roughly halfway between them," said Rhodri Davies, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The track is nearly three times the length of the famous Yellowstone hotspot track on the North American continent."

This large amount of volcanic activity is somewhat surprising. This is because it occurs away from tectonic plate boundaries, where most volcanoes are found. These hotspots are thought to form above mantle plumes, which are narrow upwellings of hot rock that originate at Earth's core-mantle boundary almost 3,000 kilometers below the surface.

In this case, the researchers found that the plume created volcanic activity only where Earth's solid outer layer, called the lithosphere, is thinner than 130 kilometers.

"Now that we know there is a direct relationship between the volume and chemical composition of magma and the thickness of the continent, we can go back and interpret the geological record better," said Ian Campbell, one of the researchers.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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