Special Locations in the Plate Mosaic

Special Locations in the Plate Mosaic 

Triple Junctions 

Examples of triple junction. The triple junction are marked by dots.
Geologists refer to a place where three plate boundaries intersect as a triple junction, and name them after the types of boundaries that intersect. For example, the triple junction formed where the Southwest Indian Ocean Ridge intersects two arms of the Mid–Indian Ocean Ridge (this is the triple junction of the African, Antarctic, and Australian Plates) is a ridge-ridge-ridge triple junction (figure above a). The triple junction north of San  Francisco is a trench-transform-transform triple junction (figure above b).

Hot Spots 

 The dots represent the locations of selected hot-spot volcanoes. The red lines represent hot-spot tracks. The most recent volcano (dot) is at one end of this track. Some of these volcanoes are extinct, indicating that the mantle plume no longer exists. Some hot spots are fairly recent and do not have tracks. Dashed tracks were broken by sea-floor spreading.
Most subaerial (above sea level) volcanoes are situated in the volcanic arcs that border trenches. Volcanoes also lie along mid-ocean ridges, but ocean water hides most of them. The volcanoes of volcanic arcs and mid-ocean ridges are plate boundary volcanoes, in that they formed as a consequence of movement along the boundary. Not all volcanoes on Earth are plate-boundary volcanoes, however. Worldwide, geoscientists have identified about 100 volcanoes that exist as isolated points and are not a consequence of movement at a plate boundary. These are called hotspot volcanoes, or simply hot spots (figure above). Most hot spots are located in the interiors of plates, away from the boundaries, but a few lie along mid-ocean ridges. What causes hot-spot volcanoes? In the early 1960s, J. Tuzo Wilson noted that active hot-spot volcanoes (examples that are erupting or may erupt in the future) occur at the end of a chain of dead volcanic islands and seamounts (formerly active volcanoes that will never erupt again). This configuration is different from that of volcanic arcs along convergent plate boundaries at volcanic arcs, all of the volcanoes are active. With this image in mind, Wilson suggested that the position of the heat source causing a hotspot volcano is fixed, relative to the moving plate. In Wilson’s model, the active volcano represents the present-day location of the heat source, whereas the chain of dead volcanic islands represents locations on the plate that were once over the heat source but progressively moved off.

The deep mantle plume hypothesis for the formation of hot-spot tracks.
A few years later, researchers suggested that the heat source for hot spots is a mantle plume, a column of very hot rock rising up through the mantle to the base of the lithosphere (figure above a–d). In this model, plumes originate deep in the mantle. Rock in the plume, though solid, is soft enough to flow, and rises buoyantly because it is less dense  than surrounding cooler rock. When the hot rock of the plume reaches the base of the lithosphere, it partially melts and produces magma that seeps up through the lithosphere to the Earth’s surface. The chain of extinct volcanoes, or hot-spot track, forms when the overlying plate moves over a fixed plume. This movement slowly carries the volcano off the top of the plume, so that it becomes extinct. A new, younger volcano grows over the plume. 
The Hawaiian chain provides an example of the volcanism associated with a hot-spot track. Volcanic  eruptions occur today only on the big island of Hawaii. Other islands to the northwest are remnants of dead volcanoes, the oldest of which is Kauai. To the northwest of Kauai, still older volcanic remnants are found. About 1,750 km northwest of Midway Island, the track bends in a more northerly direction, and the volcanic remnants no longer poke above sea level; we refer to this northerly trending segment as the Emperor seamount chain. Geologists suggest that the bend is due to a change in the direction of Pacific Plate motion at about 40 Ma. 
Some hot spots lie within continents. For example, several have been active in the interior of Africa, and one now underlies Yellowstone National Park. The famous geysers (natural steam and hot-water fountains) of Yellowstone exist because hot magma, formed above the Yellowstone hot spot, lies not far below the surface of the park. While most hot spots, such as Hawaii and Yellowstone, occur in the interior of plates, away from plate boundaries, a few are positioned at points on mid-ocean ridges. The additional magma production associated with such hot spots causes a portion of the ridge to grow into a mound that can rise significantly above normal ridgeaxis depths and protrude above the sea surface. Iceland, for example, is the product of hot-spot volcanism on the axis of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Credits: Stephen Marshak (Essentials of Geology)