The Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain stretches from Russia to the Hawaiian islands. When I look at them on a map, it seems that the oldest seamounts by Russia are shorter and smaller than the newer seamounts/islands, and even in the most recent additions (the Hawaiian islands) there seems to be a gradient in size, with the older islands being the smallest and the newest island by far the largest and with the tallest volcanoes.

Is this gradient in size due to erosion? Were the seamounts at one point islands? Or is there something related to the volcanic activity and plate motion itself that is producing larger volcanoes more recently?

  • $\begingroup$ >>> As seamounts age they cool, making them denser. <<< That's not true. The temperature of a slab on its top and on its bottom remains the same. So the average temperature of the slab remains the same. It gets thicker, not denser with time. That's the kind of religion - everyone knows the thing, but nobody's got enough guts to stand up and say it loudly. (posting as answer, got no option to comment) $\endgroup$
    – Sergey S.
    Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 14:00

1 Answer 1


As it was explained to me at university there are two factors; buoyancy and erosion.

Rock buoyancy is a major factor, fresh Basalt is hot and dry and has a much lower density than older oceanic crust. This is why the mid-Atlantic ridge rises above the surrounding seabed.

The effect is even more pronounced with seamounts because they're composed of even hotter rock that takes much longer to cool and wet. As seamounts age they cool, making them denser. As they cool, they absorb water, making them still denser. Where that water interacts with the still cooling rock, secondary mineralisation occurs, which fills gas pockets and other voids, making the rock denser again.

All of this results in the seamount sinking farther into the crust which reduces it's height above sea-level over, relatively short, geological time.

At the same time the mounts are sinking they're also being weathered from above. This shortens them, and also disguises the depression in the seabed from the sinking mountain with debris from above, since erosion generally slows as the mounts sink deeper. Also, as they move north out of tropical waters and coral growth stops, they stop growing at all.

The newer mounts are taller only because they're younger, hotter, and drier, they'll sink and shrink as they age.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any evidence regarding whether the surface movement speed has changed over the life of the chain? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @SoronelHaetir Not that I can think of off the top of my head, the directional change is obvious on bathymetric maps of the chain but as far as I can remember the rate of crustal movement has been fairly uniform for the recorded history of the Pacific basin. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 19:33

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