Do underwater volcanoes have an effect on ENSO?

I found this post interesting, especially after looking at some of the images that show what appears to be a tight hot spot upwelling off the coast of Costa Rica. But I simply can’t see enough energy in this venting to account for the massive energies dissipating in ENSO events. But, let’s give it a shakedown. I welcome comments from readers on this topic. – Anthony

Argo Data Confirms El Niño/El Niña Caused By Underwater Volcanoes

Guest post by AJ Strata of The Strata-Sphere

Last week I postulated that the El Niño/El Niña effect was not due to solar or atmospheric conditions, but actually caused by underwater volcanic activity along ocean ridges off the West coast of South America. To see whether my theory held water I decided to look into the Argo Float data to see if there it was showing a warm upwelling of water in this region. I apparently was correct.

My initial assessment was that the frigid Humboldt Current that comes north from the Antarctic region along the west coast of South America (the mirror image of the current that drops down from the Arctic along the west coast of North America) could not be warmed so drastically in such a short time by sun and air alone. This is due to the physics of ocean currents and the massive amount of heat required to warm tons of cold water moving northward per second:

Gyres are caused by the Coriolis Effect; planetary vorticity along with horizontal and vertical friction, which determine the circulation patterns from the wind curl (torque).[1] The term gyre can be used to refer to any type of vortex in the air or the sea, even one that is man-made, but it is most commonly used in oceanography to refer to the major ocean systems.

The “South Pacific Gyre” is the Earth’s biggest system of rotating ocean currents, bounded by equator to the north, Australia to the west, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to the south, and South America to the east.

As can be seen in the graph above (click to enlarge), the Humboldt Current is one of the largest on the planet. It is infeasible that El Niño can arise from atmosphere and sun alone by warming this mass of water. Neither air temp or solar radiance change enough to cause this phenomena.

At this site you can watch animation of nearly 5 years of Argo data on the tropical region of the Pacific Ocean. It is fascinating and proves my earlier conclusion that the warm waters of El Niño arise from the eastern pacific and travel west – not the reverse as is the current (now defunct) theory. You need to set the start date on the left to the earliest date in 2007 and the end date to the latest in 2012.

I suggest you first watch the surface animation, then go the the 100m data. What you will see in the 100m is hot water upwelling off the coast of Costa Rica (which was not in the zone I originally predicted the upwelling would occur BTW). I have taken a few snaps of the data from Oct 2008 to Feb 2009 at 4 week interval to highlight what I discovered.

On this first image (click to enlarge) we see the very beginnings of the upwelling off the coast of Central America (area highlighted by red rectangle with a small blue dot). As time progresses the upwelling grows, moves west and another upwelling appears. The images are from 10_22_2008, 11_26_2008, 12_24_2008, 1_21_2009 and 2_25_2009.

Now some may ask why didn’t Argos detect the upwelling deeper (1000m)? The answer is in fluid dynamics. The hot spot is very narrow above whatever thermal vents are the source of this warming. The Argo floats are not very dense in this region. So the warm column of water upwelling has to spread out as it rises, making it more likely to be detected by the Argos floats. By the time it hits the surface the warm water really spreads out over top of the cooler layers below.

As this March 2009 surface image shows there are two upwellings in the area, but the one off Costa Rica is missed at the lower depths (again likely due to the density of sensors being so low in this area). And there appears to be a 3rd upwelling off the coast of Peru.

The activity of Nicaragua and Costa Rica is right along the Cocos Plate.

The Peruvian region I highlighted in the previous post and is linked to the Pacific Rise. Higher volcanic activity in these areas clearly cause more warm water to rise and heat the surface, creating the conditions for El Niño. Lower activity allows the cooler currents to dominate, bringing on El Niña.


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… and since climate affects volcanoes …


El Niño/La Niña, please…

Surfer Dave

The SMU has the a good online reference for the geothermal flux and really it says that we know very little about it. Hot spots in the USA have up to 15Wm-2, so it seems almost obvious that there must be vast hot spots on the ocean. The other aspect of the SMU studies and papers is that the variation of the flux over time has also not been quantified, we have no idea how much it varies over any time scale.

Just The Facts Please

I think it’s pretty well established that changes in the trade winds are what cause the ENSO. Winds can push a lot of water from one place to another but more importantly those winds can evaporate, or not, a lot of water and evaporation is extraordinarily powerful at removing heat and when they’re not blowing at allowing heat to build up in the surface layer and not mix downwards.
Internal heat from the planet leaking through volcanoes isn’t enough, directly, to cause ENSO. Plus one would have to come up with something rather fast and cyclical to inject, or not, enough hot water. Volcanoes aren’t known for fast cyclical behavior. Individually they are slowly repeating over centuries and millienia but not rapidly repeating over years and decades. Plus a whole line of them tends to be not cyclical at all but rather collectively constant. I think Anthony’s instincts there are well founded. But that’s not to say it couldn’t indirectly be doing it. A major volcanic eruption on the surface can certainly alter the climate for years indirectly through stratospheric particulates from the eruption blocking sunlight. You should probably look for some indirect method where the upwelling warm water has an effect on the trade winds which in turn drives the ENSO. The fast cyclical nature is still what bothers me because that’s just not typical of volcanic activity.

Michael Schaefer

I mean, vast quantities of thermally heated, super-hot water at up to 400 degrees Centigrade belching out of long chains of submarine black smokers HAVE to have at least SOME effect on the ocean currents above.
May be worth a closer look, IMHO.

John Marshall

The plate boundary off the west coast of central America is a subduction zone so there are no volcanoes along it but on land as the last graphic shows. There are ridges, with attendant volcanic activity, further out but along the western edge of the Cocos plate which is some way from your upwelling.
The volcanic activity above the subducted plate is around 150Km from the subduction boundary but does depend on the subduction angle. The steeper the subduction the closer the volcanic activity, the shallower the further away as is evident in Chile where there is a long swathe of subduction without the volcanoes.
So I am afraid I cannot shine any light on your observations.

Certainly seems more plausible than atmosphere. You could do a cheap physical model with a big shallow pan full of viscous fluid and an immersible coffee heater.

J Storrs Hall

By a hurried back-of-the-envelope, it’s not totally ridiculous. Volcanoes can pack 1e19J in an event. That is enough energy to heat the 20-meter mixed layer 2.5C (at 10J/liter) (the difference between green and red on those maps above) for 50 million square kilometers of ocean.


Not sure I see it. Volcanoes can be active all the time, some of the time, very little of the time… some can be dormant for centuries, then have huge eruptions for months or years. It seems to me that there would be hotter spots/spikes, in the regions where volcanoes are grouped together. Of course, I am writing this on the fly- I’ve got a barn full of animals to deal with in a few minutes- and I haven’t had time to go over it all properly.


Well these hotspots are pretty real and their volcanic origin seems pretty likely but I don’t believe they are the only thing behind El Nino/La Nina. They may cause a temperature inversion to break up, acting as the trigger event, but the inversion must be there first and that’s much more energy than what’s in these tiny hotspots.
However – we all know Earth is hot inside. The deeper you go in mines, the higher the temperature is. How comes ocean bottoms are so cool? The only explanation is – it’s because the cool water there was originally cooled down in polar areas. And I believe the whole ocean bottom is one extraordinary warming plate, warming the deepest waters by tiny amounts but with a lot of energy involved due to the large area. This, and dynamic effects (such as temperature inversions) related to it may be the major cause of El Nino/La Nina.

Rhys Jaggar

Very interesting hypothesis.
One thing to think about: Piers Corbyn has been saying (and is now making predictions based on it) that CMEs which hit earth’s atmosphere have effect on earthquakes (perhaps he should look for similar links to volcanoes?), which may mean that the link between solar factors and ENSO modulations is possible, albeit through an amplifying mechanism using the earth’s magnetosphere, inner core and thermal venting.
Interesting to see how the science pans out………


I think it`s pretty obivous from those temperature maps that at the Central American end, some of the warming starts from Volcanic events. But like many people have said, that cant be enough to warm the whole south pacific (it certainly CAN’T). So obviously there is something else that causes an amplicification/feedback that increases these power of these hotspots – the Trade Winds ? the Humboldt Current ? Solar ? Maybe these 3 hotspots (and it`s probably many more), cause a local upwelling current that interferes with the Thermohaline and Halothermal circulation

wayne Job

Perhaps a full look into the ocean depths at these so called smokers will show up more as a crack in the earths crust. The smoker parts as the most obvious, the crack maybe hundreds of miles long and some miles wide, The surface being in constant quench and heating billions of tons of water. The smokers may be the smoking gun.
Volcanoes and earth tremors are triggered by the machinations of the sun, thus this heat source may be cyclical as also is the sun.
{ this is the missing heat Trenbeth forcast, maybe ,perhaps tho’ it does not help his CO2 cause much}
The sun varies not just the heat of our atmosphere but stirs also the bowels of the Earth.


Is there a philanthropist who willing to support an expedition with a task to measure the thermal gradient between the ocean floor (sediment) and the ocean (water) at 1-5-10 and 100m from the bottom.
Just 0.1 deg K / big surface-area / long time, thermal difference enough in the long run to modify currents. May be not need to have small/hot spot. Just a “Yellowstone” under the sea!!
Perhaps a mathematically skilled can do a “backward” calculation: what kind of “heat-flow” need to influence “x” degree of temp on the top and “y” m/s speed of current change.
But, perhaps the ocean currents/conveyor-belts is “locked” with gravity/solar-system/spin instead of thermal flux/temp-gradient.

John Marshall

The ocean bed is cooler the further away from the constructive ridge you go. Sea water temperature at the floor is between 2-0C so cools the sea bed. As the subduction zone is approached the water depth increases due to the cooling of the ocean crust from the 1200C erupted to that of the cold subducted crust. Depths are 2,5Km at the ridge to 6 or more Km at the subduction zone and even deeper at the line of subduction, the deepest trench is 11Km deep. So subducting crust is cold therefore no volcanism. As the subducting crust gets deeper it warms up and when the temperature gets to 760C or so starts to melt with water acting to lower the melting point and volcanoes are formed by the rising melt, inland in the case of S America and forming ocean arcs of islands in the case of ocean crust/ocean crust subduction with Japan as the best example.
I repeat, there is no volcanic activity below the point of the ocean hot spot that is so close to Costa Rica.


Interesting idea. It’s about that which triggers the variation in the cycles, not the cycles themselves. So one has to explain the periodicity as noted above. But I would also have thought the trigger point occur at well-known hotspots like Galapagos than off of the Cocos spreading center (Barkhausen et al 2001 (JGR), Harpp et al. 2005 (j Petrology)….? I haven’t overlaid maps of known volcanoes – but then again I haven’t even had my first cup coffee. First things first.

Bill Illis

This is just an upwelling area mostly caused by the North Equatorial Counter Current (which flows to the East at 5N-10N) and its interaction with the coast, various other ocean currents and the winds which are still primarily to the west here. The coastal upwelling is composed of three different upwelling gyres, Tehuantepec, the Costa Rica Dome and the Gulf of Panama. The thermocline is right at the surface in these three upwells and they alternate between warm and cold upwelling.


Well, it makes sense that Indonesia is such a hot spot, what with the massive amount of volcanoes and vents in that part of the ring of fire, and south and central america are not it’s equal.
If it fits with the Atlantic and Indian oceans too…
oceanexplorer at noaa has bunch of info on the ring of fire. It’s sad nobody seem to know in what range the amount of submarine vents and volcanoes numbers.


Surfer Dave says:
February 15, 2012 at 2:23 am
The SMU has the a good online reference for the geothermal flux and really it says that we know very little about it. Hot spots in the USA have up to 15Wm-2, so it seems almost obvious that there must be vast hot spots on the ocean. The other aspect of the SMU studies and papers is that the variation of the flux over time has also not been quantified, we have no idea how much it varies over any time scale.
Dave, we also must consider that the mean crust thickness is close to 11 miles on land, and ONLY three miles in the oceans. Someone will comment that boreholes meausre only a very small heat flux.1 to .2 W/m2, but as far as I know this is land meausrements. In large parts of the ocean we do not know the residence time of the input from geo thermal heat, or the amount of active volcanism within the thinner crust ocean basins, We do keep finding more. Now if this heats residenced time is days, weeks years, and in some areas centuries, then a lot of heat can accualate over that time frame.
In regard to ENSO I think “Just the Facts, in his post just below yours, makes logical statements concerning this.

I want thank Anthony for the opportunity to post here and I look forward to all the insightful comments his readers will provide. It is a rare privilege to get this kind of high powered review.
As to the idea a few volcanoes (and we don’t know how many there are in this active tectonic area) cannot heat that much water and it must be air and sun, I have to note once more that I found a source in the prior post stating a current like the Humbolt pushes tons of water a second.
My recollection of heat capacity between air and water would indicate to me the air might cool before the water warmed when we’re talking that kind of mass of frigid water flowing. The number was for the similar sized Gulf current on the east coast of North America.
I would assume we are dealing with a lot of thermal vents. Some could even be more like geysers than volcanoes. We just don’t know enough about this area of the planet to make broad assumptions. Looking forward to the discussion.


@Kasuha, it’s because water at different temperatures has different density, and the densest and therefore heaviest water will go to the bottom of the ocean (if there are no other ocanic currents preventing it), and that’s water at 4C (277K), if I don’t remember wrong.


This is a topic that Robert Felix at Ice Age Now has been discussing for years. I think it would be well worth the effort to read his posts on the subject. Here’s the link:


Interesting. Ever since I first saw pillow lava formation in an undergrad geology video I’ve been impressed with the amount of heat being liberated into the oceans. Of course many people have looked into the energy balance and come to the conclusion that the geothermal contribution to the ocean’s heat is relatively minor. That’s unintuitive though. That magma at ocean spreading ridges is damn hot and it only going to cool by heating sea water. Then there is the hydrodynamics of black smokers. How much percolation of cold seawater into the seafloor takes place, being pumped out at superheated temps (what would/could that do to isotope ratios? :)?
Of course, so far as I can see, the experiments an mapping needed to REALLY answer the energy budget questions just haven’t been done (expensive and hard), and even if they were, the temporal variability would still be uncertain…
Someone in another post on another thread pointed me back to another amazing diagram I’d seen some years ago and promptly forgotten about:
Looking at that, there isn’t really that much water there so I could easily see geothermal being a substantial contribution, and variable over time too. Sure, wind moves the surface water around and that steer currents, but it would make sense if the heat from the rocks underneath that actually drive them.
Follow the money/energy and there’s a LOT in that there mantle and core. Keep asking those questions…


I have looked into this some 18 months ago and indeed there is a natural process, as yet not recognised by the science, which correlates well with the Southern Oscillation.

Lamarr Smith

ALSO, it would be interesting to do the math (I can’t do math, I’m from Texas) on underwater volcanism’s effect on the CO2 saturation of ocean water, which is such a source of despair for warmistas.

AJ Strata writes: “Last week I postulated that the El Niño/El Niña effect was not due to solar or atmospheric conditions, but actually caused by underwater volcanic activity along ocean ridges off the West coast of South America.”
But your post does not indicate that the warm water plumes you believe are caused by volcanoes have any impact on ENSO. You’re going to have to document, with data, the contribution of that small plume of warm water to the overall volume of warm water that is released from the west Pacific Warm Pool during an El Nino. You’re going to have to document the frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions and how they relate to the frequency and magnitude of ENSO events. You’ll have to discuss how that small plume of water water would weaken the trade winds in the western Pacific, which is what initiates an El Nino. I think you’ve still got your work cut out for you.
I believe there have been a number of inconclusive papers already written on this subject.


Just The Facts Please:
I take your point about the periodicity not matching volcanic behaviour – but think about pilot-induced-oscillation, or any poorly controlled feedback process, you can get very wild inputs that vastly exceed the magnitude of the impulse control (I’m not an engineer so probably have used lousy terminology). Think of a fast moving car where you go through a standing pool of water and over-steer. The steering wheel movements are small and sort of in-phase with side-to-side movement down the road. That’s akin to seasonality in ENSO. But the main direction down the highway is largely decoupled from the steering inputs. That’s your heat inputs (geothermal, atmospheric whatever). About all I do subscribe to in climate ‘science’ is there’s never one force operating in isolation. I wonder how long can you keep fishtailing before you hit an ice-age?

John Brookes

Hardly likely to be correct. Saying the sun can’t do it but volcanoes can is odd. The sun is giving ~1kW/m^2, and its very hard to imagine volcanoes competing with that amount of heat.

Dan Lee

“..go to 100 meters…” Looks impressive. Then I went to 1000 meters and there’s nothing there. ??
So, is there a massive volcano there, almost as big as Hawaii, spitting out that colossal hotspot? Or are we seeing something entirely different, e.g. a vortex or underwater topography interacting with currents? If there’s a giant volcano there that creates its own hotspots to the exclusion of all the others in that region, I didn’t find it on my quick search of underwater charts of the region.
The onshore volcanoes in that region erupt quite regularly. In Costa Rica and Guatemala there are volcanoes that spit out rocks and lava so regularly that they’ve built tourist resorts close to them so people can watch, so the idea is not completely nuts. I’m just not convinced that that’s what that hotspot is showing.


As least as far as the warm water coming off the Central American and Peruvian coasts in the last picture, it seems much, much, much more likely that this is an effect of the more efficient warming of water where it is shallower due to the presence of a nascent continental shelf in these locations. Along most of the Pacific coast of the Americas, there is little or no continental shelf and the dropoff to deep, cold water is nearly immediate. However, review of a map showing the sea floor topography shows that the locations where the warm surface water originate are some of the few locations along the Pacific coast where the continental shelf is present. There are no submarine vulcanism immediately adjacent to the coasts of either Central America or Peru which could cause the surface water warming. You can note the presence of the shelf in these areas just by looking at google maps.
The apparent “hot spots” in the 100m depth series is more interesting and I can’t say I have an explanation. However, I think it would be necessary to see a full vertical profile for this area before reaching an conclusion as a submarine volcanic origin (Again, I don’t think there is any submarine vulcanism in the vicinity). If the “hot spots” originated from submarine volcanism, we should see progressively hotter and hotter water with depth. Now there may not be good Argo vertical profile data for this area, I just don’t know. However, if there was such a large volume of hot water rising from the deep, it seems to me it would cause a fairly significant sea level anomaly in that area. Is any such anomaly present?


We have one example of an El Nino corresponding to a underwater volcano erupting. I would suggest you wait until you have at least half a dozen examples before starting the triumphant crowing.

Dodgy Geezer

Looks possible. But we need the maths. I suspect that, rather than individual volcanoes, there would be more heat transfer via water passing through cracks in the sea bed over a very large area.
The other thing we need for a hypothesis is a prediction of some kind which can be tested. Of course, if this were climate science you could ignore this last requirement….

I also want to give a word of caution:
there could be other reasons for the warming of that water.
e.g. our atmosphere is a shield. There are massive absorptions going on, all the time, O3 being the leader of the pack (20-25%), leading to re-radiation (deflection) of sunlight.
In other words: that little bit of ozone in the upper atmosphere is responsible for shielding us from 20-25% of all incoming sunlight, and note that it is the sunlight of the lowest wavelengths, i.e. the highest energy.
So, obviously, if the ozone hole (or shield) is bigger or smaller, it will affect the amount of energy being slammed into the (SH) oceans,
and in fact, a small change in the UV output of the sun (solar max/min) , could affect the manufacturing of ozone, in the upper atmosphere, which could result in more (or less) light being thundered into the (SH) oceans, as my results for the past 4 decades also clearly show:

Wot a hoot!
Imagine those froot loops from the other side positing just a few months ago the “missing (a.k.a travesty) heat must have sunk down to the abyssal depths and: et voila, thar she blows, albeit UP from the abyssal depths.
Half cocked again perhaps, or possibly even doubled as it’s real hard to imagine that any of ’em could get so silly just playing with one.
And purely coincidental too I’m sure that the concentration/solubility of the oxide of carbon in water is diminished by increasing temperature and soon released into the atmosphere
Thankee Santa, you’ve made my day.

R. Gates

“Last week I postulated that the El Niño/El Niña effect was not due to solar or atmospheric conditions, but actually caused by underwater volcanic activity along ocean ridges off the West coast of South America”
Great to see people with different ideas trying to figure things out, but the source of the warm water in El Niño periods is not really a mystery at all– and it absolutely isn’t caused by volcanoes. I suggest Mr. Strata do a whole lot more reading about topics like the SOI and the Pacific Warm Pool, etc.

Steve from Rockwood

John Marshall says:
February 15, 2012 at 3:27 am

there is no volcanic activity below the point of the ocean hot spot that is so close to Costa Rica.

John, look at this in a different way. The Argo data shows an almost point-source of heated water off the coast of Costa Rica. Given its discrete size it is hard to believe it is related to circulation currents. This leaves the source of this ocean warming undefined. Is it “possible” that yet as undiscovered volcanoes or volcanic vents could exist off the coast and away from the plate boundary? Is it possible for transverse faults to exist that intersect the main plate boundary but allow volcanic activity much further out off-shore? Can you explain the discrete warming event without invoking volcanoes and/or circulation of ocean currents (the latter it seems would not allow warm water to collect within such a small region and there seems to be net heating within the discrete zone – how do you circulate warmer water there through cooler water without it cooling substantially and in fact having the water even warmer once it reaches that discrete region)?
Very interesting post!

Steve from Rockwood

John Marshall says:
February 15, 2012 at 2:42 am
John, can you explain Bermuda? It is not an atoll or natural topographic high. It is a volcano (hopefully extinct). What is a volcano doing off the east cost of the U.S. nowhere near a plate boundary? Could such a thing be happening off the west coast of Costa Rica?

Not so far-fetched at all, given that every land mass on the planet owes its existence to the constant churning of mantle convection currents, as they move the rafts of continental crust around, smashing it against other bits and thrusting up mountains and the like. If the plates were stationary, they would eventually erode to sea level….and all this harping and carping about climate would be moot–as we would be fishes. That Argo has found one hot spot means we should look for others, as CO2-rich exhalations spew merrily away along 40,000 miles of ocean ridges…and the triple junctions of said…
This will eventually become abundantly clear that plate tectonics does everything.

William McClenney

I think one thing is for certain, what we know now is rarely what we will know later, so before discounting this hypothesis, we should take what we know and give that a vetting first. On first glance, the speed of advancing plates and the width of the accretionary prism at the subduction trench appear to control the angle of the descending oceanic slab, which is also known as the Benioff zone. The common depth for the remelting of the leading edge of the descending slab is about 150km. Above this position is the volcanic arc, which if located beneath a continental landmass commonly presents andesites, an assemblage of remelted, already differentiated oceanic crust from some spreading center somewhere in the ocean and the continental crust melted by the passage of the diapirs rising from the descending slabs remelting and therefore further differentiated again lighter components as they melt and incorporate continental crust as they rise (anatexis).
But there is another curious phenomena much debated in tectonics. What happens when a spreading center itself draws near a subduction zone and then contacts it? This phenomena is occurring at the points where the East Pacific Rise is contacting the north American coast at the Mendocino triple-junction. From there south to where the spreading center reappears in the Sea of Cortez the spreading center is lost.
A spreading center itself is thought to be merely the surface manifestation of a deep mantle upwelling process, the “conveyor belt”, with both denser mineral oceanic crust and thicker, but lighter more differentiated continental crust just the results of this long-lived process.
Below is a discussion from a paper I penned some 27 years ago regarding this “lost section” of the East Pacific Rise:
Direct subduction of the East Pacific spreading center by a westwardly migrating North American plate could be expected to generate rift type extension in the overlying continental materials. Such a setting would not likely generate a classical type of incipient rifting whereby a three armed radial rift system with a rift axis forming along two of the arms eventually opens an ocean basin; however, evidence of a rift axis may be preserved in the Basin and Range Province. Stewart et al (1977) have described a north-south oriented zone of low magnetic relief between longitude 115 and 116 degrees west, and roughly 41 to 37 degrees north latitude. This zone appears to truncate east-west oriented aeromagnetic anomalies associated with a south migrating volcanic front considered by Lipman (in Stewart et al, 1977) to be genetically related to an east-west structural warp in a subducting plate where the dip of the plate changes abruptly from steep on the north to gentle on the south beneath Nevada and Utah.
In other words, north of the structural warp, the subducting plate has passed beneath critical depth (>150 km) for magma generation, while south of the warp, the plate still lies above critical depth. The north-south “quiet” zone contains fairly abundant amounts of calc-alkalic volcanic rocks that in other areas of Nevada appear to produce high-intensity magnetic anomalies. West of the “quiet” zone, extensive east-west oriented magnetic anomalies related to calc-alkalic rocks seem to coincide with similar magnetic features associated with older calc-alkalic rocks in western Utah (Stewart et al, 1977). The “quiet” zone is very likely related to high heat flow and resulting shallow depth of the Curie temperature has destroyed magnetization of the lower parts of the igneous bodies (Stewart et al, 1977; Eaton, 1979). Stewart et al (1977) indicate that: “The quiet zone corresponds to an area where the low-velocity zone in the upper mantle is unusually thick, and such thick low-velocity layers are generally attributed to high temperature and partial melting of upwelling material in an area of crustal spreading.”
Another curious feature of the Great Basin is the presence of bilaterally symmetrical gravity anomalies about an axis between 115 and 116 degrees west longitude (Eaton, 1979), or along the axis of the “quiet” zone. The direct spatial correspondence of these geophysical features is strong evidence for the presence of a spreading axis near the middle of the Basin and Range Province. Christiansen and McKee (1978, p. 304) provide evidence of right lateral offset of basalts that lie west of, but parallel to the “quiet” zone across the en-echelon fractures of the High Lava Plains transform fault in Oregon. These basalts were erupted from elongate north-northwest trending vents and feeder systems about 17 to 14 million years ago (Christiansen and McKee, 1978). The feeder system probably once constituted the axis of extension, but is now offset and parallel, which is what one would expect in an extensional environment. The fact that these rocks are offset north of the High Lava Plains is a further indication of age. The extrusive activity of the plains postdates the north-trending volcanics associated with the spreading center, which is what one would expect of a transform fault offsetting a spreading center. Obviously, the High Lava and Snake River Plains volcanic features are far more complicated than oceanic transform faults, but the similarity is striking.
Some workers (see for example Atwater, 1970; Stewart et al, 1977; Christiansen and McKee, 1978; Barrash and Venkatakrishnan, 1982; Ingersoll, 1982) have provided alternate approaches to the problem of extensional tectonics in the Basin and Range Province. In general, the concept of a subducted spreading center beneath the Basin and Range Province is rejected by these workers in favor of development of a transform boundary with contact of the East Pacific Rise and the Trench. The age of this inferred event varies from 30 to 23 million years ago, with development of either the San Andreas Fault system, or its precursor, near the coastline between the Mendocino and Murray fracture zones (adjusted ages of Atwater, 1970). At about the same time, several triple junctions (intersections between transform faults, trenches, and spreading ridges) were formed at the intersections of the Murray and Mendocino fractures and the trench.
Documented clockwise rotation of the Pacific, Farallon, and associated plates produced migration of the Mendocino triple junction north along the California coastline (Coney, 1978; Barrash and Venkatakrishnan, 1982; Ingersoll, 1982). Continued rotation of the oceanic plates relative to the North American plate eventually produced a realignment of the spreading axes of the East Pacific Rise to a near parallel orientation with the coastline, as well as growth of the San Andreas Fault -transform boundary, by about 5 million years ago. Christiansen and McKee (1978) proposed that extension took place in the Basin and Range Province as a result of transform motion and its effect on a hot, ductile crust. Ingersoll (1982) has suggested triple-junction instability as the cause for Late-Tertiary extension. As the Mendocino triple-junction has migrated up the California coast, and the Pacific oceanic plates have rotated clockwise, transfer of material from the North American plate to the Pacific plate has occurred along the San Andreas Fault (Ingersoll, 1982). The original extensional stress field orientation was east-west, but due to Pacific plate rotation, it is now oriented approximately northwest-southeast (Ingersoll, 1982). An ensialic marginal basin origin has also been proposed by various authors (for references see Thompson and Burke, 1974, p. 234), but the Basin and Range Province is a region of broad uplift, not of subsidence as observed in ensialic marginal basins around the Pacific (Christiansen and McKee, 1978). Only in the vicinity of the Columbia Plateau does the concept of basaltic volcanism and subsidence of several million years behind an arc fit the model of an ensialic marginal basin (Christiansen and McKee, 1978).
The exact cause for Tertiary extension is not presently known. The Tertiary structural and volcanic history of the region is very complex, and not entirely supportive of any present hypothesis. Christiansen and McKee (1978) state: “The concept of an overridden East Pacific Rise, once widely popular is no longer tenable from a plate tectonics view of the role of spreading mid-oceanic ridges. The ridges are now recognized as results rather than causes of plate divergence…” Such a statement represents a surficial treatment of the spreading center concept. The spreading centers themselves are merely the surface manifestations of a deep-seated mantle upwelling that is generally of a long linear nature. Suggesting that subduction of the surface manifestation of such a process is sufficient to quell the deep-seated process can also be seen as an untenable concept. For the American, Asian, and African plates to be pressed apart by thin, non-deforming oceanic plates spreading in the central Atlantic argues for a much smaller role of the structural rigidity of these plates in tectonic processes. It would appear that the continents, as well as the oceanic plates, are riding on a sort of mantle driven and supported “conveyer belt”, which can generate the appearance of a thin oceanic plate pushing a massive continental plate without deforming the oceanic plate or the contact margin (as is the case with passive type Atlantic margins). If collision of a spreading center with a trench is sufficient cause for cessation of mantle upwelling, then obviously deep mantle processes are more profoundly affected by their surface manifestations than anyone presently suspects.
In essence, what is needed to support AJ Strata’s hypothesis is the presence of a vent in a compressive converging plate environment. This could, repeat could, be accommodated by the presence of a converging or possibly recently subducted portion of a spreading center somewhere near the trench. I do not have the time here before toddling off to work to research it. Perhaps those armed with the above and that have the time could look into where any spreading centers are located in relation to the observed origin;s of AJ Strata’s thermal anomalies.


John Marshall says:
February 15, 2012 at 3:27 am
“The ocean bed is cooler the further away from the constructive ridge you go. Sea water temperature at the floor is between 2-0C so cools the sea bed. As the subduction zone is approached the water depth increases due to the cooling of the ocean crust from the 1200C erupted to that of the cold subducted crust. Depths are 2,5Km at the ridge to 6 or more Km at the subduction zone and even deeper at the line of subduction, the deepest trench is 11Km deep. So subducting crust is cold therefore no volcanism. As the subducting crust gets deeper it warms up and when the temperature gets to 760C or so starts to melt with water acting to lower the melting point and volcanoes are formed by the rising melt, inland in the case of S America and forming ocean arcs of islands in the case of ocean crust/ocean crust subduction with Japan as the best example.
I repeat, there is no volcanic activity below the point of the ocean hot spot that is so close to Costa Rica.”

The 30°-50° F degree difference between ocean floor temperatures and surface hot water temperatures are insignificant when cold ocean crust meets earth’s internal temps. Bluntly put, the ocean floor’s temperature is not what causes subduction zone volcanos to be distant from plate boundaries.
Mantle wedges with flux melt volcanic incidences are examples of volcanoes near subduction points. Hot spots further add confusion to exactly where earth has surface internal heat exposures.
You have access to the premium version of Google’s Earth, so you may get better resolution when checking this view. When I flipped between your hot spot pic and Google’s underwater Earth on my not premium version it is a very intriguing match. There appears to be significant faulting with under sea ridges and surface mounts where you’ve identified the hot water plumes.
Looking up the West NA coastline, I see that Google also has placemarks for other underwater volcanos, (e.g. Northern EPR segment RO2, , )
Perhaps this concept has serious merit and not just volcano aerosols need to be observed and once understood – modeled (We’ve already observed the inanity of modeling without full understanding in the extant climate models).

Tom Rowan

Robert Felix has of ICE AGE NOW, has been postulating this theory for quite a while.
The enormous amount of heating needed for the temperature fluctuations of El Nino & La Nina would seem to indicate that surface air and radiant solar heating would not be enough energy.
This is why we do not heat a cold bath tub with hot air from a hair dryer, for instance.
As time goes by we are finding huge mountain range sized volcanic areas and the number of undersea volcanoes has been postulated to be in the millions. There is a Himalayan sized volcanic mountain chain in the arctic, for example.
It makes sense to me that superheated sea water welling up from volcanic activity must have some measurable affect on ocean temps, if not the main driver.


I’d suggest that geothermal heat affects the West Pacific more. Warm salty waters collect in the abyssal deep held down by the less salty continental run-off. Eventually, like a lava lamp, globs of abyssal warm water contact the West Pacific Warm Pool and El Ninos predominate. After 30 years or so the abyss is drained and La Ninas dominate while the abyssal reservoir recharges, for 30 tears on so.

Old Wolf

As some older news, there’s been knowledge of megaplumes for quite some time.
Brian Handwerk for National Geographic News December 12, 2005
Hydrothermal megaplume in the Indian ocean that covered some 43 miles (70 kilometers) in length, as well as mention of a study (not cited) that suggests a far larger volcano-ocean heat flux than previously believed, potentially in this single plume up to 100,000 megawatts.
Nature 393, 643-647 (18 June 1998) | doi:10.1038/31397; Received 20 January 1998; Accepted 14 April 1998
Not a new branch of science, not much talked about.
Well, have fun folks!

John Marshall

Crustal temperature does determine subduction. The subducting plate must be denser than that of the overriding plate. Crustal density is determined by temperature and the heavier crust is subducted.
Bermuda was formed by a mantle hot spot, like Hawaii, then modified by coral reef structures. the hot spot seems to have died out. So no more eruptions.
I repeat, at the position of hot region that seems to originate from below the surface, off the coast of Costa Rica, there is no volcanic activity because of the subduction boundary. whether there is any at triple junctions is not known but even off the coast of Peru there is no obvious volcanic activity at the junction probably because of the subduction.


I can’t imagine it would be what “causes” El Nino/La Nina in the sense that if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have El Nino/La Nina. I could imagine it could have some impact on relative frequency, however. Tho it is often PDO phases that get pointed at for that.
There is a known “ring of fire” cyclical, isn’t there? We’ve been on a upswing of that during the most recent warming period? I would think that would imply that plate boundary sub-sea volcanos are being more active as well, and, maybe, enough so during that period to have increased the incidence of El Nino. I don’t think the known PDO cyclical matches the ring of fire cyclical however, so even if there is some contribution figuring out if/how they reinforce will be more complicated than just saying “the cyclicals match –ta da!”


But, but, but….
How can the heat be coming from below if it doesn’t show up in the 1000m data?
It’s gone missing…

AJ Strata writes: “The Peruvian region I highlighted in the previous post and is linked to the Pacific Rise. Higher volcanic activity in these areas clearly cause more warm water to rise and heat the surface, creating the conditions for El Niño. Lower activity allows the cooler currents to dominate, bringing on El Niña [sic].”
The warm water for an El Nino comes from the west Pacific Warm Pool, not from the coast of Central America. There’s a very good, and very basic discussion of ENSO here:
And in my (just-published) ebook here:

Re Surfer Dave’s SMU map. Note the units: 25 milli-Watts/m^2.
Here is a link back to Jan 13 “Earth Baseline ..” for a good marine heat flow map in a

Here are two links relating to geothermal heat flow:
SMU Geothermal Lab, US heat flow maps from USGS
Univ. of N. Dakota, Int’l Heat Flow Commission with a valuable Marine data map. The vast majority of marine data points are listed as < 0.1 W/m^2. [So] 0.5 W/m2 for the ocean in general would require huge heat flow from the rifts that I don’t think is there in the data.

But, as a source of localized heating that could influence current flow, it’s an idea worth evaluating. Also keep in mind that current flow by depth can change greatly. Figure 2 in Interannual atmospheric variability forced by the deep equatorial Atlantic Ocean, Brandt-2011, Nature 473,497–500(26 May 2011). show surprisingly rapid reversals of E-W and W-E current flow in as little as 300 m of water depth.


When I became convinced that a sudden change in land surface temperatures took place in the NW Atlantic region (Iceland, Southern Greenland) in the early 1920s (1922, perhaps in September) I contacted a Norwegian Professor who was studying volcanism in the arctic, north of Siberia. (Incidentally I still believe this!). I suggested that my hypothesis of an approximately 1 deg warming in places like Nuuk and Reykjavik might be due to under-ocean heat upwelling, possibly on the plate boundary, she told me that in her work she was hoping to measure temperature changes of one hundreth of a degree due to undersea volcanoes.. Clearly her opinion was that her volcanoes could hardly contribute to real changes in ocean temperatures.