Intraplate volcanism during the Late Cenozoic in the Leiqiong area of southernmost China, with basaltic lava flows covering a total of more than 7000 km2, has been attributed to an underlying Hainan plume. To clarify detailed features of the Hainan plume, such as the morphology of its magmatic conduits, the depth of its magmatic pool in the upper mantle and the pattern of mantle upwelling, we determined tomographic images of the mantle down to a depth of 1100 km beneath southern China using 18,503 high-quality arrival-time data of 392 distant earthquakes recorded by a dense seismic array. Our results show a mushroom-like continuous low-velocity anomaly characterized by a columnar tail with a diameter of 200–300 km extending down to the lower mantle beneath north of the Hainan hotspot and a head spreading laterally in and around the mantle transition zone, indicating a magmatic pool in the upper mantle. Further upward, the plume head is decomposed into smaller patches, and when reaching the base of the lithosphere, a pancake-like anomaly has formed to feed the Hainan hotspot. This result challenges the classical model of a fixed thermal plume that rises vertically to the surface. Hence we propose a new layering-style model for the magmatic upwelling of the Hainan plume. Our results indicate spatial complexities and variations of mantle plumes probably due to heterogeneous compositions and thermochemical structures of the deep mantle.
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