Scientific debate: Mantle plumes

Brennan Jordan
University of South Dakota
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This page first made public: May 17, 2010


A structured format for a debate of the mantle plume hypothesis and alternative hypotheses with supporting materials.

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Junior and senior level geology undergraduate students & early graduate students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students will need to have taken enough coursework in geology to have some comfort exploring diverse but related topics.

How the activity is situated in the course

Activity could come late in igneous portion of igneous and metamorphic petrology course, geophysics, geodynamics, or a graduate seminar.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will gain an appreciation of the controversy surrounding the mantle plume hypotheses. In pursuing this, students will add depth to knowledge of all fields that contribute to the debate (e.g., tomography, petrology, geochemistry, geodynamics, etc.).

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The nature of science and critical evaluation of competing models.

Other skills goals for this activity

Oral presentation, writing, literature research, possible group work, and debate.

Description of the activity/assignment

After a preliminary discussion of hotspots (emphasizing the generic term melting anomalies), the mantle plume hypothesis, and alternative hypotheses, students are assigned roles for a debate on the mantle plume controversy. Students conduct an in-class debate, presenting arguments from opposite sides of the plume debate. After the debate students write a reflection paper on their perspective on the debate.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Prior to the instructor's introduction of the material students write a short in-class paper (five minutes, one paragraph) describing what they understand to be the cause of anomalous intra-plate volcanism (e.g., Hawaii). Comparison between the content of this paper and a post-exercise reflection paper will indicate knowledge gained, perspective on a significant scientific debate, and the nature of scientific debate in their discipline. Students' efforts in the debate can be evaluated by the instructor, peer-evaluation, and potentially self-evalutation.

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