A conspicuous 60° bend of the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain in the north-western Pacific Ocean has variously been interpreted as the result of an abrupt Pacific plate motion change in the Eocene (∼47 Ma), a rapid southward drift of the Hawaiian hotspot before the formation of the bend, or a combination of these two causes. Palaeomagnetic data from the Emperor Seamounts prove ambiguous for constraining the Hawaiian hotspot drift, but mantle flow modelling suggests that the hotspot drifted 4–9° south between 80 and 47 Ma. Here we demonstrate that southward hotspot drift cannot be a sole or dominant mechanism for formation of the Hawaiian-Emperor Bend (HEB). While southward hotspot drift has resulted in more northerly positions of the Emperor Seamounts as they are observed today, formation of the HEB cannot be explained without invoking a prominent change in the direction of Pacific plate motion around 47 Ma.
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