If upper mantle anisotropy beneath fast-moving oceanic plates is expected to align the fast azimuths close to the plate motion directions, the upper mantle flow pattern beneath slow-moving oceanic plates will reflect the relative motion between the moving plate and the underlying large-scale convecting mantle. In addition to the non-correlation of the fast azimuths with the plate motion direction, the flow and anisotropy pattern may be locally perturbed by other factors such as the upwelling and the sublithospheric spreading of mantle plumes. Investigating such plume–lithosphere interaction is strongly dependent on the available seismological data, which are generally sparse in oceanic environment. In this study, we take the opportunity of recent temporary deployments of 15 seismic stations and 5 permanent stations on the Piton de la Fournaise volcano, the active locus of La Réunion hotspot and of 6 permanent stations installed along or close to its fossil track of about 3700 km in length, to analyze azimuthal anisotropy detected by SKS wave splitting and to decipher the various possible origins of anisotropy beneath the Western Indian Ocean. From about 150 good and fair splitting measurements and more than 1000 null splitting measurements, we attempt to distinguish between the influence of a local plume signature and large-scale mantle flow. The large-scale anisotropy pattern obtained at the SW-Indian Ocean island stations is well explained by plate motion relative to the deep mantle circulation. By contrast, stations on La Réunion Island show a complex signature characterized by numerous “nulls” and by fast split shear wave polarizations trending normal to the plate motion direction and obtained within a small backazimuthal window, that cannot be explained by either a single or two anisotropic layers. Despite the sparse spatial coverage which precludes a unique answer, we show that such pattern may be compatible with a simple model of sublithospheric spreading of La Réunion plume characterized by a conduit located at 100–200 km north of La Réunion Island. Anisotropy beneath the new GEOSCOPE station in Rodrigues Island does not appear to be influenced by La Réunion plume-spreading signature but is fully compatible with either a model of large-scale deep mantle convection pattern and/or with a channeled asthenospheric flow beneath the Rodrigues ridge.
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