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The ultimate cause of the volcanism is still up for debate, but the most widely accepted idea is that the mantle plume or upwelling (similar to that associated with present-day Hawaii) initiated the widespread and voluminous basaltic volcanism about 17 million years ago.
Additional data collection and further modeling will be required to achieve a consensus on the actual mechanism.
The Columbia River Basalt Group is a large igneous province that lies across parts of the Western United States. The Basalt group includes the Steen and Picture Gorge basalt formations.
states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California.
Once that magma breaches the surface, it flows as lava and then solidifies into basalt.
Prior to 17.5 million years ago, the Western Cascade Stratovolcanoes erupted with periodic regularity for over 20 million years, even as they do today.