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Or do they extend down thousands of miles, perhaps to Earth's core-mantle boundary?
Also, while scientists general agree that hot spots are fixed in position relative to the faster moving overriding plates, some recent studies have shown that hot spots can migrate slowly over geologic time.
This pulling apart causes "seafloor spreading" as new material from the underlying less rigid layer, or "asthenosphere," fills the cracks and adds to these oceanic plates. Two plates move towards one another and one is dragged down (or "subducted") beneath the other. The best-known example is the earthquake-prone San Andreas Fault Zone of California, which marks the boundary between the Pacific and North America Plates. Tectonic Plates and Active Volcanoes of the World: Most active volcanoes are located along or near the boundaries of Earth's shifting tectonic plates.
Do they extend only a few hundred miles beneath the lithosphere?
Kohala, at the northwestern corner of the island, is the oldest, having ceased eruptive activity about 120,000 years ago.
The second oldest is Mauna Kea, which last erupted about 4,000 years ago; next is Hualälai, which has had only one eruption (1800-1801) in written history.
The Island of Hawai'i is the southeasternmost and youngest island in the chain.
The southeasternmost part of the Island of Hawai'i presently overlies the hot spot and still taps the magma source to feed its active volcanoes.
The Hawaiian Islands are the tops of gigantic volcanic mountains formed by countless eruptions of fluid lava over several million years; some tower more than 30,000 feet above the seafloor.