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Formation of ridges on Europa above crystallizing water bodies inside the ice shell

DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2014.04.026
  • Europa
  • Geological Processes
  • Geophysics
  • Ices
  • Mechanical Properties
  • Jupiter
  • Satellites
  • Volcanism
  • Earth Science
  • Mathematics


Abstract Jupiter’s second Galilean satellite, Europa, is a Moon-sized body with an icy shell and global ocean approximately 100km thick surrounding a rocky interior. Its surface displays extensive tectonic activity in a geologically recent past. Europa’s most ubiquitous surface features, double ridges, have a central trough flanked by two raised edifices. Double ridges can extend hundreds of kilometers and appear genetically related to cracks formed in the Europan ice shell. The origin of the raised flanks has been the center of much debate and many models have been proposed. There are also ridges without a central trough, single ridges. These ridges are far less common than their double ridge counterparts. However, there are locations where along-strike changes in ridge type appear to occur. We explore an elastic model in which the ridges form in response to crystallization of a liquid water intrusion. In our model, liquid water fills tension cracks that open in the Europan crust in response to tidal stress or perhaps overpressure of a subsurface ocean. The crack would be long and essentially continuous, similar to dikes on Earth, explaining the remarkable continuity and lack of segmentation of Europan ridges. The freezing of the water would cause a volume expansion, compressing and buckling the adjacent crust. We find that the geometry of the intruding water body controls the shape of the resulting ridges, with single ridges forming above sill-like intrusions and double ridges above dike-like intrusions. In order to match the ridge heights observed for double ridges we would need approximately 1.5km2 of water intruded at a shallow depth in the ice shell, potentially over the course of multiple events. Deeper intrusions result in a broader, lower amplitude ridge than shallow intrusions.

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