Europa has what must be done to aid plate tectonics, based on new information printed today in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. Using computer models, a group lead by Brown College planetary researcher Brandon Manley could demonstrate the physical practicality of icy plates driving deep in to the icy interior inside a processes much like what’s seen on the planet. Excitingly, this same process might be delivering important minerals towards the sea below, heightening the moon’s status a potentially habitable world.
On the planet, subduction is mainly driven by variations in temperature from a climbing down slab and also the surrounding mantle. Dense crustal material includes a negative buoyancy that drives it lower in to the mantle. The Brown College scientists figured an identical factor happens on Europa, however with ice. Within the situation of Europa, they surmised the moon has two frozen layers—an outer lid of cold ice that sits over a layer of slightly warmer convecting ice. Their models demonstrated that subduction is definitely possible within this alien atmosphere, as long as the outer covering contains different levels of salt. This added component offers the necessary density variations for any slab to conduct.
Jupiter’s moon Europa includes a warm undercover sea covered in ice. For a long time, scientists have wondered if certain surface features are caused by plate tectonics, which, if true, will make Europa the only real known devote the Solar System apart from Earth to see large, subduction-driven quakes. In addition to this, the existence of tectonic activity would bolster the moon’s capability to harbor primitive existence.
[Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets]
“This supports the concept that something similar to plate tectonics is happening on Europa and could inform us concerning the composition of Europa’s ice covering,” write the authors within the new study. “Our work also signifies that the plates will sink completely to Europa’s subsurface sea. This will be significant because material in the the surface of Europa could behave as food for existence that could appear in Europa’s sea.”
Europa has surface features similar to Earth’s mid-sea ridges. For astronomers, this hinted at geological processes similar to subduction zones, where, on the planet, tectonic plates slide underneath another, sinking deep in to the planet’s interior. In the past, researchers Simon Kattenhorn and Louise Prockter posited this explanation once they observed that the 20,000 square-kilometer (7,722 square-mile) slice of ice had mysteriously disappeared from Europa’s surface. Their explanation was that Europa’s surface, just like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, consists of tectonic plates, which from time to time a plate of ice will sink underneath the other into warmer layers below.