Modeling Thermochemical Convection of Europa's Icy Shell

Project: Research project

Project Details


Europa's surface reveals that it has been dynamically active. While some of these features may result from exterior forces, interior forces are expected to play a role if the ice shell is thick enough to undergo convection. Better knowledge about the dynamics of Europa will advance our understanding of icy moons in general, and perhaps even to water-rich planets outside of our solar system. Europa has been targeted for future exploration with NASA's Jupiter Europa Orbiter (JEO). To better prepare ourselves to plan this mission, we will benefit by having a comprehensive understanding of the possible dynamics that may exist within Europa, and how/which observations will constrain competing hypotheses of Europa's mass and heat transport. Furthermore, the possibility that liquid water exists beneath the icy exterior makes Europa a high priority target for astrobiology. Because life would most-likely exist only in aqueous environments beneath the ice, an important dynamical question centers upon our ability to detect evidence for its potential at the surface. Therefore, it is critical that we understand whether the icy shell acts as a barrier to or as a promoter of chemical advection between the ocean and the surface. Can chemical species from the ocean be transported to the surface? If so, are there particular characteristic features in the surface geology or the physical fields that we should search for? This proposal outlines geodynamical investigation to understand how chemical compounds from a liquid water ocean can be advected toward Europas surface and how surface species can be delivered to the ocean. We focus on understanding how the liquid-solid phase boundary and density contrasts due to variable amounts of impurities influence mass transfer within the convecting icy shell. Our primary objectives are: 1. To evaluate the importance of the liquid-solid phase boundary at the bottom of the ice shell in geodynamical models of ice convection, and to assess the rate of mass transfer across this boundary. 2. To investigate how variable impurities (mainly salts, organics, clathrates) in newly-formed ice can drive compositional diapirs, and to assess their ability to break through a high viscosity surface ice layer and resurface Europa. 3. To identify characteristic features in predicted observations (e.g., gravitational potential, dynamic topography, surface stresses, spatial heterogeneity in surface age) as a function of styles of thermochemical convection. 4. To examine how ice shell thickness, convection patterns, distribution of impurities, and ocean-ice exchange evolve with time.F
Effective start/end date11/1/108/31/17


  • NASA: Goddard Space Flight Center: $580,576.00

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