Geologic mapping of Europa

Ronald Greeley, Patricio H. Figueredo, David Williams, Frank C. Chuang, James E. Klemaszewski, Steven D. Kadel, Louise M. Prockter, Robert T. Pappalardo, James W. Head, Geoffrey C. Collins, Nicole A. Spaun, Robert J. Sullivan, Jeffrey M. Moore, David A. Senske, B. Randall Tufts, Torrence V. Johnson, Michael J S Belton, Kenneth L. Tanaka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Galileo data enable the major geological units, structures, and surface features to be identified on Europa. These include five primary units (plains, chaos, band, ridge, and crater materials) and their subunits, along with various tectonic structures such as faults. Plains units are the most widespread. Ridged plains material spans a wide range of geological ages, including the oldest recognizable features on Europa, and appears to represent a style of tectonic resurfacing, rather than cryovolcanism. Smooth plains material typically embays other terrains and units, possibly as a type of fluid emplacement, and is among the youngest material units observed. At global scales, plains are typically mapped as undifferentiated plains material, although in some areas differences can be discerned in the near infrared which might be related to differences in ice grain size. Chaos material is composed of plains and other preexisting materials that have been severely disrupted by inferred internal activity; chaos is characterized by blocks of icy material set in a hummocky matrix. Band material is arrayed in linear, curvilinear, wedge-shaped, or cuspate zones with contrasting albedo and surface textures with respect to the surrounding terrain. Bilateral symmetry observed in some bands and the relationships with the surrounding units suggest that band material forms by the lithosphere fracturing, spreading apart, and infilling with material derived from the subsurface. Ridge material is mapped as a unit on local and some regional maps but shown with symbols at global scales. Ridge material includes single ridges, doublet ridges, and ridge complexes. Ridge materials are considered to represent tectonic processes, possibly accompanied by the extrusion or intrusion of subsurface materials, such as diapirs. The tectonic processes might be related to tidal flexing of the icy lithosphere on diurnal or longer timescales. Crater materials include various interior (smooth central, rough inner, and annular massif) and exterior (continuous ejecta) subunits. Structural features and landforms are shown with conventional symbols. Type localities for the units are identified, along with suggestions for portraying the features on geological maps, including colors and letter abbreviations for material units. Implementing these suggestions by the planetary mapping community would facilitate comparisons of maps for different parts of Europa and contribute to an eventual global synthesis of its complex geology. On the basis of initial mapping results, a stratigraphic sequence is suggested in which ridged plains form the oldest unit on Europa, followed by development of band material and individual ridges. Band materials tend to be somewhat older than ridges, but in many areas the two units formed simultaneously. Similarly, the formation of most chaos follows the development of ridged plains; although chaos is among the youngest materials on Europa, some chaos units might have formed contemporaneously with ridged plains. Smooth plains generally embay all other units and are late-stage in the evolution of the surface. C1 craters are superposed on ridged plains but are crosscut by other materials, including bands and ridges. Most c2 craters postdate all other units, but a few c2 craters are cut by ridge material. C3 craters constitute the youngest recognizable material on Europa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1999JE001173
Pages (from-to)22559-22578
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research E: Planets
Issue numberE9
StatePublished - Sep 25 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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