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Constraining the heat flux between Enceladus’ tiger stripes: numerical modeling of funiscular plains formation

July 22, 2015

The Cassini spacecraft’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) has observed at least 5 GW of thermal emission at Enceladus’ south pole. The vast majority of this emission is localized on the four long, parallel, evenly-spaced fractures dubbed tiger stripes. However, the thermal emission from regions between the tiger stripes has not been determined. These spatially localized regions have a unique morphology consisting of short-wavelength (∼1 km) ridges and troughs with topographic amplitudes of ∼100 m, and a generally ropy appearance that has led to them being referred to as “funiscular terrain.” Previous analysis pursued the hypothesis that the funiscular terrain formed via thin-skinned folding, analogous to that occurring on a pahoehoe flow top (Barr, A.C., Preuss, L.J. [2010]. Icarus 208, 499–503). Here we use finite element modeling of lithospheric shortening to further explore this hypothesis. Our best-case simulations reproduce funiscular-like morphologies, although our simulated fold wavelengths after 10% shortening are 30% longer than those observed. Reproducing short-wavelength folds requires high effective surface temperatures (∼185 K), an ice lithosphere (or high-viscosity layer) with a low thermal conductivity (one-half to one-third that of intact ice or lower), and very high heat fluxes (perhaps as great as 400 mW m−2). These conditions are driven by the requirement that the high-viscosity layer remain extremely thin (≲200 m). Whereas the required conditions are extreme, they can be met if a layer of fine grained plume material 1–10 m thick, or a highly fractured ice layer >50 m thick insulates the surface, and the lithosphere is fractured throughout as well. The source of the necessary heat flux (a factor of two greater than previous estimates) is less obvious. We also present evidence for an unusual color/spectral character of the ropy terrain, possibly related to its unique surface texture. Our simulations demonstrate that producing the funiscular ridges via folding remains plausible, but the relatively extreme conditions required to do so leaves their origin open to further investigation. The high heat fluxes required to produce the terrain by folding, which equate to an endogenic blackbody temperature near 50 K, should be observable by future nighttime CIRS observations, if funiscular deformation is occurring today.

Publication Year 2015
Title Constraining the heat flux between Enceladus’ tiger stripes: numerical modeling of funiscular plains formation
DOI 10.1016/j.icarus.2015.07.016
Authors Michael T. Bland, William B. McKinnon, Paul M. Schenk
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Icarus
Index ID 70155946
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center