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Silicate volcanism on Europa’s seafloor and implications for habitability

February 3, 2022

Habitable ocean environments on Europa require an influx of reactants to maintain chemical disequilibrium. One possible source of reactants is seafloor volcanism. Modeling has shown that dissipation of tidal energy in Europa's asthenosphere can generate melt, but melt formation cannot be equated with volcanism. Melt must also be transported through Europa's cold lithosphere to erupt at the seafloor. Here, we use two models of dike propagation to show that dikes can only traverse the lithosphere if either the fracture toughness of the lithosphere or the flux into the dike is large (>500 MPa m1/2 or ∼1 m2 s−1, respectively). We conclude that cyclic volcanic episodes might provide reactants to Europa's ocean if magma accumulates at the base of the lithosphere for several thousand years. However, if dikes form too frequently, or are too numerous, the magma flux into each will be insufficient, and volcanism cannot support a habitable ocean environment.

Publication Year 2022
Title Silicate volcanism on Europa’s seafloor and implications for habitability
DOI 10.1029/2021GL096939
Authors Michael T. Bland, Catherine Elder
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Research Letters
Index ID 70230954
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center