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Subsurface energy storage and transport for solar-powered geysers on Triton

October 19, 1990

The location of active geyser-like eruptions and related features close to the current subsolar latitude on Triton suggests a solar energy source for these phenomena. Solidstate greenhouse calculations have shown that sunlight can generate substantially elevated subsurface temperatures. A variety of models for the storage of solar energy in a sub-greenhouse layer and for the supply of gas and energy to a geyser are examined. "Leaky greenhouse" models with only vertical gas transport are inconsistent with the observed upper limit on geyser radius of ∼ 1.5 kilometers. However, lateral transport of energy by gas flow in a porous N2 layer with a block size on the order of a meter can supply the required amount of gas to a source region ∼1 kilometer in radius. The decline of gas output to steady state may occur over a period comparable with the inferred active geyser lifetime of five Earth years. The required subsurface permeability may be maintained by thermal fracturing of the residual N2 polar cap. A lower limit on geyser source radius of ∼50 to 100 meters predicted by a theory of negatively buoyant jets is not readily attained.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1990
Title Subsurface energy storage and transport for solar-powered geysers on Triton
DOI 10.1126/science.250.4979.424
Authors Randolph L. Kirk, Robert H. Brown, Laurence A. Soderblom
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science
Series Number
Index ID 70201392
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center