A melt-through model for chaos formation on Europa

David P. O'Brien, Paul Geissler, Richard Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


The character of chaotic terrain on Europa is consistent with its formation by the melting of a thin conducting ice shell from below. Tidal dissipation can provide adequate energy for such a process. For example, only a few percent of Europa's predicted tidal heat, spread over a region 200 km in diameter, can lead to large melt regions within a few tens of thousands of years. Stronger, more localized concentrations result in melt-through in significantly shorter times (i.e., a few hundred years). The time scale for melt-through is shorter than the time scale for the solid-state viscous inflow of ice by several orders of magnitude. In general, modest concentrations of tidal heat can melt ice away faster than viscous inflow, leading to melt-through. A mechanism to transmit these heat concentrations through the ocean is required for this model. Such heat transport could be the result of convective plumes in the ocean driven by seafloor volcanism or by the destabilization of a stratified ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-161
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Europa
  • Satellites
  • Satellites of Jupiter
  • Surfaces
  • Thermal histories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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