True polar wander on Europa from global-scale small-circle depressions

Paul Schenk, Isamu Matsuyama, Francis Nimmo

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Abstract

The tectonic patterns and stress history of Europa are exceedingly complex and many large-scale features remain unexplained. True polar wander, involving reorientation of Europa's floating outer ice shell about the tidal axis with Jupiter, has been proposed as a possible explanation for some of the features. This mechanism is possible if the icy shell is latitudinally variable in thickness and decoupled from the rocky interior. It would impose high stress levels on the shell, leading to predictable fracture patterns. No satisfactory match to global-scale features has hitherto been found for polar wander stress patterns. Here we describe broad arcuate troughs and depressions on Europa that do not fit other proposed stress mechanisms in their current position. Using imaging from three spacecraft, we have mapped two global-scale organized concentric antipodal sets of arcuate troughs up to hundreds of kilometres long and 300 m to ∼1.5 km deep. An excellent match to these features is found with stresses caused by an episode of ∼80° true polar wander. These depressions also appear to be geographically related to other large-scale bright and dark lineaments, suggesting that many of Europa's tectonic patterns may also be related to true polar wander.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-371
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume453
Issue number7193
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2008
Externally publishedYes

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