John Marshall

Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography, MIT

Hydrothermal plume dynamics on Europa: Implications for chaos formation

Hydrothermal plume dynamics on Europa: Implications for chaos formation.

(Goodman, JC and Collins, GC and Marshall, J and Pierrehumbert, RT), JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-PLANETS, vol. 109, no. E3, 2004.


Hydrothermal plumes may be responsible for transmitting radiogenic or tidally generated heat from Europa’s rocky interior through a liquid ocean to the base of its ice shell. This process has been implicated in the formation of chaos regions and lenticulae by melting or exciting convection in the ice layer. In contrast to earlier work, we argue that Europa’s ocean should be treated as an unstratified fluid. We have adapted and expanded upon existing work describing buoyant plumes in a rotating, unstratified environment. We discuss the scaling laws governing the flow and geometry of plumes on Europa and perform a laboratory experiment to obtain scaling constants and to visualize plume behavior in a Europa-like parameter regime. We predict that hydrothermal plumes on Europa are of a lateral scale (at least 25-50 km) comparable to large chaos regions; they are too broad to be responsible for the formation of individual lenticulae. Plume heat fluxes (0.1-10 W/m(2)) are too weak to allow complete melt-through of the ice layer. Current speeds in the plume (3-8 mm/s) are much slower than indicated by previous studies. The observed movement of ice blocks in the Conamara Chaos region is unlikely to be driven by such weak flow.

doi = 10.1029/2003JE002073