Porosity and Salt Content Determine if Subduction Can Occur in Europa's Ice Shell

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Abstract

Motivated by recent evidence for subduction in Europa's ice shell, we explore the geophysical feasibility of this process. Here we construct a simple model to track the evolution of porosity and temperature within a slab that is forced to subduct. We also vary the initial salt content in Europa's ice shell and determine the buoyancy of our simulated subducting slab. We find that porosity and salt content play a dominant role in determining whether the slab is nonbuoyant and subduction in Europa's ice shell is actually possible. Generally, we find that initially low porosities and high salt contents within the conductive lid are more conducive to subduction. If salt contents are laterally homogenous, and Europa has a reasonable surface porosity of ϕ0 = 0.1, the conductive portion of Europa's shell must have salt contents exceeding ~22% for subduction to occur. However, if salt contents are laterally heterogeneous, with salt contents varying by a few percent, subduction may occur for a surface porosity of ϕ0 = 0.1 and overall salt contents of ~5%. Thus, we argue that under plausible conditions, subduction in Europa's ice shell is possible. Moreover, assuming that subduction is actively occurring or has occurred in Europa's recent past provides important constraints on the structure and composition of the ice shell.

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Johnson, B. C., Sheppard, R. Y., Pascuzzo, A. C., Fisher, E. A., & Wiggins, S. E. (2017). Porosity and Salt Content Determine if Subduction Can Occur in Europa’s Ice Shell. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 122(12), 2765–2778. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JE005370

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