Does folding accommodate Europa's contractional strain? The effect of surface temperature on fold formation in ice lithospheres

Authors

  • Michael T. Bland,

    1. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
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  • William B. McKinnon

    1. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
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Corresponding author: M. T. Bland, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1169, 1 Brookings Dr., Saint Louis, MO 63130, USA. (mbland@levee.wustl.edu)

Abstract

[1] On Europa, the mechanism by which contractional strains are accommodated remains a mystery. Subtle folds have been observed in the polar regions, but if folding is a dominant accommodation mechanism, ubiquitous large-amplitude folds might be expected across Europa's surface. Here we use finite element modeling to show that fold growth rates are a strong function of surface temperature: warm temperatures result in lower rates, whereas cold temperatures result in higher rates. Combining diurnally averaged Europan surface temperatures derived from Galileo photopolarimeter-radiometer data and new numerical simulations, we show that forming moderate-amplitude folds requires roughly twice the contraction, or shortening, in Europa's equatorial latitudes relative to polar latitudes. Relatively large contractional strains in Europa's equatorial and midlatitudes can therefore be accommodated primarily through passive shortening without producing obvious folds. Lithospheric folding and/or passive shortening therefore remain plausible mechanisms for strain accommodation on Europa.

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