Plains tectonism on Venus: The deformation belts of Lavinia Planitia


  • Steven W. Squyres,

  • David G. Jankowski,

  • Mark Simons,

  • Sean C. Solomon,

  • Bradford H. Hager,

  • George E. McGill


High-resolution radar images from the Magellan spacecraft have revealed the first details of the morphology of the Lavinia Planitia region of Venus. A number of geologic units can be distinguished, including volcanic plains units with a range of ages. Transecting these plains over much of the Lavinia region are two types of generally orthogonal features that we interpret to be compressional wrinkle ridges and extensional grooves. The dominant tectonic features of Lavinia are broad elevated belts of intense deformation that transect the plains with complex geometry. They are many tens to a few hundred kilometers wide, as much as 1000 km long, and elevated hundreds of meters above the surrounding plains. Two classes of deformation belts are seen in the Lavinia region. “Ridge belts” are composed of parallel ridges, each a few hundred meters in elevation, that we interpret to be folds. Typical fold spacings are 5–10 km. “Fracture belts” are dominated instead by intense faulting, with faults in some instances paired to form narrow grabens. There is also some evidence for modest amounts of horizontal shear distributed across both ridge and fracture belts. Crosscutting relationships among the belts show there to be a range in belt ages. In western Lavinia in particular, many ridge and fracture belts appear to bear a relationship to the much smaller wrinkle ridges and grooves on the surrounding plains: Ridge morphology tends to dominate belts that lie more nearly parallel to local plains wrinkle ridges, and fracture morphology tends to dominate belts that lie more nearly parallel to local plains grooves. We use simple models to explore the formation of ridge and fracture belts. We show that convective motions in the mantle can couple to the crust to cause horizontal stresses of a magnitude sufficient to induce the formation of deformation belts like those observed in Lavinia. We also use the small-scale wavelengths of deformation observed within individual ridge belts to place an approximate lower limit on the venusian thermal gradient in the Lavinia region at the time of deformation.