Effects of pressure on aqueous chemical equilibria at subzero temperatures with applications to Europa

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2004.06.024



Pressure plays a critical role in controlling aqueous geochemical processes in deep oceans and deep ice. The putative ocean of Europa could have pressures of 1200 bars or higher on the seafloor, a pressure not dissimilar to the deepest ocean basin on Earth (the Mariana Trench at 1100 bars of pressure). At such high pressures, chemical thermodynamic relations need to explicitly consider pressure. A number of papers have addressed the role of pressure on equilibrium constants, activity coefficients, and the activity of water. None of these models deal, however, with processes at subzero temperatures, which may be important in cold environments on Earth and other planetary bodies. The objectives of this work were to (1) incorporate a pressure dependence into an existing geochemical model parameterized for subzero temperatures (FREZCHEM), (2) validate the model, and (3) simulate pressure-dependent processes on Europa. As part of objective 1, we examined two models for quantifying the volumetric properties of liquid water at subzero temperatures: one model is based on the measured properties of supercooled water, and the other model is based on the properties of liquid water in equilibrium with ice. The relative effect of pressure on solution properties falls in the order: equilibrium constants(K) > activity coefficients (??) > activity of water (aw). The errors (%) in our model associated with these properties, however, fall in the order: ?? > K > aw. The transposition between K and ?? is due to a more accurate model for estimating K than for estimating ??. Only activity coefficients are likely to be significantly in error. However, even in this case, the errors are likely to be only in the range of 2 to 5% up to 1000 bars of pressure. Evidence based on the pressure/temperature melting of ice and salt solution densities argue in favor of the equilibrium water model, which depends on extrapolations, for characterizing the properties of liquid water in electrolyte solutions at subzero temperatures, rather than the supercooled water model. Model-derived estimates of mixed salt solution densities and chemical equilibria as a function of pressure are in reasonably good agreement with experimental measurements. To demonstrate the usefulness of this low-temperature, high-pressure model, we examined two hypothetical cases for Europa. Case 1 dealt with the ice cover of Europa, where we asked the question: How far above the putative ocean in the ice layer could we expect to find thermodynamically stable brine pockets that could serve as habitats for life? For a hypothetical nonconvecting 20 km icy shell, this potential life zone only extends 2.8 km into the icy shell before the eutectic is reached. For the case of a nonconvecting icy shell, the cold surface of Europa precludes stable aqueous phases (habitats for life) anywhere near the surface. Case 2 compared chemical equilibria at 1 bar (based on previous work) with a more realistic 1460 bars of pressure at the base of a 100 km Europan ocean. A pressure of 1460 bars, compared to 1 bar, caused a 12 K decrease in the temperature at which ice first formed and a 11 K increase in the temperature at which MgSO4. 12H2O first formed. Remarkably, there was only a 1.2 K decrease in the eutectic temperatures between 1 and 1460 bars of pressure. Chemical systems and their response to pressure depend, ultimately, on the volumetric properties of individual constituents, which makes every system response highly individualistic. Copyright ?? 2005 Elsevier Ltd.

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Effects of pressure on aqueous chemical equilibria at subzero temperatures with applications to Europa
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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
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