The complex geology of Europa is evidenced by many tectonic and cryomagmatic resurfacing structures, some of which are "painted" into a more visible expression by exogenic alteration processes acting on the principal endogenic cryopetrology. The surface materials emplaced and affected by this activity are mainly composed of water ice in some areas, but in other places there are other minerals involved. Non-ice minerals are visually recognized by their low albedo and reddish color either when first emplaced or, more likely, after alteration by Europan weathering processes, especially sublimation and alteration by ionizing radiation. While red chromophoric material could be due to endogenic production of solid sulfur allotropes or other compounds, most likely the red substance is an impurity produced by radiation alteration of hydrated sulfate salts or sulphuric acid of mainly internal origin. If the non-ice red materials or their precursors have a source in the satellite interior, and if they are not merely trace contaminants, then they can play an important role in the evolution of the icy crust, including structural differentiation and the internal dynamics. Here we assume that these substances are major components of Europa's cryo/hydrosphere, as some models have predicted they should be. If this is an accurate assumption, then these substances should not be neglected in physical, chemical, and biological models of Europa, even if major uncertainties remain as to the exact identity, abundance, and distribution of the non-ice materials. The physical chemical properties of the ice-associated materials will contribute to the physical state of the crust today and in the geological past. In order to model the influence of them on the thermal state and the geology, we have determined the thermal properties of the hydrated salts. Our new lab data reveal very low thermal conductivities for hydrated salts compared to water ice. Lower conductivities of salty ice would produce steeper thermal gradients than in pure ice. If there are salt-rich layers inside the crust, forming salt beds over the seafloor or a briny eutectic crust, for instance, the high thermal gradients may promote endogenic geological activity. On the seafloor, bedded salt accumulations may exhibit high thermochemical gradients. Metamorphic and magmatic processes and possible niches for thermophilic life at shallow suboceanic depths result from the calculated thermal profiles, even if the ocean is very cold. ?? 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Thermal state and complex geology of a heterogeneous salty crust of Jupiter's satellite, Europa