Europa's dynamic icy crust

Richard Greenberg, Paul Geissler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Europa's icy crust records active resurfacing by tectonic and thermal processes over tens of millions of years, as rapidity demonstrated by a paucity of craters. Tidal working causes rotational torque, surface stress, internal heating, and orbital evolution, which can explain the formation of observed tectonic crack patterns, ridges, crustal displacement, and chaotic terrain by processes involving connections between the surface and the underlying ocean through cracks, melt sites, and occasional impacts. These processes were recent, and thus most likely continue today. The permeability of the crust allows exchange of materials, including oxidants and exogenic organics from the surface and endogenic substances from the ocean, such that a habitable biosphere might extend to within a few centimeters of the surface. Continual changes in environmental conditions in the ice crust, such as deactivation of individual cracks after thousands of years (due to non-synchronous rotation) and crustal thawing (releasing any trapped organisms), could provide drivers for biological adaptation, as well as opportunity for evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1685-1710
Number of pages26
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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