Mountains and Calderas on Io: Possible Implications for Lithosphere Structure and Magma Generation

Michael H. Carr, Alfred S. McEwen, Keith A. Howard, Frank C. Chuang, Peter Thomas, Peter Schuster, Juergen Oberst, Gerhard Neukum, Gerald Schubert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The combination of Voyager images and newly acquired Galileo images with low illumination and resolutions ranging from 2 to 6 km/pixel now allows determination of the global distribution of mountains and volcanic centers on Io. The mountains generally do not have characteristics typical of terrestrial volcanic landforms, they are evenly distributed across the surface and show no obvious correlation with known hot spots or plumes. Relative elevations, determined by shadow measurements and stereoscopy, indicate that mountains in the newly imaged area range in elevation up to at least 7.6 km. The origin of the mountains remains uncertain. Some appear to be multitiered volcanic constructs; others enclosing the partial remains of large circular depressions appear to be remnants of old volcanoes; yet others show extensive tectonic disruption. Volcanic centers also appear to be distributed evenly across the surface except for an apparently somewhat lower density at high latitudes. The low latitudes have one volcanic center per 7 × 104km2, and, on average, the centers are spaced roughly 250 km apart. The global distribution of high mountains suggests that the lithosphere over most of Io is thick. Although the thickness cannot be calculated, the previously suggested 30 km appears reasonable as a lower limit. The high rates of resurfacing combined with the likely dissipation of most of the tidal energy in the asthenosphere and underlying mantle implies a very low temperature gradient in the upper part of the lithosphere and steep gradients in the lower lithosphere. The slow rate of separation of melt from host rock in the magma source regions as a consequence of the low gravity on Io, coupled with the high rate of magma production, will likely result in larger melt fractions than is typical for source regions on Earth. The variety of volcanic landforms suggests that volcanic products with a range of compositions are deposited on the surface. This mixture will be carried downward through the lithosphere as a consequence of the 0.5-1.5 cm/yr resurfacing rates. During descent, the more volatile components will tend to be driven off early, but complete or near-complete melting at the base of the lithosphere may result in rehomogenization of the silicate mixture that remains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-165
Number of pages20
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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