On the resurfacing of Ganymede by liquid-water volcanism

Adam P. Showman, Ignacio Mosqueira, James W. Head

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


A long-popular model for producing Ganymede's bright terrain involves flooding of low-lying graben with liquid water, slush, or warm, soft ice. The model suffers from major problems, however, including the absence of obvious near-surface heat sources, the negative buoyancy of liquid water, and the lack of a mechanism for confining the flows to graben floors. We present new models for cryovolcanic resurfacing to overcome these difficulties. Tidal heating within an ancient Laplace-like orbital resonance (Showman and Malhotra 1997, Icarus 127, 93; Showman et al., 1997, Icarus 129, 367) provides a plausible heat source and could allow partial melting to occur as shallow as 5-10 km depth. Our favored mechanism for delivering this water to the surface invokes the fact that topography-such as a global set of graben-causes subsurface pressure gradients that can pump water or slush upward onto the floors of topographic lows (graben) despite the negative buoyancy of the liquid. These eruptions can occur only within the topographic lows; furthermore, as the low areas become full, the pressure gradients disappear and the resurfacing ceases. This provides an explanation for the observed straight dark-bright terrain boundaries: water cannot overflow the graben, so resurfacing rarely embays craters or other rough topography. Pure liquid water can be pumped to the surface from only 5-10 km depth, but macroscopic bodies of slush ascending within fractures can reach the surface from much greater depths due to the smaller negative buoyancy of slush. A challenge for these models is the short predicted gravitational relaxation timescale of topographic features at high heat flows; the resurfacing must occur before the graben topography disappears. We also evaluate alternate resurfacing mechanisms, such as pumping of liquid water to the surface by thermal expansion stresses and buoyant rise of water through a silicate-contaminated crust that is denser than liquid water, and conclude that they are unlikely to explain Ganymede's bright terrain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-640
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Ganymede
  • Satellites of Jupiter
  • Surfaces, satellite
  • Tides, solid body
  • Volcanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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