Double ridge formation over shallow water sills on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Double ridge formation over shallow water sills on Jupiter’s moon Europa

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AbstractJupiter’s moon Europa is a prime candidate for extraterrestrial habitability in our solar system. The surface landforms of its ice shell express the subsurface structure, dynamics, and exchange governing this potential. Double ridges are the most common surface feature on Europa and occur across every sector of the moon, but their formation is poorly understood, with current hypotheses providing competing and incomplete mechanisms for the development of their distinct morphology. Here we present the discovery and analysis of a double ridge in Northwest Greenland with the same gravity-scaled geometry as those found on Europa. Using surface elevation and radar sounding data, we show that this double ridge was formed by successive refreezing, pressurization, and fracture of a shallow water sill within the ice sheet. If the same process is responsible for Europa’s double ridges, our results suggest that shallow liquid water is spatially and temporally ubiquitous across Europa’s ice shell.

IntroductionJupiter’s icy moon Europa harbors a global subsurface ocean beneath an outer ice shell1,2,3. The thickness and thermophysical structure of this ice shell are poorly constrained, but models suggest it may be 20–30 km thick4,5,6,7,8 with a layer of warm, convecting ice underlying a cold, rigid crust9,10. The detailed structure and dynamics of its ice shell and the timescales over which they evolve are critical for understanding both the fundamental geophysical processes and habitability of Europa11. Some of the primary observational constraints on these subsurface processes are their expressions in the surface morphologies imaged by Voyager and Galileo.

Europa’s surface is young12 and geologically active13,14, displaying a wide variety of landforms including ridges, troughs, bands, lenticulae, and chaos terrain15. Of these, double ridges are the most common, consisting of quasi-symmetric ridge pairs flanking a medial trough15,16, with height to peak-to-peak distance ratios
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