2011 Annual Science Report
Arizona State University Reporting | SEP 2010 – AUG 2011
Habitability of Water-Rich Environments, Task 2: Model the Dynamics of Icy Mantles
Jupiter’s moon Europa provides a combination of physical and chemical conditions that may be among the most suitable in the solar system for sustaining life. Europa almost certainly has a liquid ocean. This ocean may have the ingredients necessary for life, but it is shielded from observation by a thick overlying ice layer. Under certain conditions this ice layer may undergo convection that can transport chemical species from the ocean to the surface, where they may be detected. Our computer modeling of convection in this ice layer aims to quantify how much ocean material may be brought to the surface. This work provides guidance for future missions to Europa.
Allen McNamara and PhD student Divya Allupeddinti have begun geophysical numerical simulations of mass transfer across the boundary between Europa’s surface ice and liquid water ocean. Student Allupeddinti is currently making excellent progress reproducing previous modeling results, to gain experience with numerical modeling. She will soon begin investigating the thermal evolution of icy satellites such as Europa. In particular, she will examine how ice shells grow and begin convection as the interior cools. McNamara is currently investigating the expected age distribution of ice within Europa’s ice shell. This will provide insights into whether trace elements entrained from the ocean layer can accumulate in shallower portions of the ice shell, and if they do, in what regions.