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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The rotation and fracture history of Europa from modeling of tidal-tectonic processes

  • Author(s): Rhoden, Alyssa Rose
  • Advisor(s): Manga, Michael
  • et al.

Europa's surface displays a complex history of tectonic activity, much of which has been linked to tidal stress caused by Europa's eccentric orbit and possibly non-synchronous rotation of the ice shell. Cycloids are arcuate features thought to have formed in response to tidal normal stress while strike-slip motion along preexisting faults has been attributed to tidal shear stress. Tectonic features thus provide constraints on the rotational parameters that govern tidal stress, and can help us develop an understanding of the tidal-tectonic processes operating on ice covered ocean moons.

In the first part of this work (Chapter 3), I test tidal models that include obliquity, fast precession, stress due to non-synchronous rotation (NSR), and physical libration by comparing how well each model reproduces observed cycloids. To do this, I have designed and implemented an automated parameter-searching algorithm that relies on a quantitative measure of fit quality to identify the best fits to observed cycloids. I apply statistical techniques to determine the tidal model best supported by the data and constrain the values of Europa's rotational parameters. Cycloids indicate a time-varying obliquity of about 1° and a physical libration in phase with the eccentricity libration, with amplitude >1°. To obtain good fits, cycloids must be translated in longitude, which implies non-synchronous rotation of the icy shell. However, stress from NSR is not well-supported, indicating that the rotation rate is slow enough that these stresses relax.

I build upon the results of cycloid modeling in the second section by applying calculations of tidal stress that include obliquity to the formation of strike-slip faults. I predict the slip directions of faults with the standard formation model - tidal walking (Chapter 5) - and with a new mechanical model I have developed, called shell tectonics (Chapter 6). The shell tectonics model incorporates linear elasticity to determine slip and stress release on faults and uses a Coulomb failure criterion. Both of these models can be used to predict the direction of net displacement along faults. Until now, the tidal walking model has been the only model that reproduces the observed global pattern of strike-slip displacement; the shell tectonics model incorporates a more physical treatment of fault mechanics and reproduces this global pattern. Both models fit the regional patterns of observed strike-slip faults better when a small obliquity is incorporated into calculations of tidal stresses.

Shell tectonics is also distinct from tidal walking in that it calculates the relative growth rates of displacements in addition to net slip direction. Examining these growth rates, I find that certain azimuths and locations develop offsets more quickly than others. Because faults with larger offsets are easier to identify, this may explain why observed faults cluster in azimuth in many regions. The growth rates also allow for a more sophisticated statistical comparison between the predictions and observations. Although the slip directions of >75% of faults are correctly predicted using shell tectonics and 1° of obliquity, a portion of these faults could be fit equally well with a random model. Examining these faults in more detail has revealed a region of Europa in which strike-slip faults likely formed through local extensional and compressional deformation rather than as a result of tidal shear stress. This approach enables a better understanding of the tectonic record, which has implications on Europa's rotation history.

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