Billings, S.E., Kattenhorn, S.A. (2005)

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The great thickness debate: Ice shell thickness models for Europa and comparisons with estimates based on flexure at ridges


Icarus 177: 397-412.

Estimates of the thickness of the ice shell of Europa range from < 1 km to > 30 km. The higher values are generally assumed to be estimates of the entire ice shell thickness, which may include a lower ductile layer of ice, whereas many of the smaller thickness estimates are based on analyses that only consider that portion of the ice layer that behaves elastically at a particular strain rate. One example of the latter is flexure analysis, in which the elastic ice layer is modeled as a plate or sphere that is flexed under the weight of a surface load. We present calculations based on flexure analysis in which we model the elastic ice layer as flexing under a line-load caused by ridges. We use precisely located, parallel flanking cracks as indicators of the location of greatest tensile stress induced by flexure. Our elastic thickness results are spatially variable: ~500-2200 m (two sites) and ~200-1000 m (one site). Thorough analysis of Europan flexure studies performed by various researchers shows that the type of model selected causes the greatest variability in the thickness results, followed by the choice of Young's modulus, which is poorly constrained for the Europan ice shell. Comparing our results to those of previously published flexure analyses for Europa, we infer spatial variability in the elastic ice thickness (at the time of load emplacement), with smooth bands having the thinnest elastic ice thickness of all areas studied. Because analysis of flexure-induced fracturing can only reveal the elastic thickness at the time of load emplacement, calculated thickness variability between features having different ages may also reflect a temporal variability in the thickness of Europa's ice shell.

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