Mercury’s global fabric of thrust faults

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Christian Klimczak1,2, Paul K Byrne1,3 and Sean C Solomon1,4, (1)Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Washington, DC, United States, (2)University of Georgia, Department of Geology, Athens, GA, United States, (3)Universities Space Research Association, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, TX, United States, (4)Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY, United States
Mercury’s global tectonic history is thought to have been shaped by two major processes: tidal despinning and global contraction. Each process is expected to have produced a distinctive global stress field and resultant fault pattern. Data from three years of orbital operations by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal thousands of thrust faults that are attributed to global contraction, but no global signature of tidal despinning has been conclusively documented. Global contraction operated throughout an extended portion of Mercury’s geologic history, whereas tidal despinning likely operated for a shorter duration. Therefore, any tidal despinning pattern, if not entirely obliterated by the late heavy bombardment, either would have formed together with global contraction, or would have been modified by global contraction after despinning was complete. Here, we reassess global fracture patterns predicted to result from tidal despinning alone, and from a combination of tidal despinning and global contraction. We specifically make use of rock strength and deformability parameters appropriate for Mercury’s fractured lithosphere. Our results indicate that a tidal despinning pattern would consist only of a global set of opening-mode fractures (joints) in the upper part of the lithosphere, whereas the combination of tidal despinning and global contraction would have produced a global population of thrust faults, with no preferred orientations in the polar regions but with an increasing preference for north–south orientations toward the equator. If an equatorial bulge from an early state of rapid spin were supported by Mercury’s lithosphere, two end-member scenarios for the timing and duration of these two processes can be considered. In one, tidal despinning predated global contraction; in the other, tidal despinning and global contraction temporally overlapped. We test the predictions for both scenarios against the mapped distribution and orientations of Mercury’s tectonic landforms. The global pattern of thrust faults is generally consistent with predictions for the scenario under which tidal despinning and global contraction temporally overlapped.