Tidal-Induced Internal Ocean Waves as an Explanation for Enceladus’ Tiger Stripe Pattern and Hotspot Activity

Friday, 19 December 2014: 9:40 AM
Bert L A Vermeersen1, Leo R Maas2, Sander van Oers2, Anna Rabitti2 and Hermes Jara-Orue1, (1)Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands, (2)Netherlands Inst Sea Research, Den Burg, Netherlands
One of the most peculiar features on Saturn moon Enceladus is its so-called tiger stripe pattern at the geologically active South Polar Terrain (SPT), as first observed in detail by the Cassini spacecraft early 2005. It is generally assumed that the four almost parallel surface lines that constitute this pattern are faults in the icy surface overlying a confined salty water reservoir. Indeed, later Cassini observations have shown that salty water jets originate from the tiger stripes [e.g., Hansen et al., Science, 311, 1422-1425, 2006; Postberg et al., Nature, 474, 620-622, 2011].

More recently, Porco et al. [Astron. J., 148:45, Sep. 2014] and Nimmo et al. [Astron. J., 148:46, Sep. 2014] have reported strong evidence that the geysers are not caused by frictional heating at the surface, but that geysers must originate deeper in Enceladus’ interior. Tidal flexing models, like those of Hurford et al., Nature, 447, 292-294, 2007, give a good match for the brightness variations Cassini observes, but they seem to fail to reproduce the exact timing of plume brightening. Although jet activity is thus strongly connected to tidal forcing, another mechanism must be involved as well.

Last year, we formulated the original idea [Vermeersen et al., AGU Fall Meeting 2013, abstract #P53B-1848] that the tiger stripe pattern is formed and maintained by induced, tidally and rotationally driven, wave-attractor motions in the ocean underneath the icy surface of the tiger-stripe region. Such wave-attractor motions are observed in water tank experiments in laboratories on Earth and in numerical experiments [Maas et al., Nature, 338, 557-561, 1997; Drijfhout and Maas, J. Phys. Oceanogr., 37, 2740-2763, 2007; Hazewinkel et al., Phys. Fluids, 22, 107102, 2010].

The latest observations by Porco et al. and Nimmo et al. seem to be in agreement with this tidal-induced wave attractor phenomenon, both with respect to tiger stripe pattern and with respect to timing of hotspot activity. However, in contrast to the thin ocean/thick ice sheet model as anticipated in Fig. 12 of Porco et al. (2014), our lab experiments suggest that attractors are generated most efficiently at aspect ratio O(1), implying that distance between stripes might actually approximately directly represent local ocean depth in a thin ice sheet/thick ocean setting.