Unstable Titan-generated Rayleigh-Taylor Lakes Impact Ice

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Orkan M Umurhan1,2, Donald G Korycansky3 and Kevin J Zahnle2, (1)SETI Institute Mountain View, Mountain View, CA, United States, (2)NASA, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (3)University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
The evolution of surface morphology on Titan, Triton, and other worlds is strongly influenced by the interplay of various fluid dynamical processes. Specifically, overturning instabilities can easily arise due to the special circumstances of landform evolution that probably occurred on these worlds. On Titan, large impacts that formed basins like Menrva crater (and possibly Hotei Regio) would have generated impact-melt ice lakes unstably arranged over less dense ice. Cantaloupe terrains, for example as seen on Triton, may be the result of condensation of volatiles (methane, nitrogen) leading to unstably stratified layers of different compositions and densities. In each of these cases, Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities leading to large scale diapirism may be at play. In addition to the dynamics of these instabilities, other physical effects (e.g. heat diffusion, freezing/melting, porosity, temperature dependent viscosity) likely play an important role in the evolution of these features.

In this ongoing study, we examine the properties of unstably stratified fluids in which the lower less-dense ice has a temperature dependent viscosity. Surprisingly, we find that there exists an optimal disturbance length scale corresponding to the fastest growth of the Rayleigh-Taylor instability. For unstably stratified layers of water (low viscosity heavy liquid lying above an ice whose viscosity increases with depth) the fastest growing mode corresponds to 40-60 km scales with overturn times of approximately 100 days. We present a detailed numerical stability analysis in a corresponding Boussinessq model (in the creeping flow limit) incorporating thermal conduction and latent heat release and we examine the stability properties surveying a variety of parameters. We have also developed a two-dimensional numerical code (a hybrid spectral/compact-differencing scheme) to model the evolution of such systems for which we shall present preliminary numerical results depicting the outcome of some controlled initial configurations.