The Heat-Pipe Hypothesis for Early Crustal Development of Terrestrial Planets

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 3:25 PM
Alexander G Webb, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, United States, William B Moore, Hampton University, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Hampton, VA, United States and Justin I Simon, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
Crusts of the terrestrial planets other than Earth are dominated by mafic / ultramafic volcanics, with some contractional tectonics and minor extension. This description may also fit the early Earth. Therefore, a single process may have controlled early crustal development. Here we explore the hypothesis that heat-pipe cooling mode dominates early phases of terrestrial planet evolution. Volcanism is the hallmark of heat-pipe cooling: hot magma moves through the lithosphere in narrow channels, then is deposited and cools at the surface. A heat-pipe planet develops a thick, cold, downward-advecting lithosphere dominated by mafic/ultra-mafic flows. Contractional deformation occurs throughout the lithosphere as the surface is buried and forced toward smaller radii. Geologies of the Solar system’s terrestrial planets are consistent with early heat-pipe cooling. Mercury’s surface evolution is dominated by low-viscosity volcanism until ~4.1-4.0 Ga, with little activity other than global contraction since. Similar, younger features at Venus are commonly interpreted in terms of catastrophic resurfacing events with ~0.5 billion-year periodicity, but early support of high topography suggests a transition from heat-pipe to rigid-lid tectonics. Thick heat-pipe lithosphere may preserve the crustal dichotomy between Mars’ northern and southern hemispheres, and explain the range in trace element abundances and isotopic compositions of Martian meteorites. At the Moon, global serial volcanism can explain refinement of ferroan anorthite rich rocks and coeval production of the “Mg-suite” rocks. The Moon’s shape is out of hydrostatic equilibrium; it may represent a fossil preserved by thick early lithosphere. Active development of Jupiter’s moon Io, which is warmed by tidal heating, is widely interpreted in terms of heat-pipe cooling. Given its potential ubiquity in the Solar system, heat-pipe cooling may be a universal process experienced by all terrestrial bodies of sufficient size.