Evolution of Planetary Ice-Ocean Systems: Effects of Salinity
Abstract:Planetary oceanography is enjoying renewed attention thanks to not only the detection of several exoplanetary ocean worlds but also due to the expanding family of ocean worlds within our own star system. Our solar system is now believed to host about nine ocean worlds including Earth, some dwarf planets and few moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Amongst them, Europa, like Earth is thought to have an ice Ih-liquid water system. However, the thickness of the Europan ice-ocean system is much larger than that of the Earth. The evolution of this system would determine the individual thicknesses of the ice shell and the ocean. In turn, these thicknesses can alter the course of evolution of the system. In a pure H2O system, the thickness of the ice shell would govern if heat loss occurs entirely by conduction or if the shell begins to convect as it attains a threshold thickness. This switch between conduction-convection regimes could determine the longevity of the subsurface ocean and hence define the astrobiological potential of the planetary body at any given time.
In reality, however, the system is not pure water ice. The detected induced magnetic field infers a saline ocean layer. Salts are expected to act as an anti-freeze allowing a subsurface ocean to persist over long periods but the amount of salts would determine the extent of that effect. In our current study, we use geodynamic models to examine the effect of salinity on the evolution of ice-ocean system. An initial ocean with different salinities is allowed to evolve. The effect of salinity on thickness of the two layers at any time is examined. We also track how salinity controls the switch between conductive-convective modes. The study shows that for a given time period, larger salinities can maintain a thick vigorously convecting ocean while the smaller salinities behave similar to a pure H2O system leading to a thick convecting ice-shell. A range of salinities identified can potentially predict the current state and possibly the intermediate states of the ice-ocean system as it evolved over time. This could help constrain the endogenic contribution of salts to the surface chemistry.