Geodynamics of Icy Satellites

  • William B. McKinnon
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 227)


Geodynamics concerns the internal structure, differentiation and convection, and tectonics of worlds. With respect to icy satellites there exists an excellent literature (e.g., Burns, 1986), and for the Earth a formidable body of new research results. In this review, I update some of the perspectives on how the icy satellites operate geodynamically, addressing the interplay between rheology, petrology, convection, and tectonics, and focusing on convection as a predominant endogenic process. Icy satellites, if they do undergo internal convection, are generally in the stagnant lid regime as defined by Solomatov, because the viscosity of water ice is strongly temperature-dependent. The Rayleigh number, a measure of the vigor of convection, for the actively convecting interior of an icy satellite is a very strong function of satellite radius (going at least as the sixth power). Convection was probable (if not vigorous) in all but the smallest middle-sized icy satellites early in solar system history. Today, vigorous convection only occurs in Ganymede, Callisto, and Titan, with weak convection occurring in Triton and Pluto. The pronounced polymorphism of the predominant ice, water ice, is expected to strongly modulate convective flow. The ice I-to-II transition should augment convective vigor, while both the ice I-to-III and II-to-V transitions should, by themselves, inhibit convective penetration. Convection within the larger icy satellites should be or have been layered. The negative activation volume for ice I ensures that convective flow in ice I is strongly coupled to the overlying icy lithosphere, which may in some circumstances generate sufficient stress in the lithosphere to induce brittle failure and surface tectonics.


Rayleigh Number Solar Nebula Viscosity Contrast Clapeyron Slope Elastic Lithosphere 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • William B. McKinnon
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesUSA
  2. 2.McDonnell Center for the Space SciencesWashington UniversitySaint LouisUSA

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