Mar 16, 2007

Thermal diapirism and the habitability of the icy shell of Europa

Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere : the Journal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life
Javier RuizRicardo Amils

Abstract

Europa's chaos and lenticulae features may have originated by thermal diapirs related to convective plumes. Warm ice plumes could be habitable, since their temperature is close to the ice melting temperature. Moreover, thermal plumes intruding into the lower stagnant lid warm several kilometers of country ice above 230 K for periods of 10(5) years, and hundreds of meters above 240 K for periods of 10(4) years. Diapir coalescence generating chaos areas should provide a large zone with temperature above approximately 240 K for thousands of years. A temperature above approximately 230 K is potentially interesting for astrobiology, since it corresponds to the lowest temperature at which microbial metabolic activity in Antarctic ice has been reported. So, the warming by thermal plumes could cause an aureole of biological activation/reactivation in the country ice. Adaptation of life to either high salinity or low temperature is similar: it requires the synthesis of compatible solutes, like trehalose or glycerol, which are efficient cryoprotectants. We therefore propose that the future astrobiological exploration of Europa should include the search for compatible solutes in chaos and lenticulae features.

  • References24
  • Citations3

Citations

Mentioned in this Paper

Metabolic Process, Cellular
Convection
Glycerin
Extraterrestrial Life
Biological Adaptation
Space (Astronomy)
Microbial
Ganymede
Solute
Astrobiology

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