Underwater snow supplies clues about Europa’s icy shell

Ice mounds of snow-like frazil beneath the Antarctic ice shelf. In keeping with analysis from UT Austin, Europa’s icebox could also be product of the identical stuff. Credit score: Helen Glazer 2015, from Strolling in Antarctica (

Beneath Europa’s thick icy crust is a large world ocean, with snow floating on upturned ice peaks and underwater chasms. Unusual underwater snow is understood to happen beneath ice cabinets on Earth, however a brand new research suggests the identical is probably going true on Jupiter’s moons, the place it might play a job in constructing its ice crust.

Underwater snow is far cleaner than different kinds of ice, which implies Europa’s ice crust could also be a lot much less salty than beforehand thought. That is essential for mission scientists getting ready NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, which can use radar to see beneath the ice crust to see if Europa’s ocean is perhaps hospitable to life. The brand new data is vital as a result of salt trapped within the ice can have an effect on what and the way deep into the ice sheet radar can see, so predicting the place the ice is made helps scientists make sense of the information.

The research, printed within the August situation of the journal Astrobiology, was led by the College of Texas at Austin, which can also be main the event of Europa Clipper’s ice-penetrating radar. Figuring out what sort of ice Europa’s shell is product of may also assist decipher the salinity and habitability of its ocean.

“After we research Europa, we have an interest within the salinity and composition of the ocean as a result of that is without doubt one of the issues that determines its potential habitability, and even the kind of life that would reside there,” mentioned the research’s lead writer. Natalie Wolfenbarger, graduate scholar on the College of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), UT Jackson Faculty of Geosciences.

Europa is a rocky world in regards to the measurement of Earth’s moon, surrounded by a worldwide ocean and a mile-thick crust of ice. Earlier analysis reveals that the temperature, strain and salinity of Europa’s ocean closest to the ice is just like what you’d discover beneath the Antarctic ice shelf.

Underwater snow provides clues about Europa's icy shell

Illustration of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft flying by Jupiter’s moon Europa. The spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2024, will carry an ice-penetrating radar instrument developed by researchers on the College of Texas Geophysics Institute. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Armed with this information, the brand new research examined two other ways water freezes beneath ice cabinets, permafrost and brittle ice. Business ice grows straight beneath the ice shelf. Frazil ice kinds in supercooled seawater as ice flakes that float upward by means of the water, settling on the backside of the ice shelf.

Both approach, the ice is much less salty than seawater, which Wolfenbarger believes can be even much less salty given the scale and age of Europa’s ice crust. What’s extra, in response to his calculations, brittle ice – which holds solely a small fraction of the salt in seawater – might be quite common in Europe. Which means that its ice crust could also be orders of magnitude cleaner than earlier estimates. This impacts all the pieces from its energy to how warmth strikes by means of it to the forces that may drive sure kinds of ice tectonics.

“This paper opens up a complete new mind-set about ocean worlds and the way they work,” mentioned Steve Vance, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who was not concerned within the research. “This units the stage for the way we are able to put together for Europa Clipper’s ice evaluation.”

In keeping with co-author Donald Blankenship, a senior scientist at UTIG and principal investigator of the Europa Clipper ice-penetrating radar instrument, the research validates the usage of Earth as a mannequin for understanding Europa’s habitability.

“We are able to use Earth to evaluate the habitability of Europa, measure the trade of impurities between the ice and the ocean, and discover out the place the water is within the ice,” he mentioned.

Water on Jupiter’s moon nearer to floor than thought: discover out

Extra data:
Natalie S. Wolfenbarger et al., Construction and Composition of the Ice Crust of Oceanic Worlds: Insights into Land-Gathered Ice, Astrobiology (2022). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2021.0044

Provided by the College of Texas at Austin

Quote: Underwater snow supplies clues to Europa’s icy shell (2022, August 15), retrieved August 15, 2022 from

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