Europa’s ice crust is crossed by thousands of double ridges, pairs of long parallel raised lines with a small valleys in between, sometimes as much as hundreds of miles long and skyscraper-height tall rims. While these double ridges are ubiquitous on Europa’s surface, how they form remains something of a mystery to scientists.
Dustin Schroeder, an associate professor of geophysics at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, was working on an issue related to climate change when he saw double ridges similar to those seen on Europa here on Earth. The ridges, in Northwest Greenland, were tiny when compared with those on Europa, but the found the same “M”-shaped crest as found everywhere on that Jovian moon.
“We were working on something totally different related to climate change and its impact on the surface of Greenland when we saw these tiny double ridges – and we were able to see the ridges go from ‘not formed’ to ‘formed,’ ” Schroeder said.
Could the double ridges be forming as a result of processes similar to those that form the double ridges on Europa?
If so, then Greenland would provide a possibly important new window into a central question about Europa: Is that thick ice shell surrounding the subsurface ocean completely solid, or does it have what are called “water sills” within the shell?
This is important because, as the Nature Communications paper concludes, “If the same process is responsible for Europa’s double ridges, our results suggest that shallow liquid water is spatially and temporally ubiquitous across Europa’s ice shell.”
Or as Schroeder put it, “If the mechanism we see in Greenland is how these things happen on Europa, it suggests there’s water everywhere,” he said in a release.
They can make this inference because the double ridges formed in Greenland are the known, and detectable, result of the dynamics of subsurface water surrounded by the ice sheet.