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Mountain building on Io driven by deep faulting

Abstract

Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io possesses some of the highest relief in the Solar System: massive, isolated mountain blocks that tower up to 17 km above the surrounding plains. These mountains are likely to result from pervasive compressive stresses induced by subsidence of the surface beneath the near-continual emplacement of volcanic material. The stress state that results from subsidence and warming of Io’s lithosphere has been investigated in detail1,2,3,4; however, the mechanism of orogenesis itself and its effect on regional tectonism and volcanism has not been firmly established. Here we present viscoelastic–plastic finite element simulations demonstrating that Io’s mountains form along deep-seated thrust faults that initiate at the base of the lithosphere and propagate upward. We show that faulting fundamentally alters the stress state of Io’s lithosphere by relieving the large volcanism-induced subsidence stresses. Notably, in the upper portion of the lithosphere, stresses become tensile (near-zero differential stress). A number of processes are therefore altered post-faulting, including magma transport through the lithosphere, interactions with tidal stresses and potentially the localization of mountain formation by thermoelastic stresses. We conclude that Io’s mountains form by a unique orogenic mechanism, compared with tectonic processes operating elsewhere in the Solar System.

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Figure 1: Galileo image mosaic of mountains on Io.
Figure 2: The simulated surface deformation and distribution of brittle failure in the lithosphere caused by subsidence.
Figure 3: Horizontally averaged profiles of differential stress as a function of depth.
Figure 4: The distribution of differential stress throughout the lithosphere.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by NASA’s Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program (NNX11AP16G) and Solar System Workings Program (NNH15AZ80I). M.T.B. thanks T. Becker for technical guidance in the production of Fig. 1.

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M.T.B. designed and performed the finite element model simulations, analysed simulation results and prepared the manuscript. W.B.M. contributed to the design and analysis of the finite element model simulations and manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Michael T. Bland.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bland, M., McKinnon, W. Mountain building on Io driven by deep faulting. Nature Geosci 9, 429–432 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2711

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