Cryovolcanism, defined here as the extrusion of icy material from depth, may be an important planetary phenomenon in shaping the surfaces of many worlds in the outer Solar System and revealing their thermal histories1,2,3. However, the physics, chemistry and ubiquity of this geologic process remain poorly understood, especially in comparison to the better-studied silicate volcanism on the terrestrial planets. Ceres is the only plausibly cryovolcanic world to be orbited by a spacecraft up to now, making it the best opportunity to test the importance of cryovolcanism on bodies in the outer Solar System and compare its effects to silicate volcanism on terrestrial planets. Here, we analyse images from NASA’s Dawn mission4 and use the finite element method to show that Ceres has experienced cryovolcanism throughout its geologic history, with an average cryomagma extrusion rate of ~104 m3 yr−1. This result shows that volcanic phenomena are important on Ceres, but orders of magnitude less so than on the terrestrial planets.

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Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. The data come from NASA’s Dawn mission and are also publically available in the NASA Planetary Data System (https://pds.nasa.gov).

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Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Change history

  • 18 October 2018

    In the version of this Letter originally published, the unit in the right y axis label in Fig. 3 mistakenly read ‘(m yr–1)’; it has now been corrected to read ‘(m Myr–1)’.


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M.M.S., S.B., H.G.S. and M.T.B. acknowledge support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Dawn Guest Investigator Program. Any use of trade, firm or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Author information


  1. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Michael M. Sori
    • , Shane Byrne
    •  & Ali M. Bramson
  2. Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Hanna G. Sizemore
  3. USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Flagstaff, AZ, USA

    • Michael T. Bland
  4. Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA

    • Nathaniel T. Stein
  5. Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    • Christopher T. Russell


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M.M.S. formulated the project, performed all viscous flow model runs and led writing of this paper. M.M.S. and H.G.S. identified and analysed the domes suitable for this study. A.M.B. performed the thermal model runs. All authors contributed substantially to the interpretation of results and writing of this paper.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael M. Sori.

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