Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Jet activity on Enceladus linked to tidally driven strike-slip motion along tiger stripes


At Saturn’s moon Enceladus, jets along four distinct fractures called ‘tiger stripes’ erupt ice crystals into a broad plume above the South Pole. The tiger stripes experience variations in tidally driven shear and normal traction as Enceladus orbits Saturn. Here, we use numerical finite-element modelling of a spherical ice shell subjected to tidal forces to show that this traction may produce quasi-periodic strike-slip motion in the Enceladus crust with two peaks in activity during each orbit. We suggest that friction modulates the response of tiger stripes to driving stresses, such that tidal traction on the faults results in a difference in the magnitudes of peak strike slip and delays the first peak in fault motion following peak tidal stress. The simulated double-peaked and asymmetric strike-slip motion of the tiger stripes is consistent with diurnal variations in jet activity inferred from Cassini spacecraft images of plume brightness. The spatial distribution of strike-slip motion also matches Cassini infrared observations of heat flow. We hypothesize that strike-slip motion can extend transtensional bends (for example, pull-apart structures) along geometric irregularities over the tiger stripes and thus modulate jet activity. Tidally driven fault motion may also influence longer term tectonic evolution near the South Pole of the satellite.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Fig. 1: Examples of tidally driven deformation at Enceladus.
Fig. 2: Modelled traction and lateral slip over tiger stripe faults as a function of mean anomaly.
Fig. 3: Comparison of predicted strike-slip motion along tiger stripes and observations of plume brightness.
Fig. 4: Comparison of the spatial distribution of strike-slip motion and heat flow along the tiger stripes.
Fig. 5: Conceptual relationship between tidally driven normal tractions, strike-slip motion and jet activity through the tidal cycle.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

Data used for Fig. 3 (slab densities derived from Cassini ISS images) is publicly available via (ref. 7). Data used for Fig. 4 (heat flow along the tiger stripe faults derived from Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer measurements) is publicly available via (ref. 4).

Code availability

The results used in this study were generated using the software package PyLith44,50. PyLith is an open-source finite-element code for modelling geodynamic processes and is available via Zenodo at (ref. 50). The specific PyLith version used in this study was v2.2.2. The full code used to simulate deformation in this work (including modifications Pylith, CUBIT and PETSc and a user manual) are publicly available via (ref. 51). The mesh geometries utilized in this study were created using CUBIT (v15.2), a node-locked licensed software, which is available through the developer Sandia National Laboratories via (ref. 48).


  1. Porco, C. et al. Cassini observes the active south pole of enceladus. Science 311, 1393–1401 (2006).

  2. Postberg, F. et al. Sodium salts in e-ring ice grains from an ocean below the surface of enceladus. Nature 459, 1098–1101 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Yin, A. & Pappalardo, R. Gravitational spreading, bookshelf faulting, and tectonic evolution of the South Polar Terrain of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Icarus 260, 409–439 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Spencer, J. et al. Plume Origins and Plumbing (Ocean to Surface) (Univ. Arizona Press, 2018).

  5. Thomas, P. et al. Enceladus’s measured physical libration requires a global subsurface ocean. Icarus 264, 37–47 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Stephanie, A. & Montési, L. The impact of a pressurized regional sea or global ocean on stresses on enceladus. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 122, 1258–1275 (2017).

  7. Ingersoll, A., Ewald, S. & Trumbo, S. Time variability of the enceladus plumes: orbital periods, decadal periods, and aperiodic change. Icarus 344, 113345 (2020).

  8. Murray, C. & Dermott, S. Solar System Dynamics (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

  9. Nimmo, F., Barr, A., Behounkova, M. & McKinnon, W. The Thermal and Orbital Evolution of Enceladus (Univ. Arizona Press, 2018).

  10. Hurford, T., Helfenstein, P., Hoppa, G., Greenberg, R. & Bills, B. Eruptions arising from tidally controlled periodic openings of rifts on enceladus. Nature 447, 292–294 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Souček, O., Hron, J., Běhounková, M. & Čadek, O. Effect of the tiger stripes on the deformation of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 7417–7423 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Nakajima, M. & Ingersoll, A. Controlled boiling on enceladus. 1. model of the vapor-driven jets. Icarus 272, 309–318 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kite, E. & Rubin, A. Sustained eruptions on enceladus explained by turbulent dissipation in tiger stripes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 3972–3975 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Behounková, M. et al. Timing of water plume eruptions on enceladus explained by interior viscosity structure. Nat. Geosci. 8, 601–604 (2015).

  15. Porco, C., Dinino, D. & Nimmo, F. How the geysers, tidal stresses, and thermal emission across the south polar terrain of enceladus are related. Astron. J. 148, 45 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Crawford, G. & Stevenson, D. Gas-driven water volcanism and the resurfacing of Europa. Icarus 73, 66–79 (1988).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Nimmo, F., Spencer, J., Pappalardo, R. & Mullen, M. Shear heating as the origin of the plumes and heat flux on enceladus. Nature 447, 289–291 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Smith-Konter, B. & Pappalardo, R. Tidally driven stress accumulation and shear failure of Enceladus’s tiger stripes. Icarus 198, 435–451 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Postberg, F., Schmidt, J., Hillier, J., Kempf, S. & Srama, R. A salt-water reservoir as the source of a compositionally stratified plume on enceladus. Nature 474, 620–622 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Postberg, F. et al. Plume and Surface Composition of Enceladus (Univ. Arizona Press, 2018).

  21. Sládková, K. P., Souček, O. & Běhounková, M. Enceladus’ tiger stripes as frictional faults: effect on stress and heat production. Geophys. Res. Lett. 48, 19 (2021).

  22. Berne, A., Simons, M., Keane, J. & Park, R. Inferring the mean thickness of the outer ice shell of Enceladus from diurnal crustal deformation. J. Geophys. Res. E 128, 6 (2023).

  23. Berne, A., Simons, M., Keane, J. & Park, R. Using tidally-driven elastic strains to infer regional variations in crustal thickness at enceladus. Geophys. Res. Lett. 50, 311–318 (2023).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Van Hoolst, T., Baland, R. & Trinh, A. The diurnal libration and interior structure of Enceladus. Icarus 277, 111–131 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hemingway, D. & Mittal, T. Enceladus’s ice shell structure as a window on internal heat production. Icarus 332, 111–131 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Park, R. et al. The global shape, gravity field, and libration of Enceladus. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 125, 157 (2024).

  27. Ermakov, A. et al. A recipe for the geophysical exploration of Enceladus. Planet. Sci. J. 2, 157 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hemingway, D., Iess, L., Tajeddine, R. & Tobie, G.The Interior of Enceladus (Univ. of Arizona Press, 2018).

  29. Rozhko, A., Podladchikov, Y. & Renard, F. Failure patterns caused by localized rise in pore-fluid overpressure and effective strength of rocks. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, 22 (2007).

  30. Schulson, E. & Fortt, A. Friction of ice on ice. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 117, B12 (2012).

  31. Meyer, C. et al. A mushy source for the geysers of Enceladus. Preprint at (2022).

  32. Behounkova, M., Soucek, O., Hron, J. & Cadec, O. Plume activity and tidal deformation on Enceladus influenced by faults and variable ice shell thickness. Astrobiology 17, 941–954 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Maeno, N., Arakawa, M., Yasutome, A., Mizukami, N. & Kanazawa, S. Ice–ice friction measurements, and water lubrication and adhesion-shear mechanisms. Can. J. Phys. 81, 241–249 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Sukhorukov, S. & Løset, S. Friction of sea ice on sea ice. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol. 94, 1–12 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Schenk, P. Cartographic and topographic mapping of the icy satellites of the outer Solar System. In International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences Vol. XXXVII Part B4 967–972 (2008).

  36. Wahr, J., Zuber, M., Smith, D. & Lunine, J. Tides on Europa, and the thickness of Europa’s icy shell. J. Geophys. Res. E (2006).

  37. Han, L. et al. Continental rupture and the creation of new crust in the salton trough rift, southern California and northern Mexico: results from the Salton seismic imaging project. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 121, 7469–7489 (2016).

  38. Rossi, C., Cianfarra, P., Salvini, F., Bourgeois, O. & Tobie, G. Tectonics of Enceladus’ South Pole: block rotation of the tiger stripes. J. Geophys. Res. Planets (2020).

  39. Patthoff, A. & Kattenhorn, S. A fracture history on enceladus provides evidence for a global ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. (2011).

  40. Simons, M. & Rosen, P. in Treatise on Geophysics 2nd edn Vol. 3 (ed. Schubert, G.) 391–445 (Elsevier, 2015).

  41. Wahr, J. et al. Modeling stresses on satellites due to nonsynchronous rotation and orbital eccentricity using gravitational potential theory. Icarus 200, 188–206 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. Schubert, G., Anderson, J., Travis, B. & Palguta, J. Enceladus: present internal structure and differentiation by early and long-term radiogenic heating. Icarus 188, 345–355 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Rovira-Navarro, M., Matsuyama, I. & Berne, A. A spectral method to compute the tides of laterally-heterogeneous bodies. Preprint at (2023).

  44. Aagaard, B. et al. PyLith v4.0.0. Zenodo (2023).

  45. Balay, S. et al. PETSc Users Manual Revision 3.5 No. ANL-95/11 Rev. 3.5 (Argonne National Laboratory, 2014).

  46. Melosh, H. & Raefsky, A. A simple and efficient method for introducing faults into finite element computations. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 71, 1391–1400 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Segall, P. Earthquake and Volcano Deformation (Princeton Univ. Press, 2010).

  48. Skroch, M. et al. CUBIT Geometry and Mesh Generation Toolkit 15.4 User Documentation (Sandia National Laboratories, 2019).

  49. Hemingway, D. & Isamu, M. Isostatic equilibrium in spherical coordinates and implications for crustal thickness on the Moon, Mars, Enceladus, and elsewhere. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 7695–7705 (2017).

  50. Aagaard, B., Williams, C. & Knepley, M. PyLith: a finite-element code for modeling quasi-static and dynamic crustal deformation. geodynamics/pylith v2.2.2 (v2.2.2). Zenodo (2022).

  51. Berne, A., Simons, M., Keane, J., Leonard, E. & Park, R. acberne/Berne_2023_FEA_Code_Files_A_Relationship_Between_ Strike_Slip_Motion_and_Jet_Activity_over_Tiger_Stripes_on_Enceladus: repository containing modified finite element code and a user manual used for study. Zenodo (2023).

Download references


This research was supported by the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) Program (80NSSC22K1318)(A.B., M.S.). We thank the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at the California Institute of Technology for organizing two workshops about ‘Next-Generation Planetary Geodesy’ which provided insight, expertise and discussions that inspired this research. We also thank M. Knepley, B. Aagaard and C. Williams for providing valuable advice on how to modify PyLith for our simulations. A portion of this research was supported by a Strategic Research and Technology Development task led by J. T. Keane and R. S. Park at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004)(J.T.K., R.S.P.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.B. conceived and designed this study under the supervision of M.S. A.B. drafted the article and constructed Figs. 14. M.S., J.T.K. and A.B. developed numerical models used in the study. R.S.P. provided the shape model necessary for numerical simulations. J.T.K., with the aid of A.B., constructed Fig. 5. E.J.L. provided expertise regarding the geological evolution of the SPT. All authors discussed the results of the study and commented on the manuscript at each stage of revision.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Berne.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Geoscience thanks Douglas Hemingway and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Tamara Goldin, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Additional information

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

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Similar to upper right and upper left panels of Fig. 2 of the main text except values (driving tractions) are evaluated for a model with slipping faults (μ = 0.4).

We find that slip along tiger stripe faults induces up to 10% variability in tractions relative to values evaluated for the case of fully-locked interfaces.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Example snapshots of mesh geometry.

Left: South Polar (orthographic) view of mesh geometry showing labelled tiger stripe faults (black traces). Right: perspective view of tiger stripe surfaces with inset closeup image of Alexandria sulcus. Tetrahedra cell edges are colored in blue and range in size from 1 km (over the tiger stripe faults) to 8 km. Approximate distance scale is shown in the lower right panel for reference. Faults are viewed from 130W, looking upward from 35 below the horizontal.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Spin-up parameter Ξ(t) (see Equation (21)) modelled as a function of time (in units of tidal periods) for several prescribed values for the static coefficient of friction μ.

Ξ(t) = 0 indicates that differences between values at a given mean anomaly are zero (model is fully ‘spun-up’). Plotted lines are colored by value of modelled coefficient of static friction. The x-axis is plotted in log-10 scale.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Simplified model relating driving shear traction τD, normal traction σn, μ, and slip s along the tiger stripe faults.

Upper row: Frictionless fault subject to driving tractions. In this case, the fault cannot support shear traction (resolved shear traction τR = 0) and driving traction τD is resolved along interfaces (s ≠ 0) regardless of the applied σn. Slip results in a concentration of elastic strain at the fixed ends of the fault. The subsequent unloading of the driving shear traction results in a return to zero slip. Center row: frictional fault with time-variable driving shear traction and constant normal traction. In this case, s ≠ 0 when τD > σnμ (that is, τc = τD − σnμ > 0). Constant values of σn result in symmetric slip profiles following the onset of sliding. Bottom row: frictional fault with time-variable driving shear and normal tractions. In this case, variable σn results in an increased magnitude of τD required to initiate sliding and an associated decrease in the amplitude of s during the first occurrence of τc > 0. The resulting slip profile is double-peaked and asymmetric.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Correlation of timing of lateral slip and plume brightness for several values of modelled μ7.

Values are plotted for corresponding values of mean anomaly and are each normalized by maxima over the tidal cycle. Linear regression lines and associated Pearson Correlation Coefficients (R = 1 indicates perfect correlation) shown for reference. Scatter points are colored by value of mean anomaly ranging from 0 to 360 (that is, periapse to periapse).

Extended Data Fig. 6 Crustal thickness assumed for finite-element models.

The top and bottom images respectively show crustal thickness in cylindrical equidistant and South Polar stereographic projections. We compensate non-hydrostatic surface topography at Enceladus using a formulation for Airy isostatic compensation to generate thickness variations (for details, see Methods ‘Model Geometry’). Surface topography is extracted from a shape model of the full outer surface of Enceladus described in26. Contours denote intervals of 5 km in thickness for both map projections. The labelled thick black lines plotted in the bottom image denote tiger stripes (‘A’ ↔ Alexandria, ‘C’ ↔ Cairo, ‘B’ ↔ Baghdad, and ‘D’ ↔ Damascus).

Extended Data Fig. 7 Correlation of spatial distribution of lateral slip and radiated power per unit length4 for several values of modelled μ.

Values are plotted for corresponding values of surface location (along the tiger stripe faults) and are each normalized by maxima over all interfaces. Linear regression lines and Pearson Correlation Coefficient (R = 1 indicates perfect correlation) shown for reference. Scatter points are colored according to associated fault (Green ↔ Baghdad, Blue ↔ Damascus, Yellow ↔ Cairo, and Red ↔ Alexandria). Values from the endpoints of fault structures are excluded from plots and the computation of R values.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1.

Supplementary Video

Movies of tidally driven deformation at Enceladus over the full tidal cycle. Top: South Polar orthographic projections of radial displacement at the surface relative to that produced by models without tiger stripe faults. Bottom: perspective view of lateral slip along tiger stripe faults: ‘A’ Alexandria, ‘C’ Cairo, ‘B’ Baghdad and ‘D’ Damascus. We assign μ = 0.4 to tiger stripe faults for this example. Faults are viewed from 130° W, looking upward from 35° below the horizontal. Mean anomaly value (and relative distance of Enceladus to Saturn) is labelled above (and to the upper left) for reference.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Berne, A., Simons, M., Keane, J.T. et al. Jet activity on Enceladus linked to tidally driven strike-slip motion along tiger stripes. Nat. Geosci. 17, 385–391 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing