Shandel Education Plus Fund in Planetary Sciences and LPL

The Shandel Education Plus Fund in Planetary Sciences and LPL was established by a generous donor and friend of LPL for the purpose of supporting travel expenses outside the state of Arizona during summer break. The award is open to students in the Department of Planetary Sciences and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory who propose to fund study, museum visits, special exhibits, seminars, instruction, competitions, research and other endeavors that are beyond those provided by the normal campus environment and are not part of the student’s regular curriculum during the recipient’s school year.

2013 Shandel Travel Award to Catherine Elder

Modeling Io’s mantle convection in Zurich

Catherine M. Elder

For part of my dissertation, I am working with Paul Tackley, a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, to model mantle convection in Io’s mantle. Mantle convection is the rising of hot material from deep in a planet’s mantle and the sinking of cold material from near the surface. Paul Tackley’s mantle convection code also includes the effects of molten rock moving through the mantle, which is not common, because most planets are not hot enough to experience widespread partial melting in their mantles. However, on Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system (figure 1), it is thought that the movement of molten rock towards the surface may be the primary mode of heat loss. The Shandel travel award allowed me to travel to Zurich and work with Paul Tackley for two weeks and to learn a little about the program at ETH.

Based on the examples in our solar system, we think that as the amount of internal heating in a planet increases, it will transition from mantle convection beneath a cold stagnant lid like Mars to plate tectonics like Earth to advection of melt to the surface of the body like Io. However, the details of this rule of thumb are still not clear. For example, why does Earth have plate tectonics, but the similarly sized Venus does not? Could we predict if a rocky exoplanet would be like Venus, Earth, or Io? Much work is still required to understand the details of how planets lose their internal heat. My dissertation will focus on one piece of that puzzle: Io and the importance of accounting for the loss of heat through volcanism. To tackle this problem, I am working with my advisor, Adam Showman, here at the University of Arizona to develop a 1-dimensional model of Io’s mantle and working with Professor Tackley at ETH Zurich to do 2-dimensional modeling of Io. By studying the problem with both 1-dimensional and 2-dimensional modeling, we hope to develop a realistic picture of what is happening inside of Io’s mantle and how this affects what we see at the surface.

Figure 2: A mosaic of images of Io’s surface taken by the Galileo and Voyager missions. There are volcanoes on all parts of Io’s surface.

Figure 1: A mosaic of images of Io’s surface taken by the Galileo and Voyager missions. There are volcanoes on all parts of Io’s surface.