Getting Under Europa’s Skin

Presenter: Britney Schmidt, Georgia Institute of Technology
When: May 28, 2019 3PM PDT

Europa is one of the most enticing targets in the search for life beyond Earth. With an icy outer shell hiding a global ocean, Europa exists in a dynamic environment where immense tides from Jupiter potentially power an active deeper interior and intense radiation and impacts bathe the top of the ice, providing sources of energy that could sustain a biosphere. Europa’s icy plate tectonics, and evidence for shallow water within the ice, implies that rapid ice shell recycling could create a conveyor belt between the ice and ocean, allowing ocean material to one day be detected by spacecraft.

Beneath ice shelves on Earth, processes such as accretion, melt and circulation mediate the ice as an important element of the climate system. Here, ice-ocean exchange may be similar to that on Europa, but is difficult to observe given the harsh environment and thickness of the ice. Thus exploring the cryosphere can form the foundation of our understanding of other ocean worlds and a test bed for their exploration.

In this presentation, we will explore environments on Europa and their analogs here on Earth. NASA will launch the Europa Clipper Mission in 2021, but while we wait to get there, we are looking to our own cosmic backyard to help us to better understand this enigmatic moon. I will describe our work on the McMurdo and Ross Ice Shelves under our 2017-2020 field program, RISE UP, using the under ice AUV/ROV Icefin built by our lab. We will also describe our work in collaboration with the University of Otago and Antarctica New Zealand on the Ross Ice Shelf Programme, and with the NERC-NSF International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. Using this new robotic capability, we are working to gather unique new data relevant to climate and planetary science, and develop techniques for together exploring the Earth and one day Europa, an ice-covered world not so unlike our own.

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