Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Cryolava flow destabilization of crustal methane clathrate hydrate on Titan

Cryolava flow destabilization of crustal methane clathrate hydrate on Titan


Davies et al


To date, there has been no conclusive observation of ongoing endogenous volcanic activity on Saturn's moon Titan. However, with time, Titan's atmospheric methane is lost and must be replenished. We have modeled one possible mechanism for the replenishment of Titan's methane loss. Cryolavas can supply enough heat to release large amounts of methane from methane clathrate hydrates (MCH). The volume of methane released is controlled by the flow thickness and its areal extent. The depth of the destabilisation layer is typically ≈30% of the thickness of the lava flow (≈3 m for a 10-m thick flow). For this flow example, a maximum of 372 kg of methane is released per m2 of flow area. Such an event would release methane for nearly a year. One or two events per year covering ∼20 km2 would be sufficient to resupply atmospheric methane. A much larger effusive event covering an area of ≈9000 km2 with flows 200 m thick would release enough methane to sustain current methane concentrations for 10,000 years. The minimum size of “cryo-flows” sufficient to maintain the current atmospheric methane is small enough that their detection with current instruments (e.g., Cassini) could be challenging. We do not suggest that Titan's original atmosphere was generated by this mechanism. It is unlikely that small-scale surface MCH destabilisation is solely responsible for long-term (greater than a few Myr) sustenance of Titan's atmospheric methane, but rather we present it as a possible contributor to Titan's past and current atmospheric methane.

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