Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Modeling glacial flow on and onto Pluto's Sputnik Planum

Modeling glacial flow on and onto Pluto's Sputnik Planum


Umurhan et al


Observations of Pluto's surface made by the New Horizons spacecraft indicates present-day nitrogen ice glaciation in and around the basin known as Sputnik Planum. Motivated by these observations, we have developed an evolutionary glacial flow model of solid nitrogen ice taking into account its published thermophysical and rheologies properties. This model assumes that glacial ice layers flow laminarly and have low aspect ratios which permits a vertically integrated mathematical formulation. We assess the conditions for the validity of laminar nitrogen ice motion by revisiting the problem of the onset of solid-state buoyant convection of nitrogen ice for a variety of bottom thermal boundary conditions. Subject to uncertainties in nitrogen ice rheology, nitrogen ice layers are estimated to flow laminarly for thicknesses less than 400-1000 meters. The resulting mass-flux formulation for when the nitrogen ice flows as a laminar dry glacier is characterized by an Arrhenius-Glen functional form. The flow model developed is used here to qualitatively answer some questions motivated by observed glacial flow features found on Sputnik Planum. We find that the wavy transverse dark features found along the northern shoreline of Sputnik Planum may be a transitory imprint of shallow topography just beneath the ice surface suggesting the possibility that a major shoreward flow event happened relatively recently within the last few hundred years. Model results also support the interpretation that the prominent darkened features resembling flow lobes observed along the eastern shoreline of the Sputnik Planum basin may be a result of wet nitrogen glacial ice flowing into the basin from the pitted highlands of eastern Tombaugh Regio.

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