Investigation 3 examines how, where, and for how long icy ocean worlds might be able to support life. We want to understand salinity and global circulation in oceans tens to hundreds of miles deep, possible hydrothermal systems, and geological overturn in ice layers miles to tens of miles thick. We are developing models of seafloor evolution and habitability under extreme pressures, up to tens of thousands of atmosphere. This includes applying recent breakthroughs in fluid and mineral thermodynamics of Earth’s deep carbon cycle to conditions not found on our home planet. In the lab, we are measuring fundamental properties of fluids under icy world oceans conditions to enable a new generation of interior models needed for possible planned future missions exploring ocean worlds.
Vance, S. D., K. P. Hand, and R. T. Pappalardo (2016), Geophysical controls of chemical disequilibria in Europa, Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 4871 - 4879, doi:10.1002/2016GL068547
We're studying an alien ocean using methods developed to understand the movement of energy and nutrients in Earth's own systems. The cycling of oxygen and hydrogen in Europa's ocean will be a major driver for Europa's ocean chemistry and any life there, just as it is on Earth.