Constraining Europa's ice shell thickness with fundamental mode surface wave dispersion

Ross R. Maguire, Nicholas C. Schmerr, Vedran Lekić, Terry A. Hurford, Lenore Dai, Alyssa R. Rhoden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Determining the thickness of Europa's outer ice shell is a key factor for understanding Europa's internal dynamics, evolution, and potential habitability. As such, one of the primary goals of any future lander mission to Europa would be to constrain the thickness of the ice shell and confirm the presence of a global subsurface ocean. Tidally induced ice fracturing events provide a natural source of seismic energy to illuminate the subsurface, thus a seismic instrument onboard a future lander mission could provide a promising means to probe ice shell thickness. A variety of seismic techniques could be used to constrain Europa's interior structure and dynamics, including body wave, surface wave, and normal mode seismology. Here, we use numerical simulations of seismic wave propagation on Europa in order to investigate the potential of using long period dispersion measurements of Rayleigh and flexural waves to constrain the ice shell thickness. Since the sensitivity kernels of group velocity dispersion measurements depend strongly on the structure of the ice shell, inverting for ice shell thickness is a non-linear problem. To address this, we use either a grid search or Markov chain Monte Carlo inversion approach, and test the method on a variety of plausible models of Europa's interior. Additionally, we demonstrate our approach in a “blind” inversion using the 1 week long synthetic catalogs of Europa's seismicity from Panning et al. (2018). We find that under most scenarios, group velocity dispersion measurements between periods of 25–250 s can constrain Europa's ice shell thickness to within several km uncertainty, although the method becomes increasingly inaccurate for thicker ice shells and at large epicentral distances. Our results, which suggest that surface waves from naturally occurring ice fracturing events on Europa can be used to help determine ice shell thickness, may help set instrument requirements for spaceflight capable seismometers aimed at exploring icy ocean worlds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114617
StatePublished - Nov 15 2021


  • Europa
  • Ice shell thickness
  • Icy ocean worlds
  • Seismology
  • Subsurface ocean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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