Prerequisites for explosive cryovolcanism on dwarf planet-class Kuiper belt objects

M. Neveu, Steven Desch, Everett Shock, C. R. Glein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Explosive extrusion of cold material from the interior of icy bodies, or cryovolcanism, has been observed on Enceladus and, perhaps, Europa, Triton, and Ceres. It may explain the observed evidence for a young surface on Charon (Pluto's surface is masked by frosts). Here, we evaluate prerequisites for cryovolcanism on dwarf planet-class Kuiper belt objects (KBOs). We first review the likely spatial and temporal extent of subsurface liquid, proposed mechanisms to overcome the negative buoyancy of liquid water in ice, and the volatile inventory of KBOs. We then present a new geochemical equilibrium model for volatile exsolution and its ability to drive upward crack propagation. This novel approach bridges geophysics and geochemistry, and extends geochemical modeling to the seldom-explored realm of liquid water at subzero temperatures. We show that carbon monoxide (CO) is a key volatile for gas-driven fluid ascent; whereas CO2 and sulfur gases only play a minor role. N2, CH4, and H2 exsolution may also drive explosive cryovolcanism if hydrothermal activity produces these species in large amounts (a few percent with respect to water). Another important control on crack propagation is the internal structure: a hydrated core makes explosive cryovolcanism easier, but an undifferentiated crust does not. We briefly discuss other controls on ascent such as fluid freezing on crack walls, and outline theoretical advances necessary to better understand cryovolcanic processes. Finally, we make testable predictions for the 2015 New Horizons flyby of the Pluto-Charon system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-64
Number of pages17
StatePublished - Apr 5 2014


  • Charon
  • Interiors
  • Pluto
  • Satellites
  • Volcanism
  • formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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