Shallow normal fault slopes on Saturnian icy satellites

Chloe B. Beddingfield, Devon M. Burr, William M. Dunne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Fault dips are a function of the coefficient of internal friction, μi, of the lithospheric material. Laboratory deformation experiments of H2O ice at conditions applicable to icy bodies yield 0 ≤ μi ≤ 0.55 such that normal faults dip between 45° and 59°. We tested the hypothesis that normal faults on icy bodies reflect these values by using digital elevation models to examine geometries of large extensional systems on three Saturnian satellites. Analyzed faults within Ithaca Chasma on Tethys and Avaiki Chasmata on Rhea all exhibit shallower-than-predicted topographic slopes across the fault scarp, which we term "fault slopes." A scarp of Padua Chasmata within Dione's Wispy Terrain also has a shallow fault slope, although three others that make up Palatine Chasmata exhibit steeper slopes as predicted. We infer that viscous relaxation is the most viable explanation for these shallow fault slopes, and we model the potential role of viscous relaxation in creating shallow slopes. Our modeling results support formation of these normal faults with steep dips consistent with deformation experiments, followed by their relaxation due to lithospheric heating events related to radionuclide decay. The steepest fault slopes in this terrain yield 0 ≤ μi ≤ 0.73 for Dione's lithospheric ice, which overlaps the dip range predicted from experiments. Results of this work suggest that viscous relaxation substantially affected fault slopes on Tethys, Rhea, and Dione. By implication, these processes may have also affected fault geometries on other icy satellites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2053-2083
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Dione
  • Rhea
  • Tethys
  • icy satellites
  • normal faults
  • viscous relaxation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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