The mountains of Io: Global and geological perspectives from Voyager and Galileo

Paul Schenk, Henrik Hargitai, Ronda Wilson, Alfred McEwen, Peter Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


To search for local and global scale geologic associations that may be related to the internal dynamics of Io, we have completed a global catalog of all mountains and volcanic centers. We have identified 115 mountain structures (covering ∼3% of the surface) and 541 volcanic centers, including paterae (calderas and dark spots) and shield volcanoes. The average length of an Ionian mountain is 157 km, with the longest being 570 km. The mean height of Ionian mountains is 6.3 km, and the highest known mountain is Boösaule Montes (17.5 ± 3 km). Five basic morphologic types of mountains have been identified; mesa, plateau, peak, ridge, and massif. Very few mountains bear any physical similarity to classic volcanic landforms, but many resemble flatiron mountains on Earth and are interpreted as tilted crustal blocks. This would be consistent with the hypothesis that most mountains are thrust blocks formed as a result of compressive stresses built up in the lower crust due to the global subsidence of volcanic layers as they are buried over time [Schenk and Bulmer, 1998]. More than one mechanism may be responsible for all Ionian mountains, however. The proximity of some mountains to paterae may indicate a direct link between some mountains and volcanism, although it is not always clear which came first. In contrast to earlier studies, a pronounced bimodal pattern is observed in the global distribution of both mountains and volcanic centers. The regions of highest areal densities of volcanic centers are near the sub- and anti-Jovian regions, but are offset roughly 90° in longitude from the two regions of greatest concentration of mountains. This anticorrelation may indicate the overprinting of a second stress field on the global compressive stresses due to subsidence, The bimodal distribution of volcanic centers and mountains is consistent with models of asthenospheric tidal heating and internal convection developed by Tackley et al. [2001]. Over regions of mantle upwelling, compressive stresses in the lower crust induced by global subsidence might be reduced, encouraging volcanism and discouraging mountain building. In regions of mantle downwelling, these compressive stresses in the lower crust might be increased, discouraging volcanism and encouraging mountain building. Alternatively, the global pattern may be related to possible (but undocumented) nonsynchronous rotation of Io, which would produce two regions each of compression and extension in the crust. Evidence of layering and of mass wasting, including landslides, block sliding, debris aprons and downslope creep, on Ionian mountains suggests that the crust of Io is essentially a layered stack of partially consolidated volcanic lavas and plume deposits, becoming more consolidated with depth. The lower crust especially may also be ductily deformed, punctuated by volcanic intrusions and faulting at paterae, and broken into blocks, some of which have been uplifted to form mountains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2000JE001408
Pages (from-to)33201-33222
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue numberE12
StatePublished - Dec 25 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


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