Thursday, February 4, 2010

LPSC 2010: Modeling the Volcanic Plume of Pele

For the last couple of weeks, we have been examining the Io-abstracts submitted for next month's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.  Today we take a look at a paper submitted by William McDoniel, David Goldstein, Philip Varghese, Laurence M. Trafton, and Benedicte Stewart titled, "DSMC Modeling of the Plume Pele on Io." For this paper, the authors modeled the plume of Pele using a curvilinear source region.  The goal is to replicate not only the extreme height of Pele's large plume, but also the elliptical shape of the red deposit it leaves on Io's surface.  This research will be presented as a poster at the Planetary Atmospheres session on Thursday, March 4.

During last year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, McDoniel and his colleagues reported on their computer modeling of volcanic plumes that erupt from irregularly-shaped vents, such as those that would be expected from the flow front of a lava flow.  The group uses the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method for simulating the motion and properties of gas molecules within a rarefied flow like an Ionian volcanic plume.  The method was previously used with great success in 2-D space, which is appropriate for replicating the height, width, and appearance when projected against black space, by Zheng et al. 2003 for a Pele-type plume and Zhang et al. 2004 for a Prometheus-type plume.  DSMC modeling is also being used to simulate the entire atmosphere of Io as generated by sublimation and volcanism and what can happen to the atmosphere when Io is in the shadow of Jupiter. The work done by McDoniel and his colleagues at the University of Texas in the last few years has been to extend the earlier plume modeling into the third dimension in order to match the 3D shape of Ionian plumes and their non-circular deposits on the surface.  As mentioned, last year the authors examined a half-annular vent region, as opposed to the circular vent region assumed by Zheng et al.  This was done to simulate the Prometheus plume, which is generated by the interaction between warm silicate lava and surficial sulfur dioxide frost at a broad, half-circular lava flow front.  They found that such as vent geometry generated a plume that was roughly similar to one generated from a circular vent source, but with prominent jets forming along the inner concave portion of the half-annulus vent area and at the ends of convex side.  These jets had some effect on the strength of the canopy shock (the upper bright region of a plume), but the plume deposit was still roughly circular, albeit shifted in the direction of the convex side of the half-annulus source.

This year, McDoniel et al. have shifted their attention to the larger Pele plume.  The Pele plume is one of the largest on Io and was seen off and on by Voyager 1, Galileo, and the Hubble Space Telescope.  Fallout from this plume produces a large red ring that encircles the Pele volcano at a distance of 400-600 kilometers.  Two of the major features of this deposit are its elliptical shape where it is more elongated in the north-south direction and its subtle changes in shape and localized intensity over time.  McDoniel et al. used a DSMC model of the eruption conditions of Pele (sulfur and sulfur dioxide-rich gas desolving from lava fountaining at an active lava lake) and a Galileo image from the I24 encounter in October 1999 of a portion of the lava lake as a representation of the vent geometry in order to replicate the shape of the Pele plume deposit.  There simulations showed an elliptical plume deposit, with the elongation roughly perpendicular to the curvilinear line of thermal hotspots assumed to be vent sources.  Closer to the vents, the research found that jets should be created generated by the concave portions of the curvilinear line of small gas vents, including the ends of the line of vents.  The jets are associated with areas of greater deposition in the fallout region far from the vent.

What I think is most significant about this research is that it suggests that a roughly linear Pele-type plume source, like this curved line of hotspots, should produce an elliptical plume deposit.  The elongation of this deposit should be perpendicular to the trend of linear source.  Variations in intensity of the deposit are related to stronger jets resulting from deviations from the linearity of the plume source, like the concave and convex sections of the source used in the simulation.  Now, the exact source they used for their simulation may not be the source of the Pele plume, as there is a much more intense section of the Pele lava lake to its east, as seen during the I32 encounter.  Interestingly enough, this intense portion is an elongated depression that is perpendicular to the elongation of the Pele plume deposit, which is what you would expect if it is the source of the plume based on this simulation.  Variations in the deposit may result from different portions of this active region turn on or shutting off, producing jets in the plume.

Very intriguing research, IMHO!  Certainly it provides an explanation for the shape of Pele's plume and provides a possible explanation for changes in the shape and intensity of its deposit on the surface.  A more linear source would be expected from a fissure-like eruption, which is what you would expect from an explosive eruption that produces a short-term giant plume, like Grian, Tvashtar, Surt, or Dazhbog.  This may explain why at least Grian also produced an elliptical plume deposit.

Link: DSMC Modeling of the Plume Pele on Io []

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