The microstructural evolution of water ice in the solar system through sintering

15 Jan 2019  ·  Molaro Jamie L., Choukroun Mathieu, Phillips Cynthia B., Phelps Eli S., Hodyss Robert, Mitchell Karl L., Lora Juan M., Meirion-Griffith Gareth ·

Ice sintering is a form of metamorphism that drives the microstructural evolution of an aggregate of grains through surface and volume diffusion. This leads to an increase in the grain-to-grain contact area ("neck") and density of the aggregate over time, resulting in the evolution of its strength, porosity, thermal conductivity, and other properties... This process plays an important role in the evolution of icy planetary surfaces, though its rate and nature are not well constrained. In this study, we explore the model of Swinkels and Ashby (1981), and assess the extent to which it can be used to quantify sintering timescales for water ice. We compare predicted neck growth rates to new and historical observations of ice sintering, and find agreement to some studies at the order of magnitude level. First-order estimates of neck growth timescales on planetary surfaces show that ice may undergo significant modification over geologic timescales, even in the outer solar system. Densification occurs over much longer timescales, suggesting some surfaces may develop cohesive, but porous, crusts. Sintering rates are extremely sensitive to temperature and grain size, occurring faster in warmer aggregates of smaller grains. This suggests that the microstructural evolution of ices may vary not only throughout the solar system, but also spatially across the surface and in the near-surface of a given body. Our experimental observations of complex grain growth and mass redistribution in ice aggregates point to components of the model that may benefit from improvement, and areas where additional laboratory studies are needed. read more

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Earth and Planetary Astrophysics