Tectonics of planetary surfaces



Processes in the interior of planetary bodies cause the formation of tectonic structures like orogenic belts and graben. The structures we see today reflect the physical properties of the lithosphere at the time of their formation and their analysis gives us clues to the evolution of the planetary lithosphere.
Examples for surface deformations caused by tectonic processes may be found in the whole solar system: The surfaces of the Moon and Mercury are abundant in compressive structures, Mars and Venus show additional extensional features and the surfaces of the icy moons in the outer solar system are also covered by them. However, the processes responsible for the deformations may vary considerably. The simulations therefore always have to take into account the peculiarities of the bodies considered.

The data
Tectonic structures may be identified using image data, which is available for many moons and planets in high quality. The physical modeling additionally requires topographic information, which can be extracted from the images using, e.g. stereographic reconstruction. Global digital elevation models, which have been produced using specialized instruments on board satellite missions, have been obtained for the Earth, Venus, the Moon and Mars. A topographic model of Mercury will be compiled from the data that will be collected by the NASA Messenger Mission, which was launched in 2004.

Numerical simulations
We simulate the formation of tectonic structures using one and two dimensional structural mechanics models, applying half-analytical and finite element techniques. The models are then compared to the actual topography to determine the elastic properties of the lithosphere. It is thus possible to look beneath the surface and into the past of the planetary body considered and gain information about the physical properties of its lithosphere. Since the latter are strongly temperature depended, the collected data allows us to gain insight into the thermal evolution of the planet.

Contact: Dr. Matthias Grott


The eastern Coracis Fossae rift system in the Thaumasia Region, Mars. HRSC images have been combined with a digital elevation model (RV: Rift valley, F: Rift flank, V: Volcano, RP: Ridged Plain).
Figure by E. Hauber, DLR.
Schematic diagram of graben formation in an extended lithosphere
Finite element simulation of the flexure of a 20 km thick lithospheric plate after an extension of 4 km has been applied. Red: Extensional stress, blue: Compressional stress.

Selected publications
  • Grott, M., P. Kronberg, E. Hauber and B. Cailleau (2007):
    Formation of the double rift system in the Thaumasia Highlands, Mars, and implications for the structure of the early Martian lithosphere. J. Geophys. Res., 112, E06006, doi:10.1029/2006JE002800
  • Kronberg, P., E. Hauber, M. Grott, S. C. Werner, T. Schäfer,
    K. Gwinner, B. Giese, P. Masson, and G. Neukum
    (2007):
    Acheron Fossae, Mars: Tectonic rifting, volcanism, and
    implications for lithospheric thickness, J. Geophys. Res., 112, E04005, doi:10.1029/2006JE002780
  • Grott, M., E. Hauber, S.C. Werner and P. Kronberg and G. Neukum (2007): Mechanical Modeling of Thrust Faults in the Thaumasia Region, Mars, and Implications for the Noachian Heat Flux. ICARUS, 186 (2), 517 - 526, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2006.10.001
  • Grott M. et al.
    (2005):High Heat Flux on Ancient Mars: Evidence from Rift Flank Uplift at Coracis Fossae, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L21201, doi:10.1029/2005GL023894
  • Grott M.
    (2005), Late Crustal Growth on Mars: Evidence from Lithospheric Extension, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L23201, doi:10.1029/2005GL024492.

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