Tides in subsurface oceans with meridional varying thickness

Marc Rovira-Navarro*, Theo Gerkema, Leo R.M. Maas, Wouter van der Wal, Ron van Ostayen, Bert Vermeersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Tidal heating can play an important role in the formation and evolution of subsurface oceans of outer-planet moons. Up until now tidal heating has only been studied in subsurface oceans of spatially uniform thickness. We develop a numerical model to consider oceans of spatially variable thickness. We use the Laplace Tidal Equations for the ocean and model the ice shell using membrane theory. The problem is solved using the commercial Finite Element software Comsol Multiphysics®. We use this new model to study the tidal response of Enceladus' ocean with a twofold objective: to understand how ocean thickness variations modify the tidal response of a subsurface ocean and to assess if tidal dissipation in an Enceladan ocean with varying ocean thickness can explain the high heat flux emanating from Enceladus' South Polar Terrain and the perdurance of a subsurface ocean. We consider the effect of meridional ocean thickness changes of spherical harmonic degree two and three as suggested by topography and gravimetry data. We observe that an ocean with degree two topography responds with the same eigenmodes as an ocean of constant thickness but resonances occur for thicker oceans. However, resonant ocean thicknesses are still thin compared to current estimates for Enceladus ocean thickness. Rossby-Haurwitz waves, excited by the obliquity tide for thick oceans of constant thickness, are not excited at the tidal frequency when oceans of variable thickness are considered. This result implies that the role of the obliquity tide in ocean tidal-dissipation might have been overestimated for Enceladus and other icy worlds. An antisymmetric, degree-three ocean thickness variation mixes the ocean modes excited in a constant thickness ocean by the eccentricity and obliquity tide.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113711
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Icy moons
  • Rotational dynamics
  • Tides


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