Active Volcanoes on Venus?

Guest geology by David Middleton

Recent analyses of data collected by ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft indicates that some of the lava flows on Venus might be very young…

RESEARCH ARTICLE PLANETARY SCIENCE
Present-day volcanism on Venus as evidenced from weathering rates of olivine

Justin Filiberto1,*, David Trang2, Allan H. Treiman1 and Martha S. Gilmore3

Abstract

At least some of Venus’ lava flows are thought to be <2.5 million years old based on visible to near-infrared (VNIR) emissivity measured by the Venus Express spacecraft. However, the exact ages of these flows are poorly constrained because the rate at which olivine alters at Venus surface conditions, and how that alteration affects VNIR spectra, remains unknown. We obtained VNIR reflectance spectra of natural olivine that was altered and oxidized in the laboratory. We show that olivine becomes coated, within days, with alteration products, primarily hematite (Fe2O3). With increasing alteration, the VNIR 1000-nm absorption, characteristic of olivine, also weakens within days. Our results indicate that lava flows lacking VNIR features due to hematite are no more than several years old. Therefore, Venus is volcanically active now.

Filiberto et al., 2019 (Full text available)

ESA had previously reported evidence of recent volcanic activity on Venus.

The “Near‐Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) on board the Galileo spacecraft” may have detected granitic rocks on Venus, indicating that it once had active active tectonics, continents and oceans. Could Venus still be tectonically active? Maybe.

Artistic conception of an active volcano on Venus. (ESA)

Back in the 1990’s the Magellan spacecraft also provided some spectacular radar images of Venusian volcanoes and lava flows.

“This Magellan radar image shows a type of volcanic feature known as a “tick”, located northeast of Alpha Regio on Venus. These features are characterized by a caldera within a smooth depression surrounded by a raised rim with radial spurs. The rim in this case has a diameter of about 30 km.” ESA
“In a Magellan image dubbed the “Crater Farm” we see the curious layering of volcanic activity and impact craters. Three impact craters are displayed in this three-dimensional perspective view of the surface of Venus. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” NASA

Volcanoes Elsewhere in our Solar System

Earth and the Jovian moon Io are the only two planets or planetary bodies in the solar system known to have active volcanoes. Oddly enough, Io’s volcanoes are in the wrong place, according to models.

Scientists to Io: Your Volcanoes Are in the Wrong Place

Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the Solar System, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting lava fountains up to 250 miles high. However, concentrations of volcanic activity are significantly displaced from where they are expected to be based on models that predict how the moon’s interior is heated, according to NASA and European Space Agency researchers.

[…]

NASA
Io Tvashtar volcano: This five-frame animation, produced using images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft, illustrates a volcanic eruption on Io, a moon of Jupiter. The eruption plume is estimated to be about 180 miles high. NASA image.” Geology.com

Venus would make it three.

Mars and the Moon were also volcanically active in the geologic past. Remote sensing data and the geomorphology of Io, Venus and Mars indicate that the lava flows are primarily of a basaltic nature. The Moon’s maria lava flows have been confirmed to be composed primarily of basalt. Lunar basalt is mineralogically similar to Earth’s, although there is a significant and diagnostic geochemical difference. Lunar rocks and regolith plot along a distinct FeOT vs. Al2O3 trend. In the image below, I plotted mare basalt samples collected by the Apollo 11 & 12 missions along with a wide variety of terrestrial basalt samples.

Apollo 11 and 12 mare basalts and various terrestrial basalts plotted on a cross plot of FeOT vs. Al2O3 (Korotev)

Lunar basalt is enriched in iron oxide and depleted in aluminum oxide, relative to similar rocks on Earth.

Cryovolcanoes

Neptune’s moon Triton and Saturn’s moon Enceladus appear to have cryovolcanoes. These features are composed of ice and erupt water vapor.

“Cryovolcano mechanics: Diagram of how a cryovolcano might work on Io or Enceladus. Pockets of pressurized water a short distance below the surface are heated by internal tidal action. When pressures become high enough, they vent to the surface.” Geology.com

References

Filiberto, J., Trang, D., Treiman, A.H., Gilmore, M., 2020. Present-day volcanism on Venus as evidenced from weathering rates of olivine. Science Advances, 6: eaax7445.

Hashimoto, G. L., Roos‐Serote, M., Sugita, S., Gilmore, M. S., Kamp, L. W., Carlson, R. W., and Baines, K. H. ( 2008), Felsic highland crust on Venus suggested by Galileo Near‐Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data, J. Geophys. Res., 113, E00B24, doi:10.1029/2008JE003134.

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59 thoughts on “Active Volcanoes on Venus?

  1. Great animation of Io’s activity. I hadn’t realised that New Horizons had recorded that on its way to Pluto.

    It’s interesting that Venus’ volcanoes are thought to be basaltic…many look very much like rhyolite domes here on Earth. This would agree with the NIMS report of granitic rocks on Venus I would imagine.

    • The reports of granitic/felsic rocks on Venus have been overstated [ie they are almost certainly wrong]
      https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2019JE006039

      The presence of felsic/granitic rocks would require tectonics similar to those of earth….plate tectonics and oceans. Plate tectonics would probably not work without oceans.
      Venus doesn’t have oceans and there is no evidence that it did apart from the incorrect identification of the Ovda Fluctus lava flow as silica rich.

      While it is unlikely we’ll ever get boots on the Venusian ground we might one day be able to design a robot robust enough to get down there and kick a few rocks.

      • That’s the significance of granitic rocks. If they’re present, Venus almost certainly had oceans and plate tectonics at some point in time. We will probably never know for sure, because I doubt we’ll ever return rock samples from Venus to Earth.

  2. David Middleton

    “The “Near‐Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) on board the Galileo spacecraft” ??? may have granitic rocks on Venus, indicating that it once had active active tectonics, continents and oceans.”

  3. David Middleton

    “Lunar basalt is enriched in in iron oxide and depleted in aluminum oxide, relative to similar rocks on Earth.”

    You have the hiccups today ! lol…D’oh ..D’oh !

  4. Not Venus, but I thought some of you might like this. Pretty neat.

    An astrophotographer has clicked an exceptional video, wherein we can feel the rotation of the earth Using a tracking mount, aligned with North Star, he kept clicking images every 12 seconds for the next 3 hours. The camera is looking at the same portion of the Milky Way

    https://twitter.com/atulkasbekar/status/1215128694584270849

  5. Who gives a rat’s arse what’s happening on Venus,have a look around you.You can’t find enough trouble at home

    • I’m a geologist. Most of my WUWT posts are about geology, particularly as it relates to energy and climate change. However, several have dealt with lunar and planetary geology.

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    • kimincm
      That is a very myopic view. Serendipity often raises its head in science, providing us with insights that might not have been available had scientists focused narrowly on what they thought to be the best line of investigation. Many discoveries in science and technology have come about accidentally, such as antibiotics and the vulcanization of rubber. Contrary to the claims by non-scientists, the science is not settled! There are many things we don’t know.

    • In my opinion, this is actually highly relevant to climate change – in view of the extraordinary claims by the likes of James Hansen about prior existence of Venusian oceans which have since boiled-off/dried-up due to climate change.

  6. Oddly enough, Io’s volcanoes are in the wrong place, according to models.

    This seems a little proud, how could reality get it wrong?

    • Reality almost always gets it wrong… according to models… 😉 Sarcasm works best when served subtlety.

      • “.Oddly enough, Io’s volcanoes are in the wrong place, according to models….”

        Beat me to the comment!

        However, you will find that the volcanoes ARE in the right place, once the appropriate adjustments have been made to the observed images. I postulate that Venus must have extensive and complex refractive layers in its atmosphere, sufficient to cause major displacement to IR images. Once we correct for these, the volcanoes are indeed situated according to theory…

    • “However, concentrations of volcanic activity are significantly displaced from where they are expected to be based on models”

      My thoughts exactly, no chance that the assumptions of the people who programmed the “puter model” got it wrong I suppose? Silly me, we all should know by now that puter modelling is infallible to the enth degree & thus NEVER wrong!!!! When will reality learn!!!! 😉

  7. There are theories about why Venus lacks a magnetic field. example It seems that it lacks the kind of liquid rock convection the Earth has. That would mean less in the way of plate tectonics and would also imply, if I’ve got it right, fewer volcanoes.

      • From the story:

        Therefore, Venus is volcanically active now.

        And yet, given the absence of a magnetic field, it seems to lack some of the processes that cause volcanoes on Earth.

      • I thought it was long-established that Venus has active temperatures, due to the surface temperature, the concentration of sulfur compounds in the atmosphere, and especially the high Bond albedo (Wikipedia gives it at 0.76, with a geometric albedo of .67). Recent measurements indicate a Bond albedo of 0.90 (Mallama et al., 2006). This significantly lowers the equilibrium temperature for Venus, absent other factors.

    • Venus’s weird rotation is both clue and and key to why its has no magnetic field today.

      ”Most planets also rotate on their axes in an anti-clockwise direction, but Venus rotates clockwise in retrograde rotation once every 243 Earth days—the slowest rotation of any planet. Because its rotation is so slow, Venus is very close to spherical.”

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus#Orbit_and_rotation

      Venus also experiences much higher solar tidal forces.
      One working hypothesis is the early Venusian dynamo was likely very strong when it had a “normal” rotation like Earth. But this strong dynamo resulted in Instabilities in rotation/spin. These arose because of high differential rotation rates between core and mantle-crust, solar tidal braking and maybe Lorenz Force braking that together resulted in evolution to a retrograde rotation that shutdown the internal dynamo that depends on shearing forces on viscous flow, a viscosity which would have been very high without lots of entrained water as Earth likely has.

      • Venus’s rotation is explained by a simple scenario: it was locked to its orbit, as our Moon is to the Earth, so Venus was showing the same face to the Sun at all times. But then it flipped upside down so now it has the same rotation rate going the other way — slightly slowed now due to tidal forces. The “flip” is no mystery because planets’ cores rotate independently of their mantle and are known to flip (the Earth’s core orientation is signalled by the magnetic field which flips periodically), but in Venus’s case the core is more massive than the mantle so it was the mantle which flipped. While this scenario isn’t proven, it’s a simple and complete explanation of Venus’s rotation.

        • It would take an enormous amount of energy to change the rotational inertia of an entire planet, even if it was only 1 rotation per orbit (locked). Not saying you’re wrong, but not sure where that energy would come from.

  8. I watched a repeat of the PBS Nova program “Inner Worlds” yesterday which talks about Venus. According to this program, in its early years, Venus had a lot of water and was much cooler than it is today and was possibly conducive to the formation of life, but as the sun aged and got warmer, the water evaporated causing a runaway greenhouse effect helped by CO2 and methane emitted by its active volcanoes. They don’t mention particulates which are also emitted by volcanoes and are said to have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, but perhaps they were overwhelmed by the warming effect of the water vapor. The planet has very little water vapor in its atmosphere today, so I assume almost all of it boiled away into space. They don’t say, but I assume Venus’ high atmospheric pressure is a result of how hot the atmosphere is now. Lots of speculation, but a generally interesting program.

    The program also has interesting information about Mercury and Mars.

    • That PBS Nova program is simply wrong about Venus. Anything can be computer animated, including Superman flying by the power of thought. It was all speculation.
      Venus may have been “a lot cooler” than today, but that is still a relative statement to current conditions and very much hotter than Earth at any point.

      There are multiple scenarios what Venusian surface conditions were 3 1/2 billions years ago and how they evolved to what we see today, but they are all pure conjecture with no data.

    • RicDre,

      Don’t tell Greta “Venus had a lot of water and was much cooler than it is today and was possibly conducive to the formation of life, but as the sun aged and got warmer, the water evaporated causing a runaway greenhouse effect helped by CO2 and methane emitted by its active volcanoes.”

      “water evaporated, runaway greenhouse effect [] by CO2 and methane + active volcanoes.”

  9. Venus, we are told, has an atmosphere that is almost pure carbon dioxide and an extremely high surface temperature, 750 K, and this is allegedly due to the radiative greenhouse effect, RGHE. But the only apparent defense is, “Well, WHAT else could it BE?!”

    Well, what follows is the else it could be. (Q = U * A * ΔT) & Volcanoes!

    Venus is 70% of the Earth’s distance to the sun, its average solar constant/irradiance is about twice as intense as that of earth, 2,602 W/m^2 as opposed to 1,361 W/m^2.

    But the albedo of Venus is 0.77 compared to 0.31 for the Earth – or – Venus 601.5 W/m^2 net ASR (absorbed solar radiation) compared to Earth 943.9 W/m^2 net ASR.

    The Venusian atmosphere is 250 km thick as opposed to Earth’s at 100 km. Picture how hot you would get stacking 1.5 more blankets on your bed. RGHE’s got jack to do with it, it’s all Q = U * A * ΔT.

    The thermal conductivity of carbon dioxide is about half that of air, 0.0146 W/m-K as opposed to 0.0240 W/m-K so it takes twice the ΔT/m to move the same kJ from surface to ToA.

    Put the higher irradiance & albedo (lower Q = lower ΔT), thickness (greater thickness increases ΔT) and conductivity (lower conductivity raises ΔT) all together: 601.5/943.9 * 250/100 * 0.0240/0.0146 = 2.61.

    So, Q = U * A * ΔT suggests that the Venusian ΔT would be 2.61 times greater than that of Earth. If the surface of the Earth is 15C/288K and ToA is effectively 0K then Earth ΔT = 288K. Venus ΔT would be 2.61 * 288 K = 748.8 K surface temperature.

    All explained, no need for any S-B BB LWIR RGHE hocus pocus.

    Volcanism explains how the surface could be hotter that the solar wind’s S-B equil temp of 463 K

    • CO2 and probably other gases are not actually a gas in the lower atmosphere of Venus, they are a supercritical fluid. They are opaque to visible and IR light and also have a much higher thermal conductivity and heat capacity.

  10. I actually am not surprised that there might be active volcanoes on Venus…

    The surface is kept warm enough (about 800F) to help retain enough heat inside the planet to melt rock (about 2,000F). On Earth, you have a much higher difference (about 60-70F surface and still need 2,000F to melt rock). If Venus contains enough radioactive metals (say the same ratio as Earth contains), then it should be able to generate and retain enough heat to at least occasionally melt rock near the surface (lower pressure there).

    It gets me wondering about primordial Earth…how thick was it’s original atmosphere? Since it has a higher gravity and a less intense solar wind stripping it of hydrogen, it must have been more like Venus in the past. So where did the atmosphere go?…likely into rock due to plate tectonics and water (CO2 into carbonates). Which nicely explains why CO2 comes out of volcanoes (remelted crust containing carbonates).

  11. Kimberlites are the most explosive volcs coming from the mantle 180+km below the surface. As the magma moves upwards it accelerates from an average of ~20km/h reaching ~40km/h at the base of the crust, and then accelerating rapidly to the surface to ~1200km/h, blasting lava and broken host rock out, temporarily leaving a steep crater ~300m+ deep. The ejected material travels up above clouds and then most of it falls back into the crater along with material sloughed from the surface. Io’s forceful eruptions may be kimberlites! Check for olivine.

    At the Ekati diamond mine near the Arctic circle in the Northwest Territories, redwood tree trunks and chunks were found at a depth of 300m in the open pit. These were not ‘fossilized’ but were preserved wood with sugary sap seams and the wood is a beautiful natural red color. The wood was dated at 53 million years BP. Here are sime pics:

    https://www.livescience.com/23374-fossil-forest-redwood-diamond-mine.html

    A California climate no less – how’s that for precedented climate change?

  12. There may be a few stretches of interpretation here; I’ll just present them for consideration. I’ve spent my professional career in crystalline terrain, not stratigraphic, so I may have some biases.

    First, to detect from spacecraft through Venusian atmosphere the light-effects of a microns-thick layer of hematite on randomly-oriented olivine grains the size of which would be found exposed on the surface of extrusive lavas seems like there is a wide margin of interpretation that the measurements could be masked or produced by something else. Also, is it logical to assume that a product of weathering of olivine under a Venusian atmosphere is predictable from laboratory weathering of olivine on Earth? (I assume everyone is aware of Venusian atmospheric composition, with the presence of sulfuric acid and 90 earth-atmospheric pressures at surface, plus the dominance of CO2. All the light measured by a spacecraft has gone through that atmosphere).

    Second, the presence of granitic rocks to me suggests intrusive activity and its unroofing through erosion a little more strongly than it suggests volcanism–but that might be my bias from walking over a lot of granitic rock. (And remember that olivine and granite cannot exist together.) The presence of both granitic and basaltic rocks does require fractionation however, which certainly strongly indicates a fluid planet like earth and magmatic movement, making tectonics highly likely.

    Third, Earth’s magnetic field (last time I checked, I’m getting old) is believed to be due to rotational decoupling between inner and outer core material plus coriolis effects–so the absence of a magnetic field on Venus does not preclude magmatic activity, it just indicates that the same core configuration may not be present.

    And from typing this I’ll add a 5th–spell-check knows diddly-squat about geology.

  13. An interesting analysis by Nick Schroeder, although it may need to be modified (integrated) for the changes in temperature, pressure, heat capacity, and thermal conductivity with altitude in the Venusian atmosphere.

    The critical pressure of CO2 is 73.82 bar, or about 1,071 psia, or 72.85 times atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth. Do we have any measurements that the surface pressure of the atmosphere on Venus is above 1,071 psia?

    The heat capacity of CO2 does increase with temperature: 0.874 J/g-K at 300 K, 1.004 J/g-K at 500 K, 1.108 J/g-K at 700 K.

    But heat transfer (and temperature change) by conduction is usually proportional to the dimensionless Prandtl number (heat capacity * viscosity / thermal conductivity, or Cp * u/k), which doesn’t vary much with temperature for most gases.

    Has anyone worked out the lapse rate (change in temperature and pressure with altitude) for the atmosphere on Venus?

    • Yes, lapse rates have been measured for Venus. Where Venus has one earth pressure (ca. 1000 millibars), temperatures are Earth hot. 50 km, and 75 C. At 55 km, about .53 atmosphere and 27 C. Near the surface (0-15 km), the lapse rate is about 3.7 C per km. From 15 km to 40 km, the lase rate is higher, at about 4.2 C per km. Above this height, the lapse rates become more irregular, first decreasing, then hitting a peak of about 4.8 C per km between 50 km and 55 km. Peak sulfuric acid clouds are just below this level.

  14. The thing that struck me the most was the existence of impact craters,>/i> ones large enough to be identifiable by a space-based radar! Surface winds on Venus are very slow, around 2.8 m/s (6.3 mph), but because of the atmospheric density, the dynamic pressure of such a wind would be about 5.3 lb/ft^2. That’s the equivalent of a 45.6 mph wind on earth, which is pretty strong.

    All of which means that the impact craters have to be recent, because even the “slow” surface winds would provide significant erosion over time.

    So here’s my point of astonishment. Given the density of Venus’ atmosphere, anything entering from outer space would be slowed almost immediately to subsonic speed, and be unable to do much in the way of damage. For example (if I’ve done the math right), a 1 ft diameter lead ball would have a terminal velocity of 56 mph on Venus.

    The terminal velocity rises in direct proportion to the diameter of the body. So what the heck kind of monster bodies impacted Venus with enough oomph to leave craters, doing so recently enough to have the craters still not eroded away by the wind? And are there any other such badass bolides waiting to hit us?

    • Maybe they are active volcanoes, spewing sulfur compounds into the air, from highly radioactive material at higher densities than on Earth. At least with Venus, consensus scientists can’t blame it on Venus’ moon.

    • I think you’re missing something here. Your badass bolides are going to deposit the same amount of kinetic energy regardless of whether they impact solid surface, water, atmosphere, or any combination thereof. If your lead sphere slows to 56 mph from an original 30 thousand, that just means that its kinetic energy was transformed into heat and shock waves, and Venus’ thick atmosphere would transmit shock waves very effectively. A small impactor might have an even better chance of cratering the surface on Venus (where it might create an atmospheric pressure hose) than on Earth (where the shock front dissipates in the thin mesosphere).

  15. Why an artist’s conception? Why not the real thing? And the images are too close or too distant to get a real sense of the terrain, and none are in color- are we to assume they can’t get them in color? Hah!

      • I appreciate your reply and all your efforts to expose the truth, but how many times will a camera malfunction before it seems suspicious? And why never the Sun’s rays, just pitch black skies? And the most interesting features are artist renderings, so we ASSume there are no photos since it’s never stated, so how are the images determined? Or are there photos? They’re lying, just omitting. And Venus is a single color, like Mars, with the same too-close/too-far images that could be Arizona photoshopped for all we know.

        NASA is known for keeping the public [who pays] in the dark [and pushing the AGW fraud], but they have to give us something for our money. Is it so farfetched to think only a small, privileged group are privy to detailed images of all the planets in our solar system, under cover of ‘national security’? I’d be very surprised if that weren’t the case, but will we ever know?

        • This has nothing to do with cameras malfunctioning or crackhead conspiracy theories. Only a handful of spacecraft have actually landed on Venus. None of these were rovers. All of the photos are of the ground at the landing sites. All of these probes ceased transmission within minutes to a few hours because the electronics couldn’t function very long at 750-800K. The most spectacular images are the 3d reconstructions made from Magellan radar mapping imagery.

  16. Triton (largest moon of Neptune) has (or had when Voyageur 2 visited) nitrogen volcanoes.
    That makes 3 (or 4).

    • Last paragraph of post…

      Cryovolcanoes

      Neptune’s moon Triton and Saturn’s moon Enceladus appear to have cryovolcanoes. These features are composed of ice and erupt water vapor.

      Technically, cryovolcanoes aren’t volcanoes.

  17. RicDre,

    Don’t tell Greta “Venus had a lot of water and was much cooler than it is today and was possibly conducive to the formation of life, but as the sun aged and got warmer, the water evaporated causing a runaway greenhouse effect helped by CO2 and methane emitted by its active volcanoes.”

    “water evaporated, runaway greenhouse effect [] by CO2 and methane + active volcanoes.”

    That Green “climate disaster” Voo-Doo tales started with the begin of the “Venus by passing space race” horror-picture-shows.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=space+race+venus&oq=space+race+venus&aqs=chrome.

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