Block Tectonic Motion on Venus

P. K. Byrne, R. Ghail, A. M. C. Sengor, C. Klimczak, S. C. Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite close similarities in mass and bulk composition to Earth, Venus apparently shows no evidence for Earth-like plate tectonics, except perhaps for limited plume-induced subduction. We use Magellan radar data to survey numerous examples of low-lying areas infilled with plains lavas and delimited by networks of narrow belts of substantial tectonic deformation; such sites include those at Lavinia and Llorona Planitiæ and to the north of Helen Planitia. This deformation is locally extensional or shortening in style but very often also includes structures that denote substantial lateral motion. Cross-cutting relations suggest that this motion occurred both before and after the lavas were emplaced. Together, these observations imply that many of the belt-bounded areas have acted as relatively rigid blocks that experienced considerable horizontal movement relative to each other, in a manner similar to blocks that constitute parts of the Terran continental lithosphere. On Earth, continental deformation is enabled by the low strength of the lower crust and/or upper mantle. On Venus, the shallow brittle-ductile transition (BDT), a result of the planet's elevated surface temperature, likely acts in a similar way to decouple the upper and lower crust. Subcrustal lid rejuvenation, a recently proposed mechanism for renewal of the mantle portion of Venus' stagnant lithospheric lid through thinning and recycling, could drive the horizontal movement of these rigid blocks. It may be, then, that the blocks move as continental blocks do on Earth, with mantle motion transferred to the surface and manifest as narrow zones of tectonic deformation akin to, for example, the Tian Shan and Altin Tagh ranges that bound the Tarim Basin in northwestern China. The shallow BDT on Venus precludes the blocks from subducting, and so their fate is to shorten, lengthen, or retain their geometry at the expense of adjacent blocks. We suggest that this behavior is analogous to plate-tectonic-driven continental deformation on Earth, and that this activity has operated in the regions documented on Venus since the time of emplacement of the local plains material.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • 0794 Instruments and techniques
  • 6218 Jovian satellites
  • 6949 Radar astronomy
  • 6969 Remote sensing

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