A globally fragmented and mobile lithosphere on Venus

Byrne, Paul K.; Ghail, Richard C.; Celâl Şengör, A. M.; James, Peter B.; Klimczak, Christian; Solomon, Sean C.

Venus has been thought to possess a globally continuous lithosphere, in contrast to the mosaic of mobile tectonic plates that characterizes Earth. However, the Venus surface has been extensively deformed, and convection of the underlying mantle, possibly acting in concert with a low-strength lower crust, has been suggested as a source of some surface horizontal strains. The extent of surface mobility on Venus driven by mantle convection, however, and the style and scale of its tectonic expression have been unclear. We report a globally distributed set of crustal blocks in the Venus lowlands that show evidence for having rotated and/or moved laterally relative to one another, akin to jostling pack ice. At least some of this deformation on Venus postdates the emplacement of the locally youngest plains materials. Lithospheric stresses calculated from interior viscous flow models consistent with long-wavelength gravity and topography are sufficient to drive brittle failure in the upper Venus crust in all areas where these blocks are present, confirming that interior convective motion can provide a mechanism for driving deformation at the surface. The limited but widespread lithospheric mobility of Venus, in marked contrast to the tectonic styles indicative of a static lithosphere on Mercury, the Moon, and Mars, may offer parallels to interior–surface coupling on the early Earth, when global heat flux was substantially higher, and the lithosphere generally thinner, than today.

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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Seismology, Geology, and Tectonophysics
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September 6, 2022