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GE 194: The Ocean of Europa (Fall 2020)

The internal ocean of Europa contains more liquid water than all of that on Earth combined, yet it is hidden below kilometers of ice and our understanding of it is limited by what we can view from the exterior. In this seminar we will discuss the geophysical, geological, and chemical constraints we have about the ocean from telescopic observations, spacecraft encounters, and theoretical investigations.

The structure of the course: This class will attempt to take advantage of the forced-remote style of Fall 2020. During each week we will cover a fundamental topic relating to the ocean of Europa. For that week one student (possibly more, depending on enrollment) will be responsible for providing a background reading list and then creating a ~1 hour recorded lecture to be shared with the class. All students will then read the provided papers, watch the pre-recorded lecture, and submit lists of questions and lecture suggestions. The class will then meet for a 90 minute discussion.

Major topics include (but these can change based on student interest):

  • Introduction to Europa
  • Geophysical and geological evidence for an internal ocean
  • The surface composition of Europa and the interior connection
  • Geophysics of the ice shell
  • Ocean dynamics
  • Possible ocean compositions
  • The ocean-core interaction
  • The ocean-atmosphere connection
  • Biology in an encased ocean
  • Comparison to other ocean worlds of the solar system

While advanced undergraduates are welcome, this class will operate at a graduate level, in that students will be expected to read critically and synthesize content from original sources, fully participate with original ideas in all discussions and chats, and engage their diverse scientific backgrounds to the study of this subject.