How do you go about building a working Earth-like ocean ecosystem from scratch in Europa's subsurface ocean?

On Earth, abyssopelagic species have evolved to live more than 6km below the surface. Although Europa's ocean is estimated to be up to around 200km deep, hydrostatic pressure at the seafloor would be 130-260 MPa, corresponding to 13-26 km depth of a theoretical Earth's ocean. The water beneath the ice shell is stirred by vigorous thermal convection, with heat flow at base of ocean about 8 mW/m2.

Assume that we can engineer abyssopelagic Earth life to handle these depths and Europan temperatures as a result of a culture employing advanced, but limited, genetic engineering and biotech.

Assume that oxygen levels are abundant, and that Europa's ocean is absent complex life beyond a microecology of archaea-type organisms clustered around thermal vents. These organisms may offer some adaptive advantages that can be spliced into Earth life introduced to Europa.

Salinity is handwaved with nanotech. Acidity can be regulated by adapted Earth organisms such as Haloquadratum walsbyi, Noctiluca scintillans and Rimicaris hybisae which prey on (Noctiluca scintillans) or coexist with (Rimicaris hybisae) Europan archaea-analogues.


2 Answers 2


The Earth has some excellent examples of ecosystems that thrive on the underside of sea-ice in the polar regions. Convection in the Europan ocean could conceivably bring nutrients up to the base of the glacial crust, which could be exploited by modified organisms that cling to the underside.


  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, useful. I have added zooplankton, copepods, and a breadbasket algal layer under the ice shell to the mix. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 20:38

If you are looking at advanced life yes you could look to animals and plants close to undersea ice.

However more simply you could start a bit closer to abiogenesis - ie. simple bacteria and other early lifeforms. These are everywhere, every nook and cranny of the Earth, even deep in ice sheets in thousand-year old glaciers.

To furnish Europa with an ecosystem, all you likely need do is to not sterilise a rocket, and crash-land it on Europa. The bacteria and other micro-organisms on the spaceship will eventually float, spread and colonise the undersea ocean. It may take a long time, however eventually more advanced species may evolve once the initial bacterial spread reaches all undersea niches.


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