What factors would influence ecosystem development in an ocean on an ice world?

It is thought that several moons in our solar system (e.g. Europa) may have significant oceans under their icy crusts. It is possible that life may arise in oceans like these, powered through chemical reactions related to tidal heating and/or the irradiation of the surface ice.

Earth Analogies

On Earth, ecosystems are determined by factors such as latitude and rainfall.

Ocean ecosystems are influenced by factors like depth and the location of major currents.


I am interested in ecosystem development, particularly factors that could change over time, resulting in disruption to the ecosystem.

Example: Changes in monsoon rains can transform a desert into a savanna and back again (as has happened to the Sahara historically)

Example: Changes in nutrient run-off or up-welling in the ocean can result in giant algae blooms, killing off existing sea-life (Red Tide in Florida recently)


Ice shell moons like Europa and Enceladus, at least far as we know, tend to develop around gas giants. Gas giants can effect their moons in various ways. The tidal forces generated by large gas giants will stretch and heat the moon. As a solar system is taking shape, gas giants can migrate. It is believed that Jupiter was once much closer to the sun than it is now. Such a migration is likely to raise or lower the ice shell moons temperature. Gas giants also have large radiation belts witch could effect the chances of life arising on said ice shell moon. Tidally locking can also lead to large temperature differences between the near side and far side of the ice shell moon. This can lead to warm spots, cold spots, and currents.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer but since this is question has the science based tag, it isn't required but it would be better to link to (and summarize) one or more articles. Adding that would make your answer even better. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Mar 8 '19 at 20:34

In an ice shell moon your ecosystem will depend upon geothermal energy from the tidal heating-powered volcanos. You could even have plate tecnonics because you have water and a hot, active core, and those plate tectonics would create even more undersea volcanos. The most important factor in your ecossystem will be distance from the volcanos, the farther away the colder the water is, with less energy for the living beings. The volcanos, combined with sea currents flowing between the cold and hot areas, will also determine nutrient distribution.


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