Recently I was informed of the possibility of having an habitable world lacking tectonic plates, specifically of something called heat-pipe tectonics. Which is essentially the same tectonic system featured on Io.

The concept is very intriguing I gotta say, however I am not too sure about it due to habitability concerns. Could a world, with an heat-pipe tectonic system be habitable and stay habitable for the several billions of years needed for intelligent life to develop and establish an advanced civilization?

Here is some additional data and details regarding my moon in particular such as the moon being the largest body orbiting a gas giant.

Primary Mass: 954 Earths so about 3 Jupiters

Moon Mass: 0.7 Earths

Primary density: 3.58 g/cm³

Primary radius: 1.04 Jupiter Radii

Moon density: 5.61 g/cm³ due to additional iron

Moon radius: 0.883 Earth Radii

Distance: 1003917 km

Eccentricity: 0.025

Rotation period: 36 hours

Orbital period: 90 hours

Spin-Orbit Resonance: 5:2

Expected water Coverage: 60%

Average water depth: 1500 to 2000 m

Do you think it could stay habitable with an heat pipe tectonic system?

And aside from that, what would it be like geographically? Could there still be tall mountain chains, chunky island chains and oceanic thermal vents?

And pheraps even more importantly, how mineral rich would the surface be? How accessible would minerals be?

  • $\begingroup$ Would the Hawaiian Island chain over a "hot spot" similar to a "heat pipe' be an example you could use? $\endgroup$
    – JonSG
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ JonSG Aboslutely, but the better comparison would be with something like indonesia or the philippines, or south-east asian in general, what's what I am after mainly. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ there won't be island chains, those occur because the plate above the "pipe" movers. your only mountains will be individual active volcanoes. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


You've got a big problem here: Land erodes. The only reason we have continents is plate tectonics--otherwise the continents would have eroded into the oceans long ago and we would have a 100% water world.

You are after 40% land--every bit of that 40% must be volcanoes (or recently deceased volcanoes that haven't eroded away yet.) That's not going to be a good place if it's even survivable at all.

And there are no chains--with no plate tectonics nothing moves over the heat pipes. Your only terrain type is volcano. (Yes, you can have the sorts of terrain that are on the slopes of a volcano.) You won't have anything resembling continents, land-based evolution won't be able to spread other than by species that develop means of very long range ocean travel.

  • $\begingroup$ If plate tectonics stopped 3 billions years ago there would still be continents, you severely overestimate how fast a continent can erode or how big a continent is. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 2 at 3:12

There is a quite long and insightful BBC article on this topic:


So the atmosphere, climate and geographics would certainly differ from our world and it would be unlikely a planet like that would produce the same very specific atmosphere composition and conditions that made life like ours possible. It's for good reason we didn't find extraterrestrial life yet- life like it exists on earth just needs that 1 in a billion exact combination of different factors, so I think it might be possible but veeeery improbable for it to occur on a planet lacking something influential as tectonics.

However it doesn't seem impossible for some sort of species to develop on a completely different environmental operating system, maybe breathing something entirely different than oxygen or not breathing at all. Wether that is possible we didn't have the chance to find out yet, so I assume that is up to creativity.


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