Map of Venus' 85,000 volcanoes is superior to any created of Earth

Venus is home to thousands of volcanic landforms ranging from less than 5 km to over 100 km in diameter.
Sade Agard
Stock photo: 3D illustration - Landscape of Venus.
Stock photo: 3D illustration - Landscape of Venus.


Since the discovery of active volcanism on Venus a few weeks ago, interest in exploring the planet has kicked up a notch lately.

Now, planetary scientists Paul Byrne and Rebecca Hahn from Washington University have created the most comprehensive map of its 85,000 volcanoes, according to a paper published in JGR Planets on March 23.

The publicly available map will provide scientists access to an enormous database for understanding Venus' volcanism and assist in determining where the next active lava flow may be.

ArcGIS maps Venus' volcanic characteristics

"We came up with this idea of putting together a global catalog because no one's done it at this scale before," said first author Rebecca Hahn in a press release, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University.

"It was tedious, but I had experience using ArcGIS software, which is what I used to build the map."

She explained that this tool wasn't available when the data first became available back in the '90s. "People back then were manually hand-drawing circles around the volcanoes when I can just do it on my computer," she said. 

The new study includes in-depth examinations of the locations of volcanoes, their clustering patterns, and how their geographical distributions relate to planetary geophysical characteristics like crustal thickness.

Map of Venus' 85,000 volcanoes is superior to any created of Earth
The new map provides the most comprehensive insight into 85,000 volcanic edifices on Venus

Even better, Bryne and Hahn's research offers the most comprehensive insight to date into Venus' volcanic characteristics and possibly that of any other planet's volcanism.

This is because, despite our extensive knowledge of the Earth's on-land volcanoes, many more have yet to be discovered beneath the oceans. With Venus not having any oceans of its own, its entire surface is relatively easier to capture.

'We're just getting started'

The scientists discovered significantly fewer volcanoes in the 20-100 kilometer diameter range. They hypothesize that this may be due to the magma's availability and the eruption rate.

Map of Venus' 85,000 volcanoes is superior to any created of Earth
The mapping methodology used in the study.

Also, Byrne and Hahn sought to investigate the smaller, fewer than 3-mile-wide volcanoes on Venus that previous volcano researchers had passed over.

"They're the most common volcanic feature on the planet: they represent about 99 percent of my dataset," Hahn said. 

"We looked at their distribution using different spatial statistics to figure out whether the volcanoes are clustered around other structures on Venus or if they're grouped in certain areas."

And while 85,000 volcanoes on Venus may seem like a lot, Hahn claimed it is a conservative estimate. She estimates Venus's surface is home to hundreds of thousands of additional geologic structures with some volcanic qualities.

"We're just getting started," Bryne said.

The complete study was published in JGR Planets on March 23 and can be accessed here.

Study abstract:

Venus is home to many thousands of volcanic landforms that range in size from much less than 5 km to well over 100 km in diameter. Volcanism is clearly a major, widespread process on Venus, and is a principle expression of the planet's secular loss of interior heat. Without sufficient in situ data to clearly determine its internal structure, we can use the morphological and spatial characteristics of volcanoes across the planet to help place constraints on our understanding of the volcanic characteristics and history of Venus. With the Magellan SAR (synthetic-aperture radar) FMAP (full-resolution radar map) left- and right-look global mosaics at 75 meter-per-pixel resolution, we developed a global catalog of volcanoes on Venus that contains ∼85,000 edifices, ∼99% of which are <5 km in diameter. We find that Venus hosts far more volcanoes than previously mapped, and that although they are distributed across virtually the entire planet, size–frequency distribution analysis reveals a relative lack of edifices in the 20–100 km diameter range, which could be related to magma availability and eruption rate. Through spatial density analysis of volcanoes alongside assessments of geophysical datasets and proximal tectonic and volcanic structures, we report on the morphological and spatial patterns of volcanism on Venus to help gain new insights into the planet's geological evolution.

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