Alluvial Fan Morphology, distribution and formation on Titan

Research paper by S.P.D. Birch, A.G. Hayes, A.D. Howard, J.M. Moore, J. Radebaugh

Indexed on: 18 Mar '16Published on: 11 Feb '16Published in: Icarus


Titan is a hydrologically active world, with dozens of alluvial fans that are evidence of sediment transport from high to low elevations. However, the distribution and requirements for the formation of fans on Titan are not well understood. We performed the first global survey of alluvial fans on Titan using Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, which cover 61% of Titan’s surface. We identified 82 fans with areas ranging from 28 km2 to 27,000 km2. A significant fraction (∼60%) of the fans are restricted to latitudes of ±50–80°, suggesting that fluvial sediment transport may have been concentrated in the near-polar terrains in the geologically recent past. The density of fans is also found to be correlated with the latitudes predicted to have the highest precipitation rates by Titan Global Circulation Models. In equatorial regions, observable fans are not generally found in proximity to dune fields. Such observations suggest that sediment transport in these areas is dominated by aeolian transport mechanisms, though with some degree of recent equatorial fluvial activity. The fan area-drainage area relationship on Titan is more similar to that on Earth than on Mars, suggesting that the fans on Titan are smaller than what may be expected, and that the transport of bedload sediment is limited. We hypothesize that this has led to the development of a coarse gravel-lag deposit over much of Titan’s surface. Such a model explains both the morphology of the fans and their latitudinal concentration, yielding insight into the sediment transport regimes that operate across Titan today.

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