Estimating erosional exhumation on Titan from drainage network morphology

Benjamin A. Black, J. Taylor Perron, Devon M. Burr, Sarah A. Drummond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Drainage networks on Titan, Earth, and Mars provide the only known examples of non-volcanic fluvial activity in our solar system. The drainage networks on Titan are apparently the result of a methane-ethane cycle similar to Earth's water cycle. The scarcity of impact craters and the uneven distribution of fluvial dissection on Titan suggest that the surface may be relatively young. The purpose of this study is to assess the importance of erosion relative to other plausible mechanisms of resurfacing such as tectonic deformation, cryovolcanism, or deposition of aerosols. We present a new method, based on a measure of drainage network shape known as the width function, to estimate cumulative erosion into an initially rough surface. We calibrate this method with a numerical landscape evolution model, and successfully test the method by applying it to river networks on Earth with different exhumation histories. To estimate erosional exhumation on Titan, we mapped fluvial networks in all Synthetic Aperture Radar swaths obtained by the Cassini spacecraft through T71. Application of our method to the most completely imaged drainage networks indicates that for two of four regions analyzed, Titan's fluvial networks have produced only minor erosional modification of the surface. For the best-constrained region in the northern high latitudes, we find that fluvial networks reflect spatially averaged erosion of more than 0.4% but less than 9% of the initial topographic relief. This result implies either a recent, non-fluvial resurfacing event or long-term fluvial incision rates that are slow relative to the rate of resurfacing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE08006
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Estimating erosional exhumation on Titan from drainage network morphology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this