Fluvial features on Titan: Insights from morphology and modeling

Devon M. Burr, J. Taylor Perron, Michael P. Lamb, Rossman P. Irwin, Geoffrey C. Collins, Alan D. Howard, Leonard S. Sklar, Jeffrey M. Moore, Máté Ádámkovics, Victor R. Baker, Sarah A. Drummond, Benjamin A. Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Fluvial features on Titan have been identified in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data taken during spacecraft flybys by the Cassini Titan Radar Mapper (RADAR) and in Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) images taken during descent of the Huygens probe to the surface. Interpretations using terrestrial analogs and process mechanics extend our perspective on fluvial geomorphology to another world and offer insight into their formative processes. At the landscape scale, the varied morphologies of Titan's fluvial networks imply a variety of mechanical controls, including structural influence, on channelized flows. At the reach scale, the various morphologies of individual fluvial features, implying a broad range of fluvial processes, suggest that (paleo-)flows did not occupy the entire observed width of the features. DISR images provide a spatially limited view of uplands dissected by valley networks, also likely formed by overland flows, which are not visible in lowerresolution SAR data. This high-resolution snapshot suggests that some fluvial features observed in SAR data may be river valleys rather than channels, and that uplands elsewhere on Titan may also have fine-scale fluvial dissection that is not resolved in SAR data. Radar-bright terrain with crenulated bright and dark bands is hypothesized here to be a signature of fine-scale fluvial dissection. Fluvial deposition is inferred to occur in braided channels, in (paleo)lake basins, and on SAR-dark plains, and DISR images at the surface indicate the presence of fluvial sediment. Flow sufficient to move sediment is inferred from observations and modeling of atmospheric processes, which support the inference from surface morphology of precipitation-fed fluvial processes. With material properties appropriate for Titan, terrestrial hydraulic equations are applicable to flow on Titan for fully turbulent flow and rough boundaries. For low-Reynolds-number flow over smooth boundaries, however, knowledge of fluid kinematic viscosity is necessary. Sediment movement and bed form development should occur at lower bed shear stress on Titan than on Earth. Scaling bedrock erosion, however, is hampered by uncertainties regarding Titan material properties. Overall, observations of Titan point to a world pervasively influenced by fluvial processes, for which appropriate terrestrial analogs and formulations may provide insight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-321
Number of pages23
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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