Using synthetic aperture radar data of terrestrial analogs to test for alluvial fan formation mechanisms on Titan

R. J. Cartwright, D. M. Burr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Landforms on Titan include features hypothesized to be alluvial fans. Terrestrial alluvial fans form via two processes: fluid-gravity flows (sheetfloods) and sediment-gravity flows (debris flows). Along the Panamint Mountain Range in Death Valley, California, USA, seven fans formed primarily by debris flows are located adjacent to seven fans formed primarily by sheetfloods. The causal difference between these two groupings stems from their catchment lithologies; the debris flow fan catchments are clay-rich and relatively sand-poor, and the sheetflood fan catchments are clay-poor and sand-rich. On Titan, the low and mid latitudes are dominated by sand seas, demonstrating that sand is available for transport. At high latitudes, these sand seas are absent, suggesting that transportable sand is scarce. Based on the sedimentology of the two Panamint Range fan types, we hypothesize that possible fans at lower latitudes on Titan are formed by sheetfloods, whereas those at higher latitudes formed primarily by debris flows. To test these hypotheses, we measured and analyzed the mean normalized radar cross sections (σ°) and changes in σ° with downfan distance for debris flow and sheetflood fans along the Panamint Range. We then compared the results with the same measurements for possible fans on Titan. We find that, in the Panamint Range, debris flow fans are brighter than sheetflood fans and have greater change in σ° with downfan distance, and that on Titan, low-latitude possible fans are likewise brighter than the fans at high latitudes with greater change in σ° with downfan distance. Consequently, our findings suggest that low-latitude possible fans on Titan are formed primarily by debris flows, whereas high-latitude possible fans on Titan are formed primarily by sheetfloods. Thus, our results do not support our hypotheses. Scenarios to explain these results include: (1) high-latitude possible fans are dominated by radar-dark debris flow deposits, (2) low- and mid-latitude possible fans are dominated by radar-bright sheetflood deposits, (3) sand-sized sediments were relatively scarce at the time of low- and mid-latitude possible fan formation, (4) bedrock composition varies as a function of latitude on Titan, (5) alluvial fans form differently on Titan because of the lower gravity conditions, and (6) fan-like features may result from non-alluvial processes, such as form distributary fluvial systems on Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-205
Number of pages23
JournalIcarus
Volume284
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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