Fluvial erosion and post-erosional processes on Titan

Ralf Jaumann, Robert H. Brown, Katrin Stephan, Jason W. Barnes, Larry A. Soderblom, Christophe Sotin, Stephané Le Mouélic, Roger N. Clark, Jason Soderblom, Bonnie J. Buratti, Roland Wagner, Thomas B. McCord, Sebastien Rodriguez, Kevin H. Baines, Dale P. Cruikshank, Phil D. Nicholson, Caitlin A. Griffith, Mirjam Langhans, Ralph D. Lorenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The surface of Titan has been revealed by Cassini observations in the infrared and radar wavelength ranges as well as locally by the Huygens lander instruments. Sand seas, recently discovered lakes, distinct landscapes and dendritic erosion patterns indicate dynamic surface processes. This study focus on erosional and depositional features that can be used to constrain the amount of liquids involved in the erosional process as well as on the compositional characteristics of depositional areas. Fluvial erosion channels on Titan as identified at the Huygens landing site and in RADAR and Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) observations have been compared to analogous channel widths on Earth yielding average discharges of up to 1600 m3/s for short recurrence intervals that are sufficient to move centimeter-sized sediment and significantly higher discharges for long intervals. With respect to the associated drainage areas, this roughly translates to 1-150 cm/day runoff production rates with 10 years recurrence intervals and by assuming precipitation this implies 0.6-60 mm/h rainfall rates. Thus the observed surface erosion fits with the methane convective storm models as well as with the rates needed to transport sediment. During Cassini's T20 fly-by, the VIMS observed an extremely eroded area at 30° W, 7° S with resolutions of up to 500 m/pixel that extends over thousands of square kilometers. The spectral characteristics of this area change systematically, reflecting continuous compositional and/or particle size variations indicative of transported sediment settling out while flow capacities cease. To account for the estimated runoff production and widespread alluvial deposits of fine-grained material, release of area-dependent large fluid volumes are required. Only frequent storms with heavy rainfall or cryovolcanic induced melting can explain these erosional features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-538
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Geological processes
  • Ices
  • Satellites
  • Saturn
  • Spectroscopy
  • Titan
  • satellites
  • surfaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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