Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Titan's fluvial valleys: Morphology, distribution, and spectral properties

January 1, 2012

Titan's fluvial channels have been investigated based on data obtained by the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instrument and the Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) onboard the Cassini spacecraft. In this paper, a database of fluvial features is created based on radar-SAR data aiming to unveil the distribution and the morphologic and spectral characteristics of valleys on Titan on a global scale. It will also study the spatial relations between fluvial valleys and Titan's geologic units and spectral surface units which have become accessible thanks to Cassini-VIMS data. Several distinct morphologic types of fluvial valleys can be discerned by SAR-images. Dendritic valley networks appear to have much in common with terrestrial dendritic systems owing to a hierarchical and tree-shaped arrangement of the tributaries which is indicative of an origin from precipitation. Dry valleys constitute another class of valleys resembling terrestrial wadis, an indication of episodic and strong flow events. Other valley types, such as putative canyons, cannot be correlated with rainfall based on their morphology alone, since it cannot be ruled out that they may have originated from volcanic/tectonic action or groundwater sapping. Highly developed and complex fluvial networks with channel lengths of up to 1200 km and widths of up to 10 km are concentrated only at a few locations whereas single valleys are scattered over all latitudes. Fluvial valleys are frequently found in mountainous areas. Some terrains, such as equatorial dune fields and undifferentiated plains at mid-latitudes, are almost entirely free of valleys. Spectrally, fluvial terrains are often characterized by a high reflectance in each of Titan's atmospheric windows, as most of them are located on Titan's bright ‘continents’. Nevertheless, valleys are spatially associated with a surface unit appearing blue due to its higher reflection at 1.3μm">1.3μm in a VIMS false color RGB composite with R: 1.59/1.27μm">1.59/1.27μm, G: 2.03/1.27μm">2.03/1.27μm, and B: 1.27/1.08μm">1.27/1.08μm; the channels either dissect pure bluish surface units or they are carved into terrain with a mixed spectral signature between bright and bluish surface materials. The global picture of fluvial flows clearly indicates a high diversity of parameters controlling fluvial erosion, such as climatic processes, as well as surface and bedrock types. Recent fluvial activity is very likely in the north polar region in contrast to more arid conditions at lower latitudes and at the south pole of Titan. This divergence is probably an indication of seasonal climatic asymmetries between the hemispheres. However, traces of previous fluvial activity are scattered over all latitudes of Titan, which is indicative of previous climatic conditions with at least episodic rainfall.

Publication Year 2012
Title Titan's fluvial valleys: Morphology, distribution, and spectral properties
DOI 10.1016/j.pss.2011.01.020
Authors M.H. Langhans, R. Jaumann, K. Stephan, R. H. Brown, B. J. Buratti, Roger N. Clark, K. H. Baines, P. D. Nicholson, R. D. Lorenz, Laurence A. Soderblom, J.M. Soderblom, Christophe Sotin, J. W. Barnes, R. Nelson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Planetary and Space Science
Index ID 70032640
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center