Latitudinal and altitudinal controls of Titan's dune field morphometry
Publication date: 19 Jan 2012
Authors: Le Gall, A. et al.
Copyright: Elsevier Inc.Dune fields dominate ~13% of Titan's surface and represent an important sink of carbon in the methane cycle. Herein, we discuss correlations in dune morphometry with altitude and latitude. These correlations, which have important implications in terms of geological processes and climate on Titan, are investigated through the microwave electromagnetic signatures of dune fields using Cassini radar and radiometry observations. The backscatter and emissivity from Titan's dune terrains are primarily controlled by the amount of interdune area within the radar footprint and are also expected to vary with the degree of the interdunal sand cover. Using SAR-derived topography, we find that Titan's main dune fields (Shangri-La, Fensal, Belet and Aztlan) tend to occupy the lowest elevation areas in Equatorial regions occurring at mean elevations between ~-400 and ~0 m (relative to the geoid). In elevated dune terrains, we show a definite trend towards a smaller dune to interdune ratio and possibly a thinner sand cover in the interdune areas. A similar correlation is observed with latitude, suggesting that the quantity of windblown sand in the dune fields tends to decrease as one moves farther north. The altitudinal trend among Titan's sand seas is consistent with the idea that sediment source zones most probably occur in lowlands, which would reduce the sand supply toward elevated regions. The latitudinal preference could result from a gradual increase in dampness with latitude due to the asymmetric seasonal forcing associated with Titan's current orbital configuration unless it is indicative of a latitudinal preference in the sand source distribution or wind transport capacity.