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AGU: Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets



  • Titan
  • drainage networks
  • erosion

Index Terms

  • 1825 - Geomorphology: fluvial
  • 5415 - Erosion and weathering
  • 5419 - Hydrology and fluvial processes
  • 5470 - Surface materials and properties
  • 6281 - Titan

Paper in Press


Estimating erosional exhumation on Titan from drainage network morphology

Key Points
  • We present a method to estimate cumulative erosion using drainage network shape
  • Regions of Titan's surface appear to have experienced relatively little erosion
  • Titan may have experienced resurfacing, or erosion may be slower than on Earth


Benjamin Alexander Black

J. Taylor Perron

Devon Burr

Sarah A. Drummond

Drainage networks on Titan, Earth, and Mars provide the only known examples of non-volcanic fluvial activity in our solar system. The drainage networks on Titan are apparently the result of a methane-ethane cycle similar to Earth's water cycle. The scarcity of impact craters and the uneven distribution of fluvial dissection on Titan suggest that the surface may be relatively young. The purpose of this study is to assess the importance of erosion relative to other plausible mechanisms of resurfacing such as tectonic deformation, cryovolcanism, or deposition of aerosols. We present a new method, based on a measure of drainage network shape known as the width function, to estimate cumulative erosion into an initially rough surface. We calibrate this method with a numerical landscape evolution model, and successfully test the method by applying it to river networks on Earth with different exhumation histories. To estimate erosional exhumation on Titan, we mapped fluvial networks in all Synthetic Aperture Radar swaths obtained by the Cassini spacecraft through T71. Application of our method to the most completely imaged drainage networks indicates that for two of four regions analyzed, Titan's fluvial networks have produced only minor erosional modification of the surface. For the best-constrained region in the northern high latitudes, we find that fluvial networks reflect spatially averaged erosion of more than 0.4% but less than 9% of the initial topographic relief. This result implies either a recent, non-fluvial resurfacing event or long-term fluvial incision rates that are slow relative to the rate of resurfacing.

Received 20 March 2012; accepted 26 June 2012.

Citation: Black, B. A., J. T. Perron, D. Burr, and S. A. Drummond (2012), Estimating erosional exhumation on Titan from drainage network morphology, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2012JE004085, in press.