Geomorphologic mapping of titan's polar terrains: Constraining surface processes and landscape evolution

S. P D Birch, A. G. Hayes, W. E. Dietrich, A. D. Howard, C. S. Bristow, M. J. Malaska, J. M. Moore, M. Mastrogiuseppe, J. D. Hofgartner, David Williams, O. L. White, J. M. Soderblom, J. W. Barnes, E. P. Turtle, J. I. Lunine, C. A. Wood, C. D. Neish, R. L. Kirk, E. R. Stofan, R. D. LorenzR. M C Lopes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


We present a geomorphologic map of Titan's polar terrains. The map was generated from a combination of Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Imaging Science Subsystem imaging products, as well as altimetry, SARTopo and radargrammetry topographic datasets. In combining imagery with topographic data, our geomorphologic map reveals a stratigraphic sequence from which we infer process interactions between units. In mapping both polar regions with the same geomorphologic units, we conclude that processes that formed the terrains of the north polar region also acted to form the landscape we observe at the south. Uniform, SAR-dark plains are interpreted as sedimentary deposits, and are bounded by moderately dissected uplands. These plains contain the highest density of filled and empty lake depressions, and canyons. These units unconformably overlay a basement rock that outcrops as mountains and SAR-bright dissected terrains at various elevations across both poles. All these units are then superposed by surficial units that slope towards the seas, suggestive of subsequent overland transport of sediment. From estimates of the depths of the embedded empty depressions and canyons that drain into the seas, the SAR-dark plains must be >600 m thick in places, though the thickness may vary across the poles. At the lowest elevations of each polar region, there are large seas, which are currently liquid methane/ethane filled at the north and empty at the south. The large plains deposits and the surrounding hillslopes may represent remnant landforms that are a result of previously vast polar oceans, where larger liquid bodies may have allowed for a sustained accumulation of soluble and insoluble sediments, potentially forming layered sedimentary deposits. Coupled with vertical crustal movements, the resulting layers would be of varying solubilities and erosional resistances, allowing formation of the complex landscape that we observe today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-236
Number of pages23
StatePublished - Jan 15 2017


  • Geological processes
  • Titan
  • Titan hydrology
  • Titan surface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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