Variations in Titan's dune orientations as a result of orbital forcing

Published in Icarus, 2016

Wind-blown dunes are a record of the climatic history in Titan's equatorial region. Through modeling of the climatic conditions associated with Titan's historical orbital configurations (arising from apsidal precessions of Saturn's orbit), we present evidence that the orientations of the dunes are influenced by orbital forcing. Analysis of 3 Titan general circulation models (GCMs) in conjunction with a sediment transport model provides the first direct intercomparison of results from different Titan GCMs. We report variability in the dune orientations predicted for different orbital epochs of up to 70°. Although the response of the GCMs to orbital forcing varies, the orbital influence on the dune orientations is found to be significant across all models. Furthermore, there is near agreement among the two models run with surface topography, with 3 out of the 5 dune fields matching observation for the most recent orbital cycle. Through comparison with observations by Cassini, we find situations in which the observed dune orientations are in best agreement with those modeled for previous orbital configurations or combinations thereof, representing a larger portion of the cycle. We conclude that orbital forcing could be an important factor in governing the present-day dune orientations observed on Titan and should be considered when modeling dune evolution.

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McDonald, George D., Alexander G. Hayes, Ryan C. Ewing, Juan M. Lora, Claire E. Newman, Tetsuya Tokano, Antoine Lucas, Alejandro Soto and Gang Chen, 2016: Variations in Titan's dune orientations as a result of orbital forcing, Icarus, 270, 197--210, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2015.11.036.