Titan is an important planetary body for aeolian research because of the vast equatorial sand seas that span 20% of its surface. Previous studies have determined the general margins of sand and sand seas on Titan, and have speculated about the source of Titan's sand. Little research has been done concerning where sand collects in the sand seas. Additionally, the relationships be-tween material distributions as observed by the Cassini Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) and the history of erosion and transportation of sediments across equatorial latitudes is not fully understood. This work focuses on an in depth evaluation of sand distribution and abundance across the sand seas, and presents evidence for an alternative sand source. This work also addresses a potential stratigraphy for the equatorial regions based on the excavation of materials from impact craters. We mapped the extent of relative sand abundances by comparing different Cassini image datasets, largely by mapping where the Imaging Science Subsystems (ISS) regions were darkest, in-dicating the presence of more sand. Our results revealed that greater abundances of sand accumu-late near the eastern margins of sand seas. This is in agreement with previous studies that demon-strated general W to E transport, and fits a general model of sand transport across the sand seas to collect at the downwind margins, perhaps ahead of topographic obstacles that mark the eastern ends of the sand seas. Additionally, we found that the largest continuous expanse of abundant sand de-posits lie across Belet, a large sand sea that occupies a broad equatorial lowland. Another sand sea of interest is Shangri-La, which has a recessed SE margin adjacent to the broad, albedo-bright de-pression Xanadu. We also found abundant sand deposits within Shangri-La across a corridor be-tween highlands and along the SE boundary of the sand sea. Dune crest orientations across eastern Shangri-La indicate WNW to ESE transport in the region. We propose that the low topography of Xanadu, coupled with the strong gradient in albedo between Shangri-La and Xanadu would gener-ate atmospheric disturbances similar to those responsible for transporting sand across positive changes in elevation on Mars, and may be responsible for the distinct boundary. VIMS-blue materials are generally associated with water ice mixed with organic com-pounds. We found that VIMS-blue surfaces across equatorial latitudes tend to be directly adjacent to and upwind of sand seas. This, coupled with geomorphological observations of erosional charac-teristics and examination of material properties, suggests that sand could at least in part be derived from VIMS-blue materials. We propose 3 environments (alluvial fans, dry lakebeds, and ejecta from impact craters) for sand production using this interpretation and making comparisons with SAR, ISS, and VIMS imagery. Modeling suggests that Titan's lithosphere significantly thickened 500 m.y. ago. We inter-pret an elongate exposure of VIMS-blue materials adjacent to Aztlan to be a rift caused by a thick-ening of the lithosphere, similar to many of the other icy bodies of the solar system. Our interpreta-tion is further supported by the distribution of cryovolcanic features alongside the proposed rift. Anomalous VIMS-blue and bright regions within eastern Xanadu are distributed in a pattern that resembles a multi-ringed impact basin. Additionally, when a value threshold was applied to ISS imagery, a bright circular feature was revealed within western Xanadu. These observations suggest two large impacts may have been significantly responsible for creating Xanadu. Comparisons of impact crater models with VIMS imagery of Paxsi, Menrva, Sinlap, Selk, and other craters suggest alternating layers of VIMS-bright and VIMS-blue cover much of the equatorial latitudes of Titan. We completed ground penetrating radar (GPR) and global positioning system (GPS) surveys across margins of the Kelso Dunes to evaluate the effects of fluvial interaction on sand depth. Our terres-trial model was compared to sand seas on Titan that appear to also have interactions with fluvial channels. Distributions of sand suggest that in both the Kelso Dunes and on Titan, fluvial obstruc-tion is temporary and on Titan isolated across small regions. This work leads to a better understanding of sand production, accumulation and transport on Titan and in sand seas in general, and reveals a basic stratigraphy of the equatorial regions of Titan. This region is of particular interest because it is the landing site of the Dragonfly mission, now in design.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Titan, sand seas, VIMS, ISS, SAR, Cassini