Annual and Longer Sedimentary Rhythms of the Organic Rock Record of Titan’s Circumpolar Seas and Lakes
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Seasonality and phase equilibrium in Titan’s lakes and seas will result in predictable sedimentary processes, deposits, and landforms. Calculated using CRYOCHEM, liquids on Titan should exhibit a counter-intuitive behavior where density increases with temperature but decreases with pressure, unless the temperature falls below 89.6 K. For warmer temperatures, the surface liquid of seas should flow toward the hottest spot; return flow may occur beneath the surface. Methane-rich liquid flowing southward from one interconnected northern sea to another will evaporate methane and concentrate ethane and other heavy hydrocarbons. In the north polar and circumpolar regions, a south-flowing river entering a sea from cold northerly uplands will inject a buoyant plume of low-density methane-rich liquid into the sea, unless the liquid at the inlet is heavily charged with dense solid phases or unless the lake is colder than 89.6 K. Generally north of (colder than) the seasonally shifting 89.6K transition (possible during the winter precisely when river discharges are high), a different behavior exists, whereby cold and methane-rich liquid forms denser liquids and flows across the bottom of the sea—possibly forming sub-sea channels as observed at Ligeia Mare. If the river carries clastic sediment denser than the methane liquid, the solids will undergo Stokes settling of the coarser fractions during periods of high river discharge, leaving the finest clastic fraction to undergo slow pelagic sedimentation throughout the year. From late spring to late summer, methane undergoes net evaporation from the sea, and solid organics that were saturated during the winter are likely to precipitate once warm weather starts. Hence, varves in Titan’s seas are apt to consist of annual cycles of (1) winter: coarse clastics, (2) all dry season: fine-grained clastics, and (3) summer: evaporites. As Titan undergoes ‘Milankovic’ type variations in rotational obliquity and Saturn’s orbital eccentricity, the circumpolar climate and annual range of the seasonal cycle will change, forcing responses in rainfall rates, erosion rates, and the composition of lakes and seas. Thus, sediment deposit sequences—layered organic rock strata—in the circumpolar regions will record past climate changes due to long-term cycles as well as annual periodicity.