Abstract P42B-07 Presented at 2014 AGU Fall Meeting

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Basu Sarkar, D.; Elwood Madden, M. Rheology and thermal state of Titan’s crust: potential role of methane clathrate, Abstract P42B-07 presented at 2014 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, Calif., 15-19 Dec.

Gravity and topography data including new results obtained from recent Cassini RADAR and Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) observations suggest that Titan has a rigid and conductive crust, greater than 40 km in thickness (Beghin et al., 2012; Hemingway et al., 2013; Lopes et al., 2013; Mitri et al., 2014; Lefevre et al., 2014; Baland et al., 2014). In this work we employed rheological models based on clathrate hydrate stability fields and modeled geothermal gradients to investigate how clathrate hydrates may influence the rheology of Titan’s crust. Our findings suggest that a thick, rigid, and conductive crust composed of pure water ice is unlikely. Instead, a mixed phase crust comprised of water ice and clathrate hydrates, with up to 40 to 50% methane clathrates, results in thermal conductivity, viscosity, and density values consistent with Cassini observations. We modeled variations in Rayleigh number with crustal thickness for different crustal compositions assuming constant viscosity. Addition of methane clathrates makes the mixed ice-clathrate crust more viscous resulting in smaller Rayleigh numbers with depth compared to ice-only models. This slower rate of increase in Rayleigh number is also associated with increasing critical Rayleigh numbers, and hence, the potential thickness of a rigid, conductive crust. Modeling basal viscosity for different crustal compositions, following McKinnon (2006), we also determined that a methane clathrate-rich conductive crust would likely be much thicker (~60 km) than a non-convecting pure water-ice crust (~12 km). Titan’s carbon content constrained by different formation models (Tobie et al., 2012) shows that even a pure methane clathrate crust is possible. However, a pure methane clathrate crust is unlikely because it would be relatively thin, less than 20 km due to clathrate’s low thermal conductivity. Therefore, a mixed phase crust may explain both the geophysical observations and significant methane concentrations in Titan’s atmosphere.

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