Radar scattering of linear dunes and mega-yardangs: Application to Titan
Paillou et al
The Ku-band (13.8 GHz – 2.2 cm) RADAR instrument onboard the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft has revealed the richness of the surface of Titan, as numerous seas, lakes, rivers, cryo-volcanic flows and vast dune fields have been discovered. Linear dunes are a major geomorphological feature present on Titan, covering up to 17% of its surface, mainly in equatorial regions. However, the resolution of the RADAR instrument is not good enough to allow a detailed study of the morphology of these features. In addition, other linear wind-related landforms, such as mega-yardangs (linear wind-abraded ridges formed in cohesive rocks), are likely to present a comparable radar signature that could be confused with the one of dunes. We conducted a comparative study of the radar radiometry of both linear dunes and mega-yardangs, based on representative terrestrial analogues: the linear dunes located in the Great Sand Sea in western Egypt and in the Namib Desert in Namibia, and the mega-yardangs observed in the Lut Desert in eastern Iran and in the Borkou Desert in northern Chad. We analysed the radar scattering of both terrestrial linear dunes and mega-yardangs, using high-resolution radar images acquired by the X-band (9.6 GHz – 3.1 cm) sensor of the TerraSAR-X satellite. Variations seen in the radar response of dunes are the result of a contrast between the dune and interdune scattering, while for mega-yardangs these variations are the result of a contrast between ridges and erosion valleys. We tested a simple surface scattering model, with parameters derived from the local topography and surface roughness estimates, to accurately reproduce the radar signal variations for both landforms. It appears that we can discriminate between two types of dunes – bare interdunes as in Egypt and sand-covered interdunes as in Namibia, and between two types of mega-yardangs – young yardangs as in Iran and older ones as in Chad. We applied our understanding of the radar scattering to the analysis of Cassini RADAR T8 acquisitions over the Belet Sand Sea on Titan, and show that the linear dunes encountered there are likely to be of both Egyptian and Namibian type. We also show that the radar-bright linear features observed in Cassini RADAR T64 and T83 acquisitions are very likely to be mega-yardangs, possible remnants of ancient lake basins at mid-latitude, formed when Titan’s climate was different.