Titan Dunes Turn Climate Models Upside Down

Article written: 27 Feb , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

Scientists have mapped vast dune fields on Titan that may align with the wind on Saturn’s biggest moon — flowing opposite the way climate models had predicted.

The maps, as above, represent four years of radar data collected by the Cassini spacecraft. They reveal rippled dunes that are generally oriented east-west, which means Titan’s winds probably blow toward the east instead of the west. If so, Titan’s surface winds blow opposite the direction suggested by previous global circulation models. On the example above, the arrows indicate the general wind direction. The dark areas without arrows might have dunes but have not yet been imaged. 

“At Titan there are very few clouds, so determining which way the wind blows is not an easy thing, but by tracking the direction in which Titan’s sand dunes form, we get some insight into the global wind pattern,” says Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. “Think of the dunes sort of like a weather vane, pointing us to the direction the winds are blowing.”

Titan’s dunes are believed to be made up of hydrocarbon sand grains likely derived from organic chemicals in Titan’s smoggy skies. The dunes wrap around high terrain, which provides some idea of their height. They accumulate near the equator, and may pile up there because drier conditions allow for easy transport of the particles by the wind. Titan’s higher latitudes contain lakes and may be “wetter” with more liquid hydrocarbons, not ideal conditions for creating dunes.

“Titan’s dunes are young, dynamic features that interact with topographic obstacles and give us clues about the wind regimes,” said Jani Radebaugh, from Brigham Young University in Utah. “Winds come at these dunes from at least a couple of different directions, but then combine to create the overall dune orientation.”

Researchers say the wind pattern is important for planning future Titan explorations that might involve balloon-borne experiments. Some 16,000 dune segments were mapped out from about 20 radar images, digitized and combined to produce the new map, which is available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini. A paper based on the new findings appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

Cassini, which launched in 1997 and is now in extended mission operations, continues to blaze its trail around the Saturn system and will visit Titan again on March 27. Seventeen Titan flybys are planned this year.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California manages the Cassini-Huygens mission. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the United States and several European countries. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

LEAD IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute (Boulder, Colorado)

Source: NASA


31 Responses

  1. Anaconda says

    I agree, the picture in the post is most indeterminate.

    But the text reveals the conundrum, clear enough.

    General semantics has a statement that covers this type of conundrum: The map is not the terrirory.

    Models are simply elaborate “maps”.

    And a conviction the “map” in Man’s head must be right should never interfer with the observation & measurement of the thing, itself.

    Regrettably, such is not always the case.

    What the post fails to address is why the climate models predicted the wind blew from East to West in the first place?

  2. Earlier this week a Japanese scientist compared computer climate change modeling to ancient astrology: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/25/jstor_climate_report_translation/print.html

  3. Zibit says

    People complain about models that describe black holes, neutron stars, and gamma rays just to name a few. But people never seem to complain about “Global Warming” models. Which is really the only evidence of so called global warming.

    Is “Global Warming” Inconclusive? To say the least!

    PS. Thanks for posting that link OillsMastery. Very good read.

  4. Bill L. says

    what.

    the.

    crap.

  5. Peter says

    If you notice, in this map of Titan, the seagulls in the image are making fun of the pilot who bellied into the Hudson last month.
    Evidently they have better ties to their cousins here…anyway, see the formation on the right, just like the plane…and the formation in the middle, a big heart…now the left group got their stations slightly out of whack but it seems to mean, ground loves planes, as in, stay out of our air space! Solidarity amongst our web footed friends! Scary!

  6. maudyfish says

    Would somebody please explain what we are looiking at in that pic! Is it dunes, clouds……what????

  7. Maria says

    What is the point of all this knowledge anyways we are essentially screwed

  8. Trippy says

    This article isn’t about climate change.

  9. Trippy,

    Do you think it’s about climate stability?

  10. robbi says

    Ollis Mastery- I’ve visited your website and gave you my feedback and did say I did not believe the source of some of your hypothesis for how our Universe works but believed your reasonings for why Great Comet McNaught in Jan2007 as I saw from near Perth ,Australia did things on its’ tale that told me Solar Wind alone could not possibly accomplished as I saw brilliant ‘lane’s created far from the nucleus and the changes were quick,I had checked the ‘net if there was any auroral changes, there was none-so I have to say electrofields were responsible for these strange Comet NcNaught, the Solar Winds will creat a tail but the tail will be relatively slow difference in brilliances from the nucleus to far away, if the solar wind was powerful for a few minutes, the effect would have still meant a relatively slight changed in difference as it leaves the nucleus as it gets further, and the changes to the rest of the Sun should the solar wind changes would still not be capable of cause the brilliant ‘lane’ than eventually faded while another brilliant ‘lane’ and other ‘lanes’ had already started up some distance away
    Comet Holmes, I believe something hit it, the solar wind does cause now supercomet ‘Pluto’ to brighten and dim unexpectedly as it approched the closest distance to the Sun and unmasked an ‘asteroid’ orbiting between Saturn and Uranus as being a large comet (I forgot the name of the ‘300-400mile or 480-640kilometer object), back to Comet Holmes, the Sun may have caused Holmes to brignten up a few to about 10x normal at that distance from a collision and exposed surface, but the comet brightened up 1M times brighter-I have to say there was some electrical event that caused that for which is beyond my knowledge. I gave you my feedback and said perhaps under special events, electircal charge is necessary for events like the Comets but I also said I can not believe all the source of your hypothesis
    of our Universe, for which you thanked me for my feedback. I’ve said on very early feeds that the Sun is not producing Sunspots as expected during its Solar cycle and was not really much during Soar Max a few years back, I believe the Sun is ‘chilling’ out for reasons that is beyond everyones knowledge but should be expected as the Sun goes throught its main sequence G star life as a built in ‘thermostat’ when it gets a ‘fever’ it expands to ‘chill out’ and when it ‘chill out’ too much will contract to get inself back into balance but if the contraction continues will again have a ‘fever’ and expand–etc. The Sun is 98% cause of our weather, the Earh itself is 2%, humans .015.
    Olis, many of the statements on the link you posted is correct. I’ve said on earlier feeds, should too much of the Arctic Ice and Greenland Glaciers melt too quickly, this can affect the heart of the Global Oceanic Conveyor Belt, of which the North Atlantic is the heart, should too much fresh water cause the sinking of warmer Gulf Stream water to quick sinking, this can cause the North Atlantic Drift , (a product caused by the Gulf Stream and is the reason why NW Europe is much warmer than normal and have ice free areas like Vardo, Norway and Spitzbergen at 78 degrees North habitable), to stop.
    If the North Atlantic Drifts stops long enough, this can start quite some cooling, but if the Sun continues to ‘chill out’ something like the ‘minor ice age of 1600-1800 will occur again, but should the Sun keeps relatively cool, the minor ice age can become the start of a major ice age, perhaps not as bad as the one that ended 10K years ago, but bad enough to cause migration from Northern Europe and if hundreds of Millions migrate over a period of 50-100 years, there can be
    competition for resources made much less available or lost and can cause major wars that can kill hundreds of millions.
    ‘High’ CO2 is a double edge sword- how quickly can human drop ‘High’ CO2 and,after trillions of Dollars spent, our Earth will say ‘geeez, I have a slight upset stomach’ and blast the atmosphere with a volcanic eruption perhaps 1/2 the ash,gases of Toba or 50x that of Pinotubo in 1991
    http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/EGECVolcanicEruptions.pdf
    Never ever under-estimate the power of the Sun or of Earth itself to mess up humans
    activities
    Note, I am not an expert on anything I noted here as my education and career did not cover or concerned these events but used my own practical sightings and own independent research and free to express my own personal views and do not participate
    in these ‘exchange of truths’ as they are beyond my applicable knowledge/education/career

  11. Trippy says

    OIM: It isn’t about anything other than the pattern of wind circulation on *TITAN* it has absolutely nothing to do with climate change on EARTH, in fact, this article says NOTHIN WHAT SO EVER about climate change on earth.

  12. Robbi,

    Thank you for your kind words. Don’t feel bad that you’re not an expert. No one is. We are all just learning, especially the so-called experts.

    Trippy,

    The article is about climate models. See in the title where it says “climate models”? I realize that in the years I’ve known you reading comprehension has never been your strong point but you should at least bother to read the title of the article and read the article itself.

  13. robbi says

    Trippy- I obviously know it had nothing to do with Earths climate, however, scientist and astronomers studies the 4 gas giants, Venus, Titan ,Mars cloud and weather patterns to help understand how Earths’ climate really works and can help solve phonomena not well understood by scientists and meteorologist. Besides being a serious amateur astronomer,since I retired I read, study research about phonomena not
    well answered by coventional facts
    On Saturn, I wonder about the great white spot visible during Perihelion
    Current theories by scientist don’t satisfy me:
    “Current theory suggests that GWSs are massive atmospheric upwellings, perhaps due to thermal instability.”
    But Saturn Eccentricity 0.055 Aphelion is 10.1 AU Perihelion is 9.0 AU
    Such brightening is too much to be caused by the differences to Suns’ charged particles
    To which I found this possible cause
    “The rough coincidence of the GWSs with the summer solstice in Saturn’s atmosphere has been seized on as proof that insolation is the main cause, though their occurrence has been more closely linked with time elapsed since the northern winter solstice.”
    I’m still not satisfied, This explanation may explain some of the cause,but this phonomena is too brilliant considering the
    eccentricity of Saturn.
    I got another phonomena about Saturn
    —persisting hexagonal wave pattern—-
    This is the reasonings by scientist
    “The pattern’s origin is a matter of much speculation. Most astronomers seem to think some sort of standing-wave pattern in the atmosphere; but the hexagon might be a novel sort of aurora.”
    My thinking is the standing-wave pattern has to be wrong as it has been going on for years and believe it is a auroral display caused by some form of electrical-field beyond my knowledge
    I followed a link to what they think they found:
    “Geometric whirlpools revealed”. Nature. May 19, 2006.””
    However, I am not a member so here’s the link to the article if you are a member
    http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060515/full/060515-17.html. Retrieved on April 27 2007.
    Here was a desciption of the article
    “Bizarre geometric shapes that appear at the centre of swirling vortices in planetary atmospheres might be explained by a simple experiment with a bucket of water but correlating this to Saturn’s pattern is
    by no means certain.”
    My response is there’s a difference between a bucket of water versus some phenomena on a planetary scale!!! Reading the last part of the desciption of the article says it all:
    “but correlating this to Saturn’s pattern is
    by no means certain.”
    I look for articles like these besides being a ‘puter geek and other hobbies
    I still don’t understand why you are so defensive about someone talking about something that really has something that scientist and meteorologist trys to correlate
    with Earth climate!!!!

  14. robbi says

    Trippy =sorry- here’s the link, a very simple site
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn#cite_note-29

  15. Trippy says

    Robbi: As far as studying the gas giants to get a better idea what goes on here, you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know. As far as the rest of it goes, none of which is directly relevant to the article.

    And I’m not getting defensive. Go back and re-read the first few posts. My point is that /some/ posters, regarding this story see the headline “TItan turns climate models on their heads” and instantly start ranting and raving and frothing at the mouth about how Anthropogenic climate change is a crock – when the article says nothing about climate change. It simply says that the wind blows in the opposite direction to what our models of global circulation for Titan predict.

    OIM: You’re lying again, but there’s no surprises there. In the short time that I’ve had the displeasure of dealing with you, i’ve come to learn that thinking and honesty are not your strong points.

    The both of you:

    The models used to model Titans atmospheric circulation are NOT the same as the models used to predict global climate change. The models used to predict the global circulation are based on things like the Navier-stokes equation, these models are simply of fluid flow. This doesn’t even actually imply that the models are wrong, it may simply mean that there’s something we’ve misunderstood about objects in locked orbits, and super-rotation. Something that we’ve been looking straight at, for example, Venus, but hadn’t noticed.

    Ugh.

    Get a grip, preferrably on reality.

    No doubt, OIM will rant and rave and froth at the mouth, and there will be a wailing and gnashing of teeth about how I’m pro AGW, and how i’m just incapable of thinking for myself, or something along those lines, but hopefuly anyone with a shred of intellectual integrity will notice two things.

    1. It was in fact OIM that first resorted to name calling.
    2. I have made no comments about the validity of models that predict AGW, only pointed out that this article isn’t actually about those models.

  16. Trippy says

    More to the point, if either of you had bothered doing any of your own research before you started mouthing off, you would have found the original article on the Cassini Huygens wbe page, and realized that you were barking up the wrong tree.

    OIM, you harp on about reading comprehension, and yet everything you raise addresses the title and the title only.

    HAve you actually read the article?
    Have you read the original article?
    Have you read the article on any other website?

    No, some how I doubt it, and so you will never be able to understand that this isn’t actually about global climate change models, it is simply about a surprise finding on a mission that has produced several surprises.

  17. Member
    IVAN3MAN says

    Oil_Is_Mastery: “Earlier this week a Japanese scientist compared computer climate change modeling to ancient astrology…”

    I would take that report with a good sprinkling of skeptical salt & pessimistic pepper; it is in the same category as Japanese ‘whale research’ and Japanese history textbooks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_history_textbook_controversies

  18. geokstr says

    Ah, so, when Japanese scientists disagree with the religion of AGW, then the heretics must be smeared with any controversy that can be remotely connected to Japan. Typical leftist tactics. If you weren’t a leftie you’d be tarred and feathered for racism against the yellow man.

    By the way, that wasn’t just one whacko Japanese nutjob, that was a commission of scientists that was formed decades ago to “promote the science and technology concerning energy and resources and thus to facilitate cooperation among industry academia and governmental sectors for coping with the problems in this field.”

    Maybe YOU should read a little more about the people you so easily condemn as weirdos and fruitcakes before you do so. I understand that fanatics of “climate change”, including James Hansen, the real nutjob here, are on public record calling for executions of non-believers.

    There are in fact lots and LOTS of scientists, including LOTS of climate scientists, who disagree with your religion. You’d never know it reading the left wing media or sites like this one though.

  19. maudyfish says

    Soooooo, why show climate on Titan when there are few clouds? If you want comprehension that picture away!!

  20. Member
    IVAN3MAN says

    @ geokstr: “Ah, so, when Japanese scientists disagree with the religion of AGW…”

    Why is everything a rival “religion” to you neocon types when it disagrees with your blinked world view?

    @ geokstr: “If you weren’t a leftie you’d be tarred and feathered for racism against the yellow man.”

    Yellow man? Actually, Japanese people have a paler complexion than the stereotypical Chinese.

    @ geokstr: “Maybe YOU should read a little more about the people you so easily condemn as weirdos and fruitcakes before you do so.”

    Err… your words, not mine. I did not use those terms to describe the Japanese; it was YOU that implied those terms.

    @ geokstr: “There are in fact lots and LOTS of scientists, including LOTS of climate scientists, who disagree with your religion.”

    Oh, really? Not according to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change
    There’s more information here with external links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

    However, you probably prefer to get your ‘facts’ from Conservapedia, don’t you?

  21. ND says

    IVAN3MAN,

    Sorry but comparing that climate change article from Japanese scientists to the historical revisionism in Japanese textbooks is below the belt.

    geokstr,

    I wonder if these scientists have a pro-industry slant, therefore interested in countering climate change research. You’re playing games by calling climate change a religion.

  22. ND says

    geokstr,

    A lot of people refuse to take climate change and other environmental issues seriously because of their dislike of lefties and what they think are leftie ideas like enviromental protection.

  23. Member
    IVAN3MAN says

    Why is my comment “awaiting moderation”? It only contains two harmless links. Sheesh!

  24. Member
    IVAN3MAN says

    ND,

    I tell it like it is.

  25. Qev says

    @geokstr

    “There are in fact lots and LOTS of scientists, including LOTS of climate scientists, who disagree with your religion.”

    I’m sure you have a link to lists of these LOTS of scientists and their credentials to back that statement up, yes?

  26. marcellus says

    Why do the lefties have to tie everything in the Universe to “Climate Change”?

    To drive their not so hidden agenda, of course.

    Enjoy Titan for what it is, an unspoiled place of exotic scientific mystery. Don’t wreck it with your political viewpoints.

  27. Yael Dragwyla says

    IVAN3MAN — your post has absolutely nothing relevant to say about this article and anything in it. As somebody else said, get a grip!

  28. Trippy,

    You are an illiterate liar if you think it doesn’t say “climate models” in the title.

    Typical.

  29. Trippy says

    OIM:
    That’s not what I said though is it.

    “This article isn’t about climate change.”
    Followed by:
    “OIM: It isn’t about anything other than the pattern of wind circulation on *TITAN* it has absolutely nothing to do with climate change on EARTH, in fact, this article says NOTHIN WHAT SO EVER about climate change on earth.”
    Followed by:
    “The models used to model Titans atmospheric circulation are NOT the same as the models used to predict global climate change. The models used to predict the global circulation are based on things like the Navier-stokes equation, these models are simply of fluid flow. This doesn’t even actually imply that the models are wrong, it may simply mean that there’s something we’ve misunderstood about objects in locked orbits, and super-rotation. Something that we’ve been looking straight at, for example, Venus, but hadn’t noticed.

    Ugh.

    Get a grip, preferrably on reality.”

    So once again, you loose, and it’s you who is misrepresenting the facts.

    Oh, and this article STILL isn’t about climate change (here’s a clue – not all climate models deal with climate change, those that do are called climate change models).

    Oh, and my point remains about the original article on teh NASA webpage, rather than a report on the article.

  30. lame says

    wow. you’re all a bunch of snobby nerds.

  31. Member
    IVAN3MAN says

    @ Yael Dragwyla,

    FYI, it wasn’t me who initiated this off-topic ‘discussion’ on AGW; it was OilIsMastery. If you would check out his web-site, you see who really needs to “get a grip” on reality!

    I merely responded to an unsubstantiated accusation by “geokstr”. However, I shall refrain from engaging in such discourse with cranks, in future.

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