Structure and dynamics of Titan's outer icy shell constrained from Cassini data

Research areas:
JUL 15
The Cassini-Huygens mission has brought evidence for an internal ocean lying beneath an outer icy shell on Titan. The observed topography differs significantly from the reference hydrostatic shape, while the measured geoid anomalies (estimated up to degree three) remain weak. This suggests compensation either by deflections of the ocean/ice interface or by density variations in an upper crust. However, the observed degree-three gravity signal indicates either that the topography is not perfectly compensated, or that mass anomalies exist in the deep interior, or a combination of both. To investigate the compensation mechanisms, we developed an interior structure model satisfying simultaneously the surface gravity and long-wavelength topography. We quantified the excess deflection of ocean/ice I interface, the density anomalies in the upper crust, or the deflection of the ice/rock interface needed to explain the observed degree-three anomalies. Finally, we tested the long-term mechanical stability of the internal mass anomalies by computing the relaxation rate of each internal interface in response to interface mass load. We showed that the computed deflection of the ocean/ice I interface is stable only for a conductive highly viscous layer above a relatively cold ocean (T < 250 K). Solutions with a moderately convecting ice shell are possible only for models with crustal density variations. Due to fast relaxation, the high pressure ice layer cannot be the source of the degree three geoid anomalies. The existence of mass anomalies in the rocky core remains a possible explanation. Estimation of the degree-four gravity signal by future, Cassini flybys will further constrain the compensation, mechanism and the source of gravity anomalies. (c) 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.