37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 51 Titan II
Oral, Thursday, September 8, 2005, 2:00-3:50pm, Music Concert Hall

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[51.07] Methane on Titan: Photochemical-Meteorological-Hydrogeochemical Cycle

S.K. Atreya (U. Michigan), H.B. Niemann (GSFC), T.C. Owen (U. Hawaii), E.Y. Adams (U. Michigan), J.E. Demick (GSFC), GCMS Team

Photochemically driven destruction of methane in Titan's stratosphere leads to irreversible conversion to heavier hydrocarbons (1). The latter would largely condense out of the atmosphere (2). In the absence of recycling, Titan's methane would thus be destroyed in ~10-100 million years (1). However, methane is key to the maintenance of Titan's nitrogen atmosphere. Without warming provided by CH4-generated hydrocarbon hazes in the stratosphere and pressure induced opacity in the infrared, particularly by H2-N2 and CH4-N2 collisions in the troposphere, the atmosphere would gradually diminish to tens of millibar pressure (3). Thus, the source-sink cycle of methane is crucial to the evolutionary history of Titan and its atmosphere. The GCMS measurements show that a ``methalogical" cycle with surface evaporation, cloud formation, followed by precipitation (rain) of methane exists. However, this ``closed" cycle does not recycle methane lost to heavy hydrocarbons. A source is required. Unlike the deep, hot, H2-rich interiors of the giant planets, Titan's interior is ill suited for thermochemical conversion of hydrocarbons back to methane. Instead we propose that serpentinization is an effective process for producing methane in Titan's interior (4). Hydration of ultramafic silicates, followed by reaction between the released H2 gas and CO2 or carbon grains can produce large quantities of CH4 at relatively mild (40-90\circC) temperatures. Such thermal conditions are believed to exist below the purported water-ammonia ocean (5). Storage of methane produced via serpentinization can occur in form of clathrates. Evidence of outgassing from Titan's interior is provided by GCMS (6) and VIMS (7) data. (1) Wilson, Atreya, JGR 109, E06002, doi:10.1029/2003JE002181, 2004. (2) Wilson, Atreya, PSS 51, 1017, 2003. (3) Lorenz etal. Science 275, 642, 1997. (4) Owen etal. Phys. Uspekhi, in press. (5) Grasset, Pargamin, PSS 53, 371, 2005. (6) Niemann etal., Submitted to Nature, 2005. (7) Sotin etal., Nature 435, 786, 2005.

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