Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

First Advisor

Owen B. Toon

Second Advisor

Fran Bagenal

Third Advisor

Erika Barth

Fourth Advisor

Peter Pilewskie

Fifth Advisor

Katja Friedrich

Abstract

Titan's atmosphere is enshrouded by an organic aerosol haze that obscures the surface at visible wavelengths. Elucidating the nature of this haze is key to understanding Titan's complex climate system and seasonal cycles. To approach this problem, I used a global circulation model coupled to an aerosol microphysical model to explore the physical properties of the haze, its spatial and temporal distribution, and any effects on the atmosphere. I established a best-guess set of microphysical properties that describes the aerosol in Titan's atmosphere based on sensitivity tests of the parameters. From this approach I confirmed that the aerosol haze is comprised of aggregate particles with a fractal dimension of about 2. A charge on the particles equal to 7.5 electrons/micron radius best fist observations of phase function and number density, and a production rate of 10-14 g/cm2/s best matches vertical extinction profiles in Titan's atmosphere. I also present a formation mechanism for Titan's detached haze layer based on a balance between the vertical winds and particle fall velocities, and use a simple analytical model to reproduce the mechanism and match it to vertical extinction profiles from Cassini observations. Our simulations suggest that the detached haze layer will reappear at high altitude, around 550 km, between mid 2014 and early 2015. Finally, we show how the addition of topography and an ad hoc acceleration in our model affects the surface winds, making them more aligned with the dune crestline orientations on Titan. Through analysis of model output and comparison with spacecraft observations, I have been able to provide a coherent picture for the origin and evolution of Titan' s mysterious haze.

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