Retrieval of H2O abundance in Titan's stratosphere: A (re)analysis of CIRS/Cassini and PACS/Herschel observations

S. Bauduin*, P. G.J. Irwin, E. Lellouch, V. Cottini, R. Moreno, C. A. Nixon, N. A. Teanby, T. Ansty, F. M. Flasar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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Since its first measurement 20 years ago by the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), the water (H2O) mole fraction in Titan's stratosphere remains uncertain due to large differences between the determinations from available measurements. More particularly, the recent measurements made from the Herschel observatory (PACS and HIFI) estimated the H2O mole fraction to be 0.023 ppb at 12.1 mbar. A mixing ratio of 0.14 ppb at 10.7 mbar was, however, retrieved from nadir spatially-resolved observations of Cassini/CIRS. At the same pressure level (10.7 mbar), this makes a difference of a factor of 5.5 between PACS and CIRS measurements, and this has notably prevented current models from fully constraining the oxygen flux flowing into Titan's atmosphere. In this work, we try to understand the differences between the H2O mole fractions estimated from Herschel/PACS and Cassini/CIRS observations. The strategy for this is to 1) analyse recent disc-averaged observations of CIRS to investigate if the observation geometry could explain the previous observed differences, and 2) (re)analyse the three types of observation with the same retrieval scheme to assess if previous differences in retrieval codes/methodology could be responsible for the previous discrepancies. With this analysis, we show that using the same retrieval method better reconcile the previous measurements of these instruments. However, the addition of the disc-averaged CIRS observations, instead of confirming the consistency between the different datasets, reveals discrepancies between one of the CIRS disc-averaged set of observations and PACS measurements. This raises new questions regarding the possibility of latitudinal variations of H2O, which could be triggered by seasonal changes of the meridional circulation. As it has already been shown for nitriles and hydrocarbons, this circulation could potentially impact the latitudinal distribution of H2O through the subsidence or upwelling of air rich in H2O. The possible influence of spatial/time variations of the OH/H2O input flux in Titan's atmosphere is also discussed. The analysis of more observations will be needed in future work to address the questions arising from this work and to improve the understanding of the sources of H2O in Titan's atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-305
Number of pages18
Early online date7 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • atmosphere
  • Atmosphere
  • composition
  • Infrared observations
  • Satellite
  • Spectroscopy
  • Titan


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