Experimental constraints on the composition and dynamics of Titan's polar lakes

by Luspay-Kuti, A.; Chevrier, V. F.; Cordier, D.; Rivera-Valentin, E. G.; Singh, S.; Wagner, A.; Wasiak, F. C.

Titan's polar lakes are thought to be predominantly composed of liquid ethane and methane; however, little is known on the ratio of these hydrocarbons in the lakes, and the stability and dynamics of these mixtures. Here we provide the first experimental constraints under Titan surface conditions of liquid hydrocarbon mixture evaporation. Our results are relevant to Titan's polar temperatures and pressures (similar to 92 K and 1.5 bar), and cover a wide range of methane-ethane compositions. We show that evaporation is negligible for pure ethane, but increases nearly linearly with increasing methane concentration. Early dissolution of N-2 results in ternary mixtures evaporating, which is modeled by a 'hybrid' thermodynamic equilibrium approach combining Perturbed-Chain Statistical Associating Fluid Theory with a diffusion and buoyancy-driven mass flux model. The approach follows the experimental evaporation rate measurements presented in this study, and allows for the calculation of the corresponding liquid methane-ethane-nitrogen ratios. Such results along with Cassini inferred lake evaporation rates can be used to estimate the composition of Titan's polar liquids, and may have implications on their origin. Our results suggest that Ontario Lacus is predominantly composed of ethane (>50-80 mol%), indicating it may be a residual lake following extensive seasonal methane evaporation, and/or might be in contact with a subsurface liquid reservoir.

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
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