Exploring morphology, layering and formation history of linear terrestrial dunes from radar observations: Implications for Titan

Priyanka Sharma, Essam Heggy, Tom G. Farr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the morphology and internal layering of large aeolian dune fields through radar observations can provide unique insights into the climatic and geophysical conditions that led to their formation. In this study, we perform a large-scale characterization of the morphology and internal layering of linear dunes in hyper-arid areas on Earth, through utilizing multiple complementary radar datasets (SIR-C imaging, SRTM interferometry-derived elevations and radar sounding or Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)). Linear dune fields in the Egyptian desert are of special interest, due to their significance as planetary analogs to dunes on Mars and Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Satellite radar imagery and elevation data of the region show significant variance in the geomorphology of different dune fields in Egypt. In addition, GPR probing of the first few meters suggests different inner settings in the layering of dunes of different ages in eastern and western Egypt, reflecting different paleo-climatic regimes that led to their formation. Furthermore, our radiometric analysis suggests that dunes with different inner layering arrangement also exhibit different radar backscatter returns as a function of their heights. For relatively younger dunes with a homogeneous inner structure, like the ones in eastern Egypt in the Qattaniya dune field, we observe that sigma0 does not change as a function of the dune height. For relatively older dunes in western Egypt like the Great Sand Sea (Northern (Siwa) and Southern dune fields), we observed a linear correlation between sigma0 and the dune height. Thus, surface properties of dunes like morphology and backscatter variation with height are related to inner characteristics like arrangement of internal layering, relative ages and can be used to infer their depositional history. Linear dunes discovered in the equatorial regions of Titan by the Cassini-Huygens mission are morphologically very similar to these linear dune fields in the Egyptian Sahara. Hence, assessing the variability of morphology and radar backscatter properties of Titan's dunes as a function of their heights can help constrain the ambiguities associated with their internal structure and formation history and provide insights into Titan's paleo-wind regimes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-307
Number of pages12
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018



  • Aeolian processes
  • Dunes
  • Geomorphology
  • Geophysics
  • Radar
  • Radar imaging
  • Radar sounding/Ground Penetrating Radar
  • Sahara
  • SIR-C
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences

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