Vertical abundance profiles of hydrocarbons in Titan's atmosphere at 15° S and 80° N retrieved from Cassini/CIRS spectra

Sandrine Vinatier*, Bruno Bézard, Thierry Fouchet, Nick A. Teanby, Remco de Kok, Patrick G.J. Irwin, Barney J. Conrath, Conor A. Nixon, Paul N. Romani, Michael Flasar, Athena Coustenis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


Limb spectra recorded by the Composite InfraRed Spectrometer (CIRS) on Cassini provide information on abundance vertical profiles of C2H2, C2H4, C2H6, CH3C2H, C3H8, C4H2, C6H6 and HCN, along with the temperature profiles in Titan's atmosphere. We analyzed two sets of spectra, one at 15° S (Tb flyby) and the other one at 80° N (T3 flyby). The spectral range 600-1400 cm-1, recorded at a resolution of 0.5 cm-1, was used to determine molecular abundances and temperatures in the stratosphere in the altitude range 100-460 km for Tb and 170-495 km for T3. Both temperature profiles show a well defined stratopause, at around 310 km (0.07 mbar) and 183 K at 13° S, and 380 km (0.01 mbar) with 207 K at 80° N. Near the north pole, stratospheric temperatures are colder and mesospheric temperatures are warmer than near the equator. C2H2, C2H6, C3H8 and HCN display vertical mixing ratio profiles that increase with height at 15° S and 80° N, consistent with their formation in the upper atmosphere, diffusion downwards and condensation in the lower stratosphere, as expected from photochemical models. The CH3C2H and C4H2 mixing ratios also increase with height at 15° S. But near the north pole, their profiles present an unexpected minimum around 300 km, observed for the first time thanks to the high vertical resolution of the CIRS limb data. C2H4 is the only molecule having a vertical abundance profile that decreases with height at 15° S. At 80° N, it also displays a minimum of its mixing ratio around the 0.1-mbar level. For C6H6, an upper limit of 1.1 ppb (in the 0.3-10 mbar range) is derived at 15° S, whereas a constant mixing ratio profile of 3-1.5+3   ppb is inferred near the north pole. At 15° S, the vertical profile of HCN exhibits a steeper gradient than other molecules, which suggests that a sink for this molecule exists in the stratosphere, possibly due to haze formation. All molecules display a more or less pronounced enrichment towards the north pole, probably due, in part, to subsidence of air at the north (winter) pole that brings air enriched in photochemical compounds from the upper atmosphere to lower levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-138
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Abundances
  • atmosphere
  • Infrared observations
  • Titan


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