Spacecraft exploration of our solar system has revealed a great diversity of planetary surfaces. Throughout the solar system, we have discovered process both familiar to those here on Earth but also very new process that are typically not thought of as important in terrestrial geomorphology. From the arid, ancient landscapes of Mars, to Titan’s active rivers and climate, to the massive nitrogen glaciers of Pluto, each of these worlds provide us a unique opportunity to study how climate governs the long-term development of landscapes.
So how do we fit in? Broadly, our research group seeks to understand the full suite of processes responsible for shaping planetary surfaces and climates, leveraging this broad spectrum of environmental, mechanical, and chemical differences that we find across our solar system. And we don’t want to just stop there. The ultimate aim is to then take what we learn from these various planetary worlds, and use some of that knowledge to better understand what’s happening here on Earth, either today or in the distant past!
Much of my work to date has attempted to unravel the landforms on both Saturn’s largest moon Titan and the Jupiter Family Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P). As I can’t reasonably restrict myself to just two worlds, I also have projects that are looking at the surfaces of Mars, Triton, Europa, Pluto, Earth, and yet more comets; all under the same umbrella of trying understand the full suite of processes responsible for shaping planetary surfaces and climates. I like to think of each of these planetary landscapes as massive, natural experiments, which are freely offering us the chance to observe both the familiar and the alien. The beauty of them though is that they are on global scales, compared to the far smaller (and more complex) experiments we are limited to on Earth. So, while Titan and 67P are each amazing worlds, I also want to explore as many unique environments as time (and resources of course) allows!
To answer these many questions, we employ many of the quantitative techniques and methods common to terrestrial geomorphologists. Historically in the planetary sciences, this knowledge has frequently been transferred from Earth to Mars, and our aim is to apply these techniques across the rest of the solar system. These methods include developing simple analytical models, the use of numerical simulations and laboratory studies that allow us to experiment with many processes (both familiar and exotic) over a range of spatial and temporal scales and, of course, analyses of new spacecraft data through participation in the operation and development of yet more missions.
Of course, my group and interests are growing. Titan and comets are fascinating worlds, but there is so much else out there for us to explore. Click below you want to learn more!