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Earth and Planetary Sciences doctoral student Richard Cartwright was interviewed recently by Science News regarding some of his doctoral work on alluvial fans on the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

New questions have emerged about the surface processes and intense rainfall that might have formed them. Alluvial fans form in areas of rare but intense rainfall. The resulting flash floods drive mass movements of sediment that run downslope through canyons before spreading out to form wedge-shaped deposits on valley floors.

“With fans, we are talking about occasional but catastrophic precipitation driving large-scale sediment transport,” says Cartwright. “These aren’t formed by your average afternoon rain shower.”

Cartwright and Devon Burr, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, took a new approach by studying fan systems in Death Valley in hopes that the data from Death Valley would apply to the Saturnian moon. The results didn’t match what they predicted, and the exact reasons for the unexpected results are uncertain.