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Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Pacifica on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge. Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Atlantis on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge.

by Chris Wayan, 2010

for Tristan de Cunha, South Atlantic explorer

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Map of Tristania on Abyssia, an alternate Earth whose relief has been inverted: heights are depths and vice versa.

Tristania is a small continent, around 2.2 million square km (900,000 sq mi); bigger than Greenland, smaller than the eastern USA. It's one of several minicontinents on the southern Atlantis Rise, Abyssia's equivalent of our South Atlantic Ocean.

As its name suggests, Tristania is near the deep hole (nearly 7 km deep, or 23,000') equivalent to our Tristan de Cunha, that lonely island far southwest of the Cape of Good Hope. In fact, in my first version of Abyssia's world map, I named Tristania "Hope". But that sounded a bit dramatic for such a sedate, prosaic land. Not that I'm criticizing; it's not the most scenic place on Abyssia to visit, but you would want to live here.

Tristania's complex shoreline looks cartographically intriguing, but what you see is all you get. Tristania is fertile and pleasant, but nearly all flat or low hills. The climate is gentle too--subtropical, mostly wetter than Capetown (after all, though Tristania's not far west of our South Africa, here there's no largely arid continent to back it up). There are, however, quite South African-looking succulents on the drier coasts, including lurid pink and yellow iceplant draping the sea-cliffs.

The far south is cooler and densely wooded, almost Oregonian. At this latitude there'd be snow in the mountains at least briefly each winter--if there were any mountains, or even hills. As it is, snow's rare here, and unheard of to the north.

The west is drier, especially in summer: the coast is quite Mediterranean. Open woods of oak and olive, with greener laurels along the creeks and pinewoods on the higher hills.

The northwest, away from the coast (which gets fog and drizzle) is prairie. Not true desert--yes, this patch of Tristania's at the same latitude as our world's Namib Desert, but so are Taiwan and Florida! While west winds are weak here, bringing only coastal fog just as in Namibia, east winds are fresh off 10,000 km of ocean, not off the Kalahari Desert; these sea-winds bring 50-100 cm of rain a year (18-36"). The North Island of New Zealand would be a better climate model than Namibia--except that New Zealand's mountains create complex microclimates that Tristania just can't match.

One big slab of green and gold with a little pink ribbon around the edges! A wrinkled slab, a bit warmer or colder, drier or wetter, but the variations are mild. Climatically, Tristania's all one piece.

Sketch of Mediterranean hills on Tristania, a small continent on Abyssia, an alternate Earth whose relief has been inverted: heights are depths and vice versa.
Orbital photo of Tristania (a small continent located near our Tristan de Cunha Island) on Abyssia, an alternate Earth whose relief has been inverted: heights are depths and vice versa.

Most Atlantean continents and islands (like Azorea and Atlantis itself) have a labyrinth of capes, islands, fracture-fjords and fingerlakes on the coast facing the Atlantic Rift, but a fairly straight shore on the far side.

Tristania is an exception--a stretch of the rift with relatively few fractures (well, long Cape Zenker in the far southwest is the spectacular exception to the exception) and more puckers--those mysterious holes where crust slowly indraws like water down a drain. Mysterious, of course, to us, who find it hard to explain what's slurping crust down like that. Tectonic singularities? Titanic gophers?

In our world, of course, these correspond to cones: volcanoes. But Abyssians, used to crust that sucks instead of spews, would no doubt find our Earth, studded with thousands of flaming pimples, just as geologically bizarre. An inflamed world. Yet we don't question that craziness, do we? Familiarity may not always breed contempt (most of us respect an erupting volcano, yes?) but familiarity breeds scientific content. If it's common as dirt, it's no mystery. Hard to step back and see your own world's weirdness!

As long as I'm ranting, I'd like to propose a geographical principle: the Law of Scenic Conservation. All stretches of a rift zone spreading at similar speed will be equally scenic--oh, pardon me, we're being scientific--equally vertical. But the two forms of verticality, volcanoes and tesserated fracture-zones, compete to vent this energy. More of one, less of the other. And on Abyssia, vulcanism usually manifests as indrawing crust--blue holes, like some of Venus's coronas. These puckers (except in deserts) end up hidden underwater. Invisible. Introverted. Squandering the local scenery budget on fish!

Gentle Tristania is one of these. It isn't gentle, really. But its geologic passion is better hidden than on its ridgy, nervous, crumpled neighbors, like Angolia to the north or Bouvetia to the east.

Even though Tristania's blue holes are sunken and near-invisible, they entirely surround the mini-continent and define its coastline. Our world's Walvis Ridge, a seamount chain over a hotspot much like Hawaii, is on Abyssia a deep trench, a spur of the African Abyss that shapes Tristania's north shore. To the west is Tristan Hole itself and several satellite puckers, as well as the Atlantic Rift itself. To the southwest is Discovery Deep, in our world a great seamount; to the southeast lies another trench (Schmitt-Ott Ridge in our world) and to the east lies a broad scatter of blue holes (more volcanoes on Earth).

Coastal Tristania, a small continent on Abyssia, an alternate Earth whose relief has been inverted: heights are depths and vice versa. Sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.
Northwest coast of Tristania; digital sketch by Wayan inspired by Tom Killion print 'Wilder Coast, California, 2006'

So Tristania's gentle above water, and its shores are scalloped and confusing, unlike the dramatic, regular fractal patterns of the classic Atlantean lands to the north. But don't let that fool you. The same fierce forces are at work here too.

They're just busy thrilling giant squid, not you.

Peoples of Tristania

Tristiania is part of the long Atlantis Rise, snaking for over 20,000 km around the African Abyss. Islands and mini-continents here are close, with relatively navigable gaps between. The best sailors in the region were native to Atlantis proper, the largest and westernmost landmass; but the leptaurs spread millennia ago down the Rise, trading with the (all avian, as it happened) endemic peoples of the islands, and settling in ports and the few drier stretches of this mostly rainforested strip. Tristania's unusual in that it's drier and more open than most Atlantan lands; so leptaurs settled long ago and naturalized. Though most are still found in ports and near coasts, you can find leptaur farmers and foresters inland too.

An Abyssian leptaur peering into tidepool. Sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.
Tristanian leptaur at beach
An Abyssian ostrich. Sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.
Tristanian ostrich

Tristania also has a flightless avian people I'll call ostriches, as they somewhat resemble them--tall, bare-legged runners with useless wings, feather-duster tails and long(ish) necks--though Terran ostriches have much longer necks and smaller heads, and lack hands tucked under those vestigial wings! Most likely the Tristanians' ancestors, a somewhat smaller species called rheas, evolved on the savanna of either Pernambuco to the northwest or Angolia to the north. Ostriches are poor swimmers and timid sailors, but once the leptaurs arrived to trade, pioneers presumably booked passage with them and co-settled the region. The Tristanian population, on a wider, drier savanna in a cooler (subtropical not tropical) climate, grew slowly bigger, until I think it's justified to call them a different species.

Or perhaps they evolved here, and their descendants spread toward the tropics and slowly dwindled for better heat dispersal. They've inhabited the opener plains of all three minicontinents for so many millennia it's hard to know their exact origin.

Ostriches are common on the savannas and an outright majority through inland Tristania where few leptaurs live. The Tristanian woods, unlike the tropical belt to the north, aren't so dense or rainy that either species shuns them--both populations just get sparser. Both lumberjacking and clearing fields are hard work. And who wants that?

Map of Abyssia, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOURS: this route snakes around Abyssia's major lands - Lena Is. (brr!) - Greek Is. - Atlantis - Azorea - Cayman and Albatrosia - Andean Is. - Scotia Is. - Morningtonia - Agassiz - South Pacifica - East Pacifica - Hawaiian Sea - Pacifica Desert - Filipinia - Banda Is. - Vityaz Archipelago - Tasman Is. - The Bight - Whartonia - Chagosia - Somalia - Mascarenia and Crozetia - Weddellia - Argentia - Pernambuco - Angolia - Tristania - Agulhas group

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