by Chris Wayan, 2004
for William Beebe and Otis Barton, first voyagers into the abyss
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Introduction - West - Central - East, or Enderbia - Peoples - Migration?
Weddellia is the southernmost continent on Abyssia, and the largest of the ring of lands around the Antarctic Sea. It corresponds to the Weddell and Enderby abyssal plains of Earth. Though, as you study Weddellia's ragged coastline and long Appalachian ridges, it's clear that "plain" is a misnomer.
Weddellia also has the doubtful honor of being the coldest continent on Abyssia (though the arctic Lena Islands are worse, being right up against the North Pole. But they're so small and isolated the native Abyssians may not even have discovered them. They'll know about Weddellia).
How polar is Weddellia? It would feel Nordic to us. The north shore and most of the interior is endless, dark conifer woods. In the southwest, and on the higher mountains, the forest thins to Siberian taiga and boggy meadows. No surprise; most of the land is over 60° south, and Cape Lazarev reaches past 70°. What's surprising to a Terran, given those latitudes, is how varied, dense and tall the woods are in the north. British Columbia or Northern Europe, not Siberia.
Why? Abyssia's poles are warmer than Earth's. Yet Abyssia's CO2 levels are no higher than Earth's. The reason's geographic, not atmospheric. Abyssia lacks land at the poles to build up substantial icecaps like our Greenland or Antarctica. The height of our polar ice-domes, not just their latitude, cools their tops to near-Martian temperatures; winds off these icefields spread cold dry air, cooling the climate for thousands of km around them. Without these dubious gifts, the Abyssian poles are much milder. Though winter sea-ice is extensive, it's less than a meter thick and melts entirely each summer.
So the best model we have for Weddellia on Earth is the stretch of Siberia furthest from the baleful influence of Greenland, around the Taymyr Peninsula. Here the Siberian treeline has already crept past 70° north, just ten thousand years after a deep ice age. As Abyssia's poles are warmer still, it's no surprise that Weddellia's forests are cool-temperate but thriving, not stunted pioneers into root-cramping tundra. No tundra!
In short, Weddellia's cool but livable--for Terrans. But the fauna of Earth, with its broad subpolar lands and a history of ice ages, has a long familiarity with cold. In contrast, most Abyssian land, and life, is subtropical or tropical; only Weddellia and a smaller southern continent, Morningtonia, have long snowy seasons. Many Abyssian lines may not have evolved to tolerate freezes; what we'd call "temperate" zones are a harsh, minor niche here.
So Weddellia may be a hinterland simply because Abyssians can't easily exploit it. After all, even humans, long adapted to wearing stolen furs and playing with fire, still find little to eat in thin evergreen forests; hunting, herding or clearing the land laboriously for summer gardens aren't easy even for us, and may be even harder for Abyssians. Until we know what they evolved from, we can't be sure. Perhaps they have natural coats that limit their use of clothing, limiting them to warmer climates; perhaps they aren't carnivorous and expect to cultivate fruit trees and nest in them; perhaps they require meadows to graze in, or are too lightly built to easily clear natural groundcover to farm.
I apologize for the lack of names and details along the northern shore, where most of the population's likely to be. This area simply hasn't been much mapped since, in our world, it's...
Intro - Western Weddellia - Central - East, or Enderbia - Peoples - Migration?
Brrrrr. Sandwichia and the Orcadian Isles cut off western Weddellia from warm currents to the north. Also, it's just further south then central or easter Weddellia--not a lot, but enough to worsen an already cold climate. Misty, rainy summers, and dreary winters--when it's not snowing it's overcast. And not a bright New England or Colorado winter--it's the damp gray claustrophobic winter of British Columbia--without the grand scenic verticality of BC. Maybe Britain's notorious climate is the better model!
Summers, though, are very British Columbian: mild on the coast, quite warm inland, hotter than England usually gets--a truly continental climate. Though Weddellia's ridges are lower than BC's, they're enough to keep maritime humidity down; it can get genuinely hot away from the sea. Fine swimming... for a few months.
All the above applies mostly to the northern half of Weddellia. The south gets pretty Siberian; thin taiga forests broken by low, windy ridges, nearly treeless.
There's one oddity here in the hinterland I should mention. In those endless lowland forests, there's a huge circular treeless patch two hundred km west of Maud Bay. Or rather, a graveyard of dead trees 50 km across, all blown down in a radial pattern. In the heart of the zone, they're badly scorched too.
It looks like a nuclear bomb went off.
That's close to the truth. It's the scar, a very temporary scar, of an impact like that in Tunguska in 1908. A large meteor apparently came in at a low angle (remember, most meteors do sail in roughly in line with the ecliptic, and Weddellia is high-latitude; equatorial strikes are more likely to be head-on). At that shallow angle, the meteor was exposed to air long enough (still just a few seconds) to heat and break up before hitting the ground, so it left no crater; but the shockwave blasted a great hole in the continental forest.
Because apparently climatic abuse wasn't enough. Poor old Weddellia!
Speaking of impacts... this was a small one. Abyssia is Earth, remember? Up is down and down is up, but impacts are still impacts. So, 66 million years ago, right on schedule, a ten-kilometer rock must have hit Chicxulub, killing off nearly all the Abyssian dinosaurs.
But how nearly? Was the Abyssian extinction as severe? I'm skeptical. On Earth, the Chicxulub object hit limestone--calcium carbonate--and that carbon-rich dust raised CO2, causing a heat wave after the Great Dark lifted. Only a few beaked seed-eaters survived the climatic chaos. Seeds lasted when all else was gone--even carrion.
But on Abyssia, Chicxulub isn't coastal--it's deep sea. Way less dust to block sunlight--months of gloom, but not a year or more of night. Not impact winter, just impact... fall. And the dust was pulverized basalt, poorer in carbon. Abyssia certainly suffered a worldwide tsunami, and firestorms, and blast waves, but both the cold and the subsequent heat were milder. So a wider variety of small species might have survived these briefer scourges.
Thus, modern Abyssian birds could have dinosaurian traits lost on Earth--beakless faces, teeth, lips, cheek pouches, external ears, crests, frills. It's why I've drawn most Abyssian birds with Earthlike beaks, but others... not so much.
Nabiro, a flightless avian with a beakless saurian face.
A Torian, a small, intelligent flier, with a
beakless quite mammalian nose and harelip.
Intro - West - Central Weddellia - East - Peoples - Migration?
This region's a bit less polar than the far west. It's not just latitude--the great lakes, Maud and Astrid and their satellites, moderate summer heat and winter cold. Though, like our Great Lakes, they can delay spring and make summer unpleasantly humid. Thunderstorms! Still, the Bouvet Peninsula, just north of the lakes, is one of Weddellia's mildest regions--Denmark or England instead of Norway or the Yukon.
East of the lakes, the Astrid Isthmus is a strange place--a long straight gash running across the sea floor, up over Weddellia, pinching it and creating fingerlakes, then diving back under the sea. Earth's nearest equivalent is Glen Mor, the great gash bisecting Scotland and holding Loch Ness; but Astrid is several times longer, and seems to be several parallel gashes. Astrid is probably an unusually long, errant fracture zone from the Atlantic-Indian Rift to the north; though such fractures stripe eastern Pacifica, extending thousands of kilometers across the supercontinent, this is rare in the Indian Ocean region, and on Weddellia, Astrid appears unique.
If it does mark a strike-slip fault, as seems likely, it's obvious which side of the line has paid the price: the west. As the Edward Peninsula slides north into pleasanter climes, western Weddellia slips further into the Antarctic gloom.
Geology is unjust. Even if the sky doesn't throw rocks.
Intro - West - Central - East Weddellia, or Enderbia - Peoples - Migration?
The eastern half of Weddellia, past the Astrid Isthmus, is called Enderbia; it corresponds to the Enderby Abyssal Plain of our Earth. Again, "plain" is a misnomer; whether sea-floor or continent, right side up or inverted, not all of Enderbia's flat country! The northern mountains, the Conrads, are the highest on Weddelia, as tall as 2100 m (nearly 6900'). No Himalaya, but by Abyssian standards, quite respectable.
Enderbia is less polar than Weddellia, and the climate is less dreary; fully half the region is less than 60° south. The Edward Peninsula and the Ob Islands are the mildest part of the continent. Warm if muggy summers; winters are still cold by Abyssian standards, but with light snows; some years, hardly any. I'd expect more broadleaf trees and a quite flaming fall display of red and gold every April (southern hemisphere, don't forget!)
I expect most of Weddellia's population to concentrate here on the Edward Peninsula.
The shores of Conrad Bay, though further south, are still sheltered from polar storms by the tall Conrad Range. This shore, like the Edward Peninsula, is much like New England--winters do bring snow, but between storms it's often cold but bright; and summers can get quite warm.
The Lena Islands, east of Conrad Bay, and the Elan Islands in the far northeast off Cape Fawn, are similar--barely Weddellian, compared to the harsh west and south. They won't be densely populated but they are quite habitable. Scottish, not Siberian.
Sheer distance from the pole counts for something.
Intro - West - Central - East, or Enderbia - Peoples - Migration?
Leptaur: 1.5 meters tall
I'm not sure if native Weddellians will evolve or not. It's a respectable size geographically--about a third the size of Europe--but in terms of biomass, it's a modest island; except for the milder north coast, life is thin and diversity's low.
Still, Weddellia is guaranteed to have some people, even if they're not natives. It's in the middle of the long rise meandering around Abyssia, linking nearly all its lands into a super-archipelago: the equivalent of our mid-oceanic rifts and the basins flanking them. Weddellia is at the south end of the Atlantis Rise, with a dozen minicontinents; to the northeast is the more broken-up Indian Rise, with nine more large lands, and then the Pacifican cluster, Abyssia's largest.
Because Weddellia's at this juncture, one of the species island-hopping along this strip will find it, and find it fairly early. Which one? I'm fairly confident it'll be the leptaurs, sailing down the Atlantis Rise from the north, in short easy hops all the way. Rivals to the east, spreading along the Indian Rise, will face a wide gap (8-900 km, over 500 miles, between Mascarenia and Natalia); it'll take real deepwater mariners to cross.
So who are leptaurs? The name implies leopard and centauroid, which does capture their size and shape, but it doesn't reflect their nature. Leopards are obligate carnivores, living short, hard, athletic, solitary lives. In contrast...
In contrast, leptaurs are omnivores, not carnivores; lazy, sensual and intellectual tool-users, not athletes using steal, strength or ferocity; long-lived, since they can just as easily forage, farm, herd, fish or trade (or a hundred other professions) as hunt; and easy-going sociable folk, since they needn't defend large hunting territories.
These people dominate port towns and drier coastal regions all over the Atlantis Rise.
Leptaurs are only so-so sailors, but then anyone with a good canoe could reach Weddellia. They're definitely discover it. The question is, will they settle it? Like humans, leptaurs evolved on hot savanna and aren't fond of rain or cold. Weddellia has a surplus of these delightful commodities.
Aepyornis: flightless, 2+ meters tall
My answer: yes and no. Yes: leptaurs will settle the warmer north coast, especially the Bouvet and Edward Peninsulas, and the shores of Conrad Bay, sheltered by mile-high mountains from blizzards. And no: they won't settle the hinterlands. Leptaurs are not masochists. Trade, certainly, in summer and fall; but they won't winter over.
The real question: will anyone?
Intro - West - Central - East, or Enderbia - Peoples - Migration?
The geography and climate of Weddellia and the Agulhas group to its north suggests to me a possibility that happens on Earth, if only in a modest way: the seasonal migration of a whole population. The island nature of Abyssia increases the odds that much intelligent life here will be avian. Given the harsh winters, even poor fliers may tempted to migrate seasonally here.
If so, there would be profound cultural and biological effects. You need to stay light; you can't carry much. Material culture might be sparse. Worse yet, the stringent fitness required might doom the old, and even put a limit on brain size--those vampire organs are dead weight and use energy needed for muscles. On Earth, the smartest birds (parrots and ravens and their kin) don't migrate. They adapt. What's more, on Abyssia there are deep desert sinks with high enough air pressure to evolve intelligent fliers (details: Angels from the Pit), but such fliers would inevitably be built for extreme heat; they might eventually adapt to the subtropics, but here? I doubt it.
So avian inhabitants of Weddellia are more likely to resemble the giant birds of Earth's corresponding regions: big flightless creatures like the Moa or Aepyornis, though with hands (left).
Still... if the dominant bird here were able to fly, if heavily (say, a great blue heron catching fish with quick, slender hands, not beak) then to migrate would be temptingly easy here. The Bain Islands lead straight to the Agulhas cluster to the north. Migration wouldn't require athletes of the air. Island-hopping, not ocean-crossing.
So Weddellia might be just their summer garden and playground, even a nesting ground. Fast-growing gardens, midnight sun! But their beloved continent-size summercamp gets mothballed, swept out, and left to the dark and silence when days grow short in April. By the first May snows, the woods echo empty...
I did say (having seen the summer migration of vacationers and summer-campers north into New England and Canada, and the winter migration of snowbirds in their motorhomes, and the rowdy, drunken, million-student mating rookeries along America's southern beaches during school breaks) that it happens even on Earth, among mammals.
In a modest way.
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