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Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth. Capsican Geology and Geography

by Chris Wayan, 2010-2011

This one's for you readers, who pestered me until I had to build it


At first glance Capsica's a maze of land and sea too evenly mingled to be natural. It's no illusion--Capsica, with less water than Earth, really is almost exactly half land and half sea. But then, averages mean little--a strictly average human would be half male and half female. Look closer!

The first feature standing out as alien is the huge, rugged rift zone, the Arch. Or is it so huge? Earth's rift system is equally extensive--just hidden under our higher seas. Even Venus has rifts of a sort, though its 'chasmas' wander and fray and curl up: Artemis Chasma forms a three-quarter-circle several thousand km across, quite like Capsica's Arch. Though the Arch encircles fully a third of Capsica's surface: the Lesser Hemisphere.

The apparently even distribution of land and sea on the main map is partly an artifact of human cartographic conventions. Nearly all our world-maps neglect the poles. Why not? They're dead zones. But Capsica's aren't! Here's a photo from high polar orbit, showing the Arctic Sea and the northern continents of the Outer Hemisphere, outside the Arch, the main curve of riftzone. In this hemisphere, the crust creeping out from the rift has more room to spread--the planetary bulge. Fewer collisions, accretions, conglomerations--and as a result there's distinctly less land; a mere 40% or so, in reasonable-looking continents, and the sea is a labyrinthine but continuous ocean. Except for the Arch this could almost be Earth shot in infrared.

A high-orbital photo of the Arctic Ocean on Capsica, a small hot planet.

Still too land-heavy to be real? A high-orbital shot from above Vienna would show a hemisphere with more land than this! Earth too has land- and sea-hemispheres. A sidebar thought: Central Europe really is central! Are all the conventional explanations for Europe's centuries of world domination, from Papal claims of divine favor to Hitler's racism to arguments that political rivalries fueled an arms race, even to Jared Diamond's ecological explanations, all overcomplicated? European explorers found lands to explore. Tongan explorers, at the heart of the sea hemisphere, found a few islands. Is it that simple in the end? Raw geography?

In contrast, here's a shot of the Lesser Hemisphere, inside the Arch. No one could mistake this bizarre structure for Earth! Here the planetary curve forces spreading crust to fracture, overlap, crash and stack. The result? 60% land! It's called the Crunch.

Half of Capsica's uplands, the equivalents of Earth's continental platforms, are found here, crammed into this one complex. Its structure is roughly concentric--like the Seychelle arc off Madagascar, squeezed by the curving, splitting Indian/African Rift. But the Crunch is more complex--nearly a dozen such arcs of highland, of varying ages, have conglomerated into an Africa-sized highland pitted with cut-off basins.

A high-orbital photo of the Crunch, a huge compression feature, on Capsica, a small hot planet. Roughly concentric plateaus and scablands ring deep desert basins with small, salty seas and saltflats.
Oh, there are seas--lots of them. If you call those seas. One long arm of The Ocean cradles the Crunch, but it's little wider than our Mediterranean. A dozen Caspian Seas, a dozen more Aral Seas--small to tiny, briny and landlocked. Deserts burn gold, salt pans gleam bone-white. Yes, there are savannas, rainforests, even a few snowy mountains in the far south--but overall, it could just as well be called the Dry Hemisphere.

Between these extremes, much of the low-latitude Outer Hemisphere is a third pattern: low, smallish continents with fertile shores but dry hearts, like a gaggle of Australias crowded tightly in a shallow sea. Rather than Earthlike or truly alien, it just looks... amateurish. The sort of imaginary world an enthusiastic young land animal with a box of crayons will draw, ignorant of the extent of Earth's oceans. Here, as the sea floor is pushed outward from the Arch, it cracks into platelets about as big as our Philippine plate; it resembles our (east) Pacific floor with most of the water removed. The low sea level has unfortunate consequences--the sea here (though it is one ocean, not the sunken saltlakes of the Crunch) is just too narrow to humidify the air, except for a band along the equator and in high latitudes; all these continents have extensive deserts. Some have little else.

Still, coastlines are longer here--and that means more strips with maritime climates. On Capsica, as on Earth, that doesn't always spell benign, but overall, it's good for life.

A high-orbital photo of the crowd of Australian continents in the Outer Hemisphere on Capsica, a small hot planet.


Capsica, like Earth, has two main geological realms, but they're not as neatly distinct as our continental platforms and ocean basins:

  1. Lowlands equivalent to our sea floors. Nearly all Capsica's water pools here: a shallow ocean covers half this lowland. But only half--the rest is searingly hot plains and hills ranging from desert to savanna and monsoon-woods to dense stormforest. 80% of Capsica's land is here. Examples: lowland Eel (hot, wet), Yaku and Az (hot, dry), the Arctic Ocean (earthlike). Rift zones meander through the lowlands. Flanking these, corrugated strips fracture as their rifts curve, creating fjordlike sounds and capes. The rifts (like the trenches fringing the uplands) often hold long lakes, as in East Africa. Example: the Northern Arch.
  2. Highlands like Terran continents. This terrain is limited: just 10% of the surface, 20% of the land. Still, they're as big as Africa (and as hot, though of course for Capsica that's still chilly). Examples: Hithluma, the Aksora Plateau.
An altitude map of Capsica colorcoded to show the two main levels: warm uplands and hot lowlands. Capsica is a model biosphere like a hot tectonically active Mars.


Capsica has much the same surface rocks as Earth, though in different proportions. The smaller seas expose more basaltic lowlands, and there's lots of basalt to expose--Capsica's three moons tug and heat this little world's core, so volcanic rocks abound. Not quite Venus or Io, but this is no sleepy Mars!

Sedimentary and metamorphic rocks abound too--Capsica has tectonic plates much like Earth's, and trenches recycling sedimentary rocks into metamorphics.

Limestones? Capsica's seas are small, but they're shallow and thus full of reefs. But not coral reefs--hot water won't hold dissolved calcium well, so growing shells isn't easy here! But shallow seas offer minerals, water and sunlight all together--just too rich an environment for life not to exploit. It'll find a way to build, even if it's just in spasms, when hurricane summers enrich the waters with silt and debris. So yes, I think there will be limestone strata or some analogy--light rocks made of fossilized diatom and coral skeletons, even if they're mostly minerals other than calcium carbonate.

Salt domes are common. Capsica's land-heavy surface generates more small cut-off seas like our Aral and Caspian that dry up entirely, leaving salty and alkaline strata.

Coal and oil deposits are plentiful too. The only period when Earth even faintly resembled Capsica was the Carboniferous. Capsica's lowland stormforests often get flooded/silted each hurricane summer: perfect for coalbed formation.

In many regions wind-blown dust forms whole strata. Thermal energy and the dense atmosphere create high wind potential; large land area and a high evaporation rate mean extensive deserts and monsoon climates. That means dust! This is good news for life. On Earth, ice grinds and transports dust, spreading minerals around. Iceless Capsica can't do this; but its deserts and storms are up to the job.


Capsica's not hot. Really. Sure, it's 36° C / 65° F warmer than Earth, but flesh is fussy. Rocks, on the other hand, don't care if it's a few silly degrees hotter, do they?

Wrong. Earth's geological drama has a major actor who's a disturbingly ambiguous guy--creative (a famous sculptor), a gardener (known to patiently grind barren rock into fine, fertile soil) but a suspected serial killer (he sticks his victims in the fridge, too). His name, of course, is Ice. This pale, blue-eyed killer/creator never amounted to much on Capsica--a bit player with no lines. And the land shows it.

On the other hand, a Caribbean god tours Capsica every summer, sparing only the poles: a storm god by the name of Huracán. He's ambiguous too: he nourishes rainforests despite Capsica's high evaporation rate, covering and protecting much of the soil; yet his worst storms flatten forests, flood lowlands, erode riverbanks and silt up seas.


Capsica's small, so internal heating from radioactives is modest, but tidal stress more than compensates. The heat's dispersed both by volcanoes and many active rift zones. Just as on Earth, crust spreads out from ridges, to eventually slip under highland plates, pushing up high coastal ranges with active volcanoes. The difference is that Capsica's rifts are exposed: instead of seamounts, we have winding mazes of "fjords" and ridges, with a line of volcanoes and mineral lakes down the middle.

Also exposed: volcanic chains resembling Hawaii. Huge mountains! Like all the worlds I've modeled that have hot-spot vulcanism, some of these shield volcanoes have icy summits. But on Capsica, that's nearly unique; few other peaks are high enough to experience frost, let alone glaciate!

Island arcs become high, arcuate mountain ranges cutting off often-desert basins with small seas or lakes. Unique to Capsica: though these ranges can be Andean or even Himalayan in height, they're still lush to near the summits--all of them thaw in global summer at least, and the air pressure is high enough to protect life.

Most meteors hit land or shallow water, so more impacts leave visible craters--initially. A couple are visible from orbit. But Capsica's manic geology erases them fast--trenches swallow them, volcanoes and dust storms fill them, hurricanes erode them... I'll try to point out a few surviving craters on the local tours, but this isn't Mars, or even Venus.

Capsica has many continent-like plateaus 4-6 km high, edged in still higher mountains, quite like Ishtar on Venus or Tibet on Earth--perhaps a bit higher on average, due to the low gravity. They're smaller than Terran continents, but large enough to develope complex, unique ecologies. Here, temperatures are often Earthlike; a whole new range of enzymes are required for life to thrive, and only green plants with a sort of chlorophyll thrive--quite unlike those red-to-purple leaves in the lowlands, full of rhodophyll. Hot-blooded animal life (normal body temperature: 65° C/149° F) must insulate heavily or die. So far, few of these uplands have evolved sophisticated animal life that thrives at anything near Terran body temperatures; after all, it's easier for animals to evolve fur than retool a million enzymes...

Cross-sections of Earth and Capsica, comparing tectonics and terminology: rifts become long ranges, abysses become plains, ocean trenches become trench-lakes, island arcs become arc ranges, continents become Tibetan plateaus. Capsica is a model biosphere: a 'hot Mars.'

Most land is continuous, part of the worldwide tangle of land and sea. The Ocean Hemisphere does have three continents larger than Australia and four more landmasses bigger than Greenland--debatably continents--plus an Africa-sized landmass whose landbridge to the Arch is like the Bering landbridge during our Ice Ages; is this a continent? If it's a mere lobe, isn't Africa a mere lobe of Eurafrasia?

Since straits are narrow and shallow, and much Capsican life will fly, don't expect too many Australian curiosities. Capsican lands are never as biologically separate as Terran continents. In both a geological and a biological sense Capsica has just one real continent--all the land together.

The oceans are one. Only narrow straits link its many seabasins, but well over 95% of Capsica's water by area (and 99% by volume) forms a single ocean at one level, unlike some other Planetocopia dry-world models:

The One True Capsican Ocean isn't very Terran. It's a tricky maze hard to navigate--reefs all over! And your cargo better not be perishable--routes must be roundabout. But the Ocean's tentacles do go everywhere, except inside the Crunch.

That final 1% of Capsica's water cut off from the World Ocean may be concentrated regionally--in the baby seas of the Crunch--but they affect life worldwide. These inland seas swell and shrink seasonally and over generations, so their shores are often salt-poisoned and treeless; the pans around them, and from dry seas, blow dust (salty and alkaline) around the world; nearby, in high concentrations, this sterilizes great patches of desert; but in lower concentrations this same dust feeds life all over Capsica, as the Sahara's deadzone fertilizes much of Earth.


Capsica is blessed with a water shortage. Exobiologists often emphasize life's need of water, downplaying that you can have too much of any good thing--and Earth probably does. Earth came dangerously close to being a world-sea.

Don't believe me? Which would you rather live on, Earth with half the water, or double? 35% land, or 1%? Those are the percentages we'd have. A world of shallow seas with long, fractal coastlines has some advantages over Earth. And Capsica is such a fractal world.

What life likes isn't water, but zones where wet and dry meet--coasts, islands, reefs, shallows. Life generally doesn't like deep seas and continental interiors (with glaring exceptions, I admit--Amazonia, the Congo!)

There's a word I'd like to borrow from wave theory: fetch. Fetch means the expanse of sea that wind has to work on, to generate waves. Fetch is equally relevant for tides. A pond can't easily raise monster waves or tides. But fetch applies to rain, too. Open water evaporates, humidifying the air, generating clouds and rain. But it matters how humid the air was to begin with--the Red Sea or Persian Gulf must recharge air wrung dry by deserts upwind, so their shores are dry. The eastern Mediterranean is larger and its shores are mostly semiarid not desert. In short, it takes a thousand kilometers or more of sea to recharge dry air... on Earth. The inland seas dividing Europe, Asia and Africa just aren't big enough; a broad swath of deserts run from the Gobi through Central Asia to the Mideast and the Sahara.

Capsica's much hotter. Evaporation's faster, and storms fade out quicker, inland--their fetch on land is shorter. Continental interiors are drier; life hugs the coasts. But this shortened fetch works both ways! It takes less open water, on Capsica, to rehumidify the air. A few hundred km of hot water generates more storms than thousands of km of cold water! So Capsica's pattern of dry and wet is more broken and complex than Earth's. Even the heart of the Crunch can't be written off--those Caspian Seas, steaming like hot tubs, each generate some rain.


There will never be a Capsican Magellan--you can't sail around Capsica, at least not in a way I'd call meaningful. In my mind you need to roughly follow the equator (or another Great Circle) to claim true circumnavigation. The Ocean, that big blue squid, does sneak tentacles in almost everywhere, but its arms are nearly all dead-ends (there aren't even many continents to circumnavigate). The riftzone of the Arch forms a wall no Panama Canal will ever pierce. At most, a half-Magellan could thread the maze of the Greater Hemisphere then detour far north around the Arch and return to the maze on its opposite end, completely skirting the Lesser Hemisphere and never crossing the equator. You might as well sail round our Arctic Sea or around Antarctica's coast and claim to be Magellan!

Map of Capsica, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.

But you might just circumambulate Capsica, if you can take the heat. Fatal for Terran tourists of course--but then much of Capsica is. Could a native walk round the world? Well, the equatorial stormforests aren't the place for a stroll. Finding the ground can be a bit difficult. Indeed, finding your own feet can get hard during hurricane summer.

But the treetop dwellers here might almost circumbrachiate Capsica--swing round it tree to tree, never touching the ground, like Italo Calvino's Baron in the Trees, or Treebeard's reminscence: "Time was, a squirrel could flit from here to the Shire and never touch the ground." Capsica's equatorial belt is lush enough, but you'd need a good map and a long life--the land route is as broken and tricky as the seas.

The fourth way to circle the world, of course, will really have been the first, and so routine no one thinks anything of it: circumflapulation. Every teen with wings will long to fly round the world once, and many will. Capsica's hajj! Though the only Mecca is home: you return to find it's smaller than it was, and you're a lot more cosmopolitan. If you live to return. There are dangers--some wide straits that force all but the strongest fliers away from the equator into monsoon and desert zones. And some cities may tempt you to never to go home--exotic foods, exotic music, exotic dates, universities and libraries and plays... amazing that anyone comes back!

A subtler kind of fetch.

Map of Capsica, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.

But these are mere vacation-perils, not Magellanic heroism. Teens, retirees, even their pets have circumvolated Capsica.

Okay, enough geography. We're slipping into... culture. And we can't have that.

Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth.


One thing I can guarantee you about Capsican culture, based purely on its geography: hemispheric bias will be strong--so strong that locals can't even agree on the hemispheres' names. Terran cartographers might even dispute that word 'hemisphere'; shouldn't that means half a planet? Not on Capsica! The hemispheric boundary that matters is the Arch, not a Great Circle arbitrarily inscribed somewhere outside it. So Capsican "hemispheres" really are unequal: Inneria with 60% of the land but just 40% of the planetary surface, Greateria with 40% scattered over 60% of the planet.

  1. Locals call the Arch-and-Crunch complex the Inner Hemisphere, or Inneria. With over half the land area, they feel justified. Never call it the Lesser Hemisphere inside the Arch--it marks you as an Outerian, and a rude one. One trying to pick a fight!
    On Earth, as I mentioned, the center of the land hemisphere--Europe--dominated for centuries because crossroads see innovations first--or rather, second. You find it, breed it, mine it, design it... and the Europeans steal it and sell it worldwide. "All roads lead to Rome," right? If you ask a Roman.

    Will that be true in Inneria, though? These folks have wings, alter all. Ideas spread via flyways, and while Inneria's are unquestionably shorter, with fewer hazardous sea-passages, it's full of hazardous desert passages--the Silk Road problem. Shorter's not better if you die en route! Bulk goods are if anything slower to ship, for the only navigable route is a great spiral along the Archy Sea; and to sail outside the only passage is through the Antarctic Sea--unpleasant for heat-adapted Capsicans, though safer than our polar seas (coral mazes gut hulls just as well as icebergs, but at least they stay put!). And the Polar route is very long; "round the Horn" doubled! This will sharply limit trade with the Outer Hemisphere, or Outeria. Or so the Innerians call it--while safely at home. But not in...

  2. The Greater Hemisphere--or so the locals call it; Greateria for short. As opposed to the Lesser Hemisphere, or Lesseria. Never say that inside the Arch--unless you want trouble. Here, though distances are greater, ship-routes can be, well, not straighter. But merely convoluted, not labyrinthine. While flyways between continents (Greateria has continents) cross more water here, Capsica's seas are shallow and island-dotted; passages are long but not especially hazardous, with the exception of the Nohaa Flyway across the Arctic Sea. Risky for natives, I mean; tourists in rented wings will find plenty of, um, dire straits. The one thing all Capsicans (Innerians and Greaterians alike) can agree on is: "Offworlders can drown in a teacup."
For the only thing trumping hemispherocentrism is planetocentrism.

Though you, dear reader, would naturally never sink so low.

Map of Capsica, a hot planet.
Nohaa Island Ralopa Islands Arctic Is. off Bel Notahi Peninsula Eastern Bel Bel: Fulisse Peninsula Continent of Chai Cape Corona Kurai Peninsula Hi and Vepra Yaku (west) and Az (east) Isle of Goret Continent called The Eel Prath Peninsula Continent of Kifura Isle of Valiha Ri Kshen Isles Mt Artho, large tholus, NE Arch Arch, north coast Ekurre Range South Pole Giant World Map

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