AONIA and SIRENA DESERTS
by Chris Wayan, 2003
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Aonia is perhaps the most Martian-looking desert left--rough, dry, red, and crater-pocked. But even Aonia's changed--the air is breathable, if thin, and if you peer over any of the crater walls, you'll often find a sump or a swamp or even a lake ringed by low trees.
In the upper right is the Claritas Range, twenty thousand feet high--the beginning of the Mariner canyon complex.
South of the mountains is a roughly triangular desert called Icaria, framed by scattered, icy ranges, and scoured by winds off the Daedalus Plateau in the upper left--the south rim of high, frosty Tharsis, where nothing but lichen and sparse grass can survive.
The green bulls-eye is Lowell Oasis, a double-walled crater so deep that it forms a lake not only of water, but of relatively thick warm air. In this two-hundred-mile terrarium flourish trees and animals more typical of the Martian subtropics, in an inner ring around Lake Lowell, while above the inner cliffs, on the shelf beneath the outer ringwall, temperate forests and gresslands flourish. Lowell's an eco-jewel in a harsh setting--as isolated by its desert as Oz.
The South Polar Cap has crept out to swallow southern Aonia. And the Cap has satellites: Schmidt Crater, the largest in the far south, has become a chill lake ringed by icy peaks, and even lesser craters, though shallower and with thinner air, are glacial basins or ice-covered lakes.
Aonia sets a pattern true over much of Mars--great features formed through brute geology, still naked, like bones showing through a patchy biosphere. Life and water still creeping back, sheltering in whatever cracks it can. Life will adapt to the cold red deserts, but not all at once. In deep time, a thousand years is nothing.
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