by Chris Wayan, 2003
Mars Reborn: homepage -- Index: Martian place names -- Planetocopia: more world-models
Araby is the largest northern desert. It was called Arabia Terra on old maps, until it was settled, at which point confusion between the two identically named deserts, one Terran, one Martian but with the word Terra in it, provoked a simplification. Though a desert, Araby's lower and thus warmer and wetter than the southern highlands. Nearly every crater has at least a marsh and grasslands. The largest and deepest (with the densest air) have lakes and forests. Cassini (upper right of orbital photo) stands out--a circular oasis 400 km wide (250 mi).
Crossing the desert east to west is a semi-arid strip like Africa's Sahel--a dry, seasonal grassland, with no clear boundary. Originally it was called Terra Meridiani--like Araby, this was quickly shortened by the locals to Meridia. The reason's simple; the strip follows the equator. Here, sun-heated air rises, generating thunderstorms. Unlike the Sahel, Meridia doesn't border a rainforest or sea, so the air isn't that humid. The most this storm-generator can manage is a band, shifting seasonally north and south, of erratic summer rains. Still, it's visible, if faintly; a slightly greener strip between two harsh red deserts north and south--Araby and Noachia.
Meridia's not all savanna. Along the strip, many of the higher crater-walls snag clouds and force winds upward to cause local thundershowers, supporting open forest. Some crater floors are deep enough to have almost Earthlike air, encouraging life to flourish.
The greatest of these oases in the veldt is Schiaparelli (green disk at bottom of orbital photo), 500 km across (300 mi). It's a fitting monument to the astronomer who imagined oases and pocket Edens all over Mars and coined such mellifluous names for them.
Beyond Meridia, the Noachian Desert begins--slowly the land mounts and cools, the air grows dry and thin, and cratered wastelands stretch all the way to the Pole.
The west coast of Araby is called Cydonia. It's one of the few places on Mars where the desert meets the sea. Mesas ("mensae" in local dialect) dot this plain and march into the sea, making this coast a maze. Cydonia's somewhat Mediterranean, with occasional winter rains, and summer fogs worthy of San Francisco or Namibia.
But inland, the land dries and reddens quickly. The only places offering shade and water are the many deep, angular canyons. Winds here are weak and generally blow from the southeast--from the desert's heart. Like West Australia or Western Sahara, this beautiful coast is just stuck with a bad latitude.
At the southern end of the desert coast is the shallow, winding Mawrth River, fed by a crater-marsh complex (bottom center). Southwest of the Mawrth lies the equally shallow but much longer Ares River, whose valley detours around the wide, flood-worn crater of Oxia Pallis, dotted with lakes and marshes (bottom edge).
Araby's long north shore, the Nilo Coast, is cool but fertile--a wedge some 4000 km long, narrow along the Deutero Coast near dry Cydonia, but widening to 1000 km in the east--the Proto Coast. These shores are wrinkled and sprinkled with endless mensae (mesa-islands), forming a triangular archipelago. Great crags and stacks and rock arches have been carved out, some hundreds of meters wide and high. Though the cliffs are low by Martian standards, they create updrafts quite sufficient to attract megaravens and human recreational gliders, who island-hop down the chain, shooting the arches.
Kim Stanley Robinson predicted a low, narrow land-bridge to Arctica he dubbed Boone's Neck. My more recent topo data (and slightly higher sea level) leave only a stormy archipelago, washed in strong, cold circumpolar currents.
The largest island is Lyot, an arc-wall just offshore--the biggest crater in the old North Sea, the scar of a massive, relatively recent hit. Lyot's south-facing slopes are heavily wooded, but many of the smaller islands are just too windy for much cover.
Inland, the woods thin and eventually end in a chain of large craters with marshes and sinks. Beyond the rainshadow of their walls is the Araby Desert, broken only by the great oasis of Cassini.
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