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MARS: ARABY

by Chris Wayan, 2003

Mars Reborn: homepage -- Index: Martian place names -- Planetocopia: more world-models

Araby is the great northern desert called Arabia Terra on old maps, until it was settled, at which point confusion between the two identically named deserts, one Martian, one Terran, provoked a spelling change. Though a desert, Araby's lower, warmer and wetter than the southern highlands. Nearly every crater has at least a marsh and grasslands. The largest, such as Cassini, in the upper right center, have lakes and forests.

Orbital photo of Mars: Arabia Terra, the biggest northern desert, full of crater-oases and a tropical belt of grassland.
MERIDIA

The southern edge of the desert is like Africa's Sahel--a dry, seasonal grassland. But this strip doesn't border a rainforest--without a nearby sea, the most this part of the equator can manage is a tongue of relatively humid air and light summer rains. Still, the larger crater-walls in Meridia (shortened from Terra Meridiani) serve as rain-catching mountains, and are solidly wooded. The greatest of these oases in the veldt is Schiaparelli, the green disk in the center, over 500 km across. It's a fitting monument to the astronomer who imagined oases and pocket Edens all over Mars and coined such mellifluous names for them. Orbital photo of a terraformed Mars 1000 years from now: Cydonia, east of Chryse.

Beyond Meridia, the Southern Deserts begin--steadily the land mounts and cools, the air grows dry and thin, and cratered wastelands stretch all the way to the Pole.

CYDONIA

The west coast of Araby is called Cydonia. It's one of the few places where the Martian desert meets the sea. The mensae-turned-islands that make the coast a maze, are somewhat Mediterranean, with occasional winter rains, and summer fogs worthy of San Francisco or Namibia.

But inland, the land reddens quickly. 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.

THE NILO COAST

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. Its south-facing slopes are heavily wooded, but many of the smaller islands are just too windy for much cover.

Orbital photo of Mars: Nilo Coast, the fertile north shore of Araby.
The Nilo coastal plains are studded with mensae too--failed islands, if you will. Short rivers wind around them, dropping to the sea from the Escarpment inland, one to three kilometers high. Atop its cliffs, forested plateaus studded with crater-wall ranges, snowy in winter, make up the southern, inland half of the fertile strip. They're shown here snow-dusted after a late spring storm to bring out the heights.

The woods 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.

Map of Mars. Click a feature to go there.
Index of Martian place names. Or for a tour, the following route snakes around Mars, covering all major features:


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