by Chris Wayan, 2003
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South of the lower Mariner canyons (at top of photo) lies the Nirgal Valley, a wide stretch of veldt with golden grass and shallow or seasonal streams, some of which have cut meandering canyons.
South of Nirgal is the Argyre Sea. In Kim Stanley Robinson's "Green Mars", the Argyre Basin is kept dry as a preserve, a sort of memento of the much larger Hellas Basin and the northern lowlands, which were doomed from the beginning to vanish under seas.
But in my scenario, Argyre is flooded too. I have no regrets. The resulting brackish lake, as large as the Black Sea, feeds rains that fertilize the jagged, spectacular ranges ringing the basin--the Nereids in the north and Charitias in the south. The moisture spills out, sparse but vital, feeding crater-lakes and mountain streams all over the Southern Highlands.
The Argyre coast is a 3000-kilometer ring of islands and rugged, snowcapped ranges with narrow coastal plains at most, and often, raw cliffs dropping into the young sea. The slopes are cool woods of pine and fir--Argyre is far less deep or thick-aired than Hellas, and it's closer to the pole, so cold highlands ring the sea. An austere, big, spectacular country. As in the Rocky Mountains or Central Asia, winters can be snowy and harsh here, but summers are quite warm, even this far south--Mars's eccentric orbit creates stronger seasons in the southern hemisphere, and the basin, shallower than Hellas, is still very deep--several kilometers below average for the south.
On the east side, Galle Crater juts into the sea with its own mountain wall, a miniature Argye, lake and all, though its interior is cliffy and drier, with more grass than trees. Great herds roam the crater--a cool-temperate Ngorongoro--except that it's a hundred times bigger, and ruled by mammoths. Galle is the world center for mammoth research. Not human research on mammoths but mammoths researching--as the shaggy ones grope their way past a purely oral culture toward tool use, fire, and all that comes after.
The mammoths (and other cold-weather creatures evolving intelligence, like megaravens and Martian wolves) aren't trapped in Argyre by either humans or climate. While it's not vividly visible in this shot, there's a thin, patchy migration corridor of tundra, bog and forest stretching southeast (lower right), all the way to the grassy Malea Plain and down to the richer, warmer lands around the Hellas Sea.
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