by Chris Wayan, 2003
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The equatorial Nepenthe and Aeolian coasts (lower half of orbital photo) are lush. Even the inland desert one expects is missing--beyond Lake Herschel, sunk in its great crater, a rolling grassland called Hesperia sprawls. It's like the Sahel, dry in winter but with a weak monsoon feeding seasonal streams.
At the east end of the Aeolian coast, marking the border with Amazonis, stands Mt. Apollinaris, an Everest-size volcano whose glaciers make it visible for 200 km all around. From its jungled sea-level feet to icy top, this is one of the steepest, most spectacular peaks on Mars. Due south of Apollinaris is a crater-lake famous in Areological history--the ancient Ma'adim River breached a crater wall to form round Lake Gusev. Its dry bed was evidence for the wet-Mars theory. Now, refilled, it's one of the larger lakes on Mars.
The sea here is warm and shallow, a maze of reefs and islands. The coastline shown here is guesswork, for two reasons: relief here is low, so slight changes in sea level make a big difference, and also, a new Mars flyby hints that many of these hills are really as much as 85% ice, under a cover of dust. Once Mars thaws, capes and islands may merely melt into the shallow sea. Certainly some will survive (Apollinaris is no ice-floe!) but details are uncertain.
At the Aeolian Straits--wherever, exactly, they are--a bridge hops north, from isle to isle... to Elysium.
The only true continent on Mars, Elysium's fully surrounded by sea--if just barely. It's a fascinating place--Mars in miniature. In the north, rugged Cape Phlegra stretches 1000 km toward the Arctic. Kim Stanley Robinson projected a cool rainy west coast and a narrow rainshadow desert on the east coast, but I disagree. Both Phlegra coasts will get heavy storms off the North Sea. I predict dense temperate rainforest--redwood or cedar. The lonely isle of Mie to the west will be equally cool and rainy.
Robinson's rainshadow exists, but well to the south, on Elysium's west coast, where a series of great desert canyons drop into the sea, forming red-walled fjords. The canyon floors are green, irrigated with snowmelt from the glaciers upstream, where Mt Elysium nearly rivals the Big Four--the highest peak on Mars outside Tharsis. Elysium's little sisters, Hecate to the north and Albor to the south, are still immense peaks by Terran standards, and heavily glaciated. Rivers radiate from the central massif all over Elysium, enriched and tinted by glacial silt--not Terran turquoise, but a varied palette of jades, from bluegreen to gold to red.
Two of the biggest islands, the Orcus Twins, look like Thera on Earth (the isle that exploded, flooding Crete and creating the myth of Atlantis). They're the broken east and west walls of a huge oval caldera, each with a gentle outer slope ending in a jagged dark cliff inland, above a deep sound where hotsprings still bubble.
On Elysium's southeast coast, fossae (straight cracks formed by shrinkage, not water) cut through the Cerberus Hills. Occasional volcanoes (merely Earth-sized) punctuate the rainforests along the south coast, along the Aeolian Strait, creating cool ecological islands of boreal forest, alps and even glaciers floating above the jungle.
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