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by Chris Wayan, 2003

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


Syrtis, the great dark hope of the telescopic astronomers, was a bust when we got a closer look--the seasonal darkness was wind-scoured, dust-free soil, not vegetation. But Syrtis is finally as fertile as they dreamed--at least along the coast, where storms off Isidis Bay and the North Sea feed quite Terran-looking subtropical forests. Unfortunately, not far inland, a basaltic volcano called the Nili Patera (a mere speedbump by Martian standards, but hundreds of kilometers across), is just high enough to trap much of the rain in a narrow coastal strip. Inland, sparse pine forests semi-cover the dark lava plateau dropping slowly into the Arabian desert. Antoniadi and its sister craters are good-sized oases, but much of inland Syrtis is dry and hot--on the black lava, the heat can actually become uncomfortable. Surely a first for Mars! I've marked Nili's summit (well, crater-edge) with seasonal snow, more for visibility than plausibility--rain is much more likely, for we're not far from the equator, and Nili is just not that high. Let's call it a freak blizzard off the Utopian Sea to the north. If you're cold, you can always drop into Nili's caldera itself, where a warm lake sprawls in the subtropical sun. So do thousands of vacationers who find it a pleasant resort.

In the north, away from Nili Patera, the Syrtis coast resembles the Nilo Mesas to the west--a jagged coast with cliffy islands topped in broadleaf forests turning red and gold in fall, and inland, short rivers between similar mesas, rising to an escarpment, and then pine-forest plateaus stretching hundreds of miles inland, to the Antoniadi Lakes in their overlapping craters. This is temperate country, snowy and sometimes stormy in winter, warm and even a bit muggy in summer--think New England with redrock mesas.

Orbital view of a future, terraformed Mars: Isidis Bay, Syrtis Major, Tyrrhena, Iapygia, and Nepenthe.


This gulf, an old impact basin like Hellas and Chryse, has some of the most fertile coasts on Mars. This sheltered equatorial basin generates heavy rains all round. Narrow ribbons of coral reef hug the shore. They're spreading further offshore, since the slopes are shallow. Given a few more thousand years, they may rival Australia's Barrier Reef. But coral takes time.

The islets at the south end of Isidis, the Burroughs Reefs, may not be topographically justified--I've kept them there as a monument to the flooded first capital of Robinson's "Red Mars." I don't have any maps accurate enough to say for sure if they'd survive at the sea level I've set.


From the east end of Isidis Bay, a wide, flat river plain cuts deep into the Southern Highlands. Nepenthe Valley is a warm rainforest bounded by great cliffs. Along the coast to the east, too, the land is absolutely lush. Unlike most of the Great Escarpment girdling Mars, the cliffs here can't fully block the dense tropical rains, which come from west and northeast (and occasionally even from Hellas, 1000 miles south). So this plateau, geologically part of the Southern Highlands, sustains open forest and savanna for hundreds of kilometers south. Substantial rivers flow north to leap off the Escarpment in spectacular falls--Guyana writ large.


Iapygia, lower left, is a trough between two highlands--the Tyrrhena Plateau to the east, and the rim of the Noachian Desert to the west, broken only by the huge, deep crater of Huygens, with its central lake. The Iapygian trough links Isidis Bay and the Hellas Sea to the south. Isidis, especially, sends storms down through Iapygia each summer--a weak monsoon. Add to this the runoff from the Tyrrhena Highlands to the east, and you get an unusually wet non-coastal region. But does the water collect in marshes or lakes, or make its way underground to the much lower Hellas basin? I expect Iapygia to have forest in the north and south, near the coasts, and more open terrain inland--but depending on rainfall and drainage, it could be marsh, savanna, or prairie with lakes. Stay tuned for about 200 years and I'll let you know.


Tyrrhena is the highest plateau on Mars after Tharsis and Elysium--four kilometers above North Sea Level, and nearly ten above the Hellas Sea to the south. Tyrrhena's sheer height will force much of the rain off Isidis Bay and Hellas to fall on the rims, feeding dense forests, but leaving the top of the plateau relatively open--snowy heights, wind-scoured rocks above alpine meadows, and a few trees in sheltered spots. Tibetan antelope or llamas and their kin may dominate. South-central Tyrrhena is much lower, a sort of bay in the plateau wall; it's a savanna, a Ngorongoro two hundred kilometers across. Further south, scattered trees clump into open subtropical forests as the land drops steadily toward Hellas. And drops. And keeps dropping... to the Hellas Sea..

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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