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The Woble Tholi

by Chris Wayan, 2004

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Orbital photo of the Woble Mts, a chain of near-Martian volcanoes, on Serrana, a small dry planet. Snowcapped volcano reflected in the sea.

The Woble Mountains are a chain of huge shield volcanoes running from the heart of the huge Tsud Desert into the the southern Aburros Sea.

I call them shields, but they aren't like Hawaii's gentle layered flows. Large, steeper cones ("tholi") often stud the Woble shields' summits and shoulders. High winds, flash floods, and dust abrasion in the desert erode these cones quickly into a shield of debris on which new cones build. The weathered ash is very fertile, so each peak is a complex layer-cake of nearly every ecotype on Serrana, from desert to forest to tundra.

The lesser northern peaks are simplest: conical islands of rainforest above shallow coral seas, green from head to toe, differing only in temperature and tree-height, except on their ferny wind-blasted summits.

The central peaks rise from equatorial rainforest, supporting cloud forests and high fernfelds below the air-pressure deserts at their summits. On their downwind sides, alpine meadows cling to the mountain shoulders above evergreen forests. The rainshadows at their feet form savannas.
Map of the Woble Mts, a chain of near-Martian volcanoes, on Serrana, a small dry experimental planet-model.

The southernmost Woble peaks, rising from the deep desert, the Tsud, are true ecological islands, catching rain on their north slopes that supports belts of succulents, grasslands, open forests, alpine meadows, Tharsian deserts, and snowfields.

Some of these southern shields are immense, nearly Martian in size, with rugged and tall summit cones. Woble Tholus is over 12 km high (40,000 ft, twice Kilimanjaro or Denali, and at least ten times their bulk), and four more are higher than Everest.

The south-central Wobles, rising from woods and savanna, are rich in another way: culturally. Because so many narrow ecozones lie side by side, all the intelligent species of Serrana (plus one of the two debatable species, flying foxes) live here in relatively close contact. Ideas crossbreed on the Wobles' slopes! Though the livable zones and populations for each species are modest, collectively they're a fountain of social, artistic, political and technological innovation.

The same phenomenon occurs on other great peaks, like Ytrebil Tholus or Eamet Island; and this isn't a Serranian peculiarity. Multispecies cultures around the universe will tend to progress fastest near ecological boundaries, and tholi are prime examples.

Though humans often worship great peaks, our unispecies culture huddles around coasts and port cities instead, which offer the nearest Terran equivalent of a multispecies society--mere multiculturality. Human hill-cultures are generally seen as isolated--backward. Not so on Serrana! The hills really are alive with the sound of music. And ideas. Often more ideas than can be found in Serranian seaports. With the except of the Eamet Ocean, and maybe the Aburros Sea, seas here are local, not gateways to the wider world.

Atop a mountain you get a broader view.

Here's a typical village on the knees of Senim Tholus--rather New Mexican, except for the murals and camels and mammoths in the streets.

A village high in the Woble Mts of Serrana, an experimental world-model, half Earth half Mars. Rough whitewashed houses; cameloid centaurs in the streets. A mammoth, with long shaggy red coat, looms in the distance.
The Wobles have their price. If you squeeze rain from desert winds, you leave them dry. The back side of the southern Wobles, rising from the veldt or desert, are dry indeed--individual peaks cast rainshadows stretching hundreds of km until they blend with the greater Tsud.

Yet each rainshadow has an ecological shadow itself--a drainshadow? For down from the heights small streams run into these rainshadow deserts, evaporating under the huge gold sun and salmon sky until they dead-end in salt marshes and sinks. While not large, these oases are fairly reliable, since they're snowmelt; so migratory grazers and their predators travel for days to reach them in the dry season. A large strip of the Tsud contains far more megafauna than it would, due to the Woble Sinks.

Orbital photo of the Tsud Desert and Woble Tholi in southern Serrana, an experimental biosphere with Martian characteristics.  Click to enlarge.
Oh--incidentally, "woble" means knee or knee-cap--referring to the rounded look of the shield volcanoes. The final "e" is voiced. Woble sounds more like Wobbly than Noble--fitting for an anarchist planet, no?

Map of Serrana, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOUR SERRANA! Click a region for a detailed ground-level tour: Aburros Sea - Woble Range - Yanneba Basin and Plano - Mosnoll and Eronit Basins - The Tsud Desert - Eamet Ocean and South Pole - Leas, Niirg, and Narek: The Lesser Seas - The Rakach Plateau and the Northlands

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