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East Asian Seas

by Chris Wayan, 2006-9

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Map of the East Asian Seas on Siphonia, a study of the Earth with 90% of its water drained away.


On Earth, this region is a series of island arcs--mini-plates mostly hidden by some of the deepest seas on the planet. On Siphonia, the region's revealed as a rugged zone sculpted by violent tectonic forces-bristling with volcanoes and scored by deep trenches. From the summit of Mt Fuji in the Japan Range to the floor of the trenches offshore to the east, it's a vertical drop of 13 km (40,000'!), and the relief near the Philippine and Taiwan Mts is just as extreme.

China Sea

Not the East China Sea or the South China Sea; just the China Sea. The seas dividing Taiwan, Korea and Japan from China are now mostly cool, forested plateaus reminiscent of New England or Canada.

What we know as the South China Sea has shrunk to about half-size; what survives is mostly the north. The south is a maze of low, jungly sounds below mild, wooded plateaus--the former Paracel and Spratly Islands.

But as the oceans drained away, the China Sea was left stranded in its island-rimmed basin like a monster tidepool. Half its water poured out Bataan Strait; sea level dropped about 2500 meters (8000'). As the atmosphere pooled in the new abysses worldwide, temperature, air pressure and climate migrated downward almost as far, about 2200 m (7000'). Since its altitude drop is one of the few in the world that nearly matched this worldwide average, the China Sea shores have changed the least of any region on Siphonia.

Fauna and flora look quite Philippine--green and lush. The coast is just as warm, though the hills and mesas of the Paracel and Spratly Islands and Cape Reed, two km high, are cool misty uplands like our Roraima--but then our Philippines had its cool uplands, if not so extensive. Even the geography looks similar; a confusing maze of steep islands and winding sounds. Unchanged... Sketch map by Chris Wayan of the China Sea (not South or East; there's only one now) on Siphonia, a study of Earth with 90% of its water siphoned off.

Unless you taste the water. Go ahead. It's fresh, isn't it? Rains here are generous, if not quite as torrential as on Earth; so this "sea" steadily spills into the Philippine Sea to the east. The Luzon Falls are freshwater, not a salt cascade like the famous Gibraltar Spill on Earth three million years ago, when the Atlantic breached the huge desert basin we now call the Mediterranean. The China Sea has become a great freshwater lake! Well, mostly. Precipitation has freshened the surface layers and the southern sounds, but the cold depths of the deep northern basin are still brackish. Becoming, then, if not fully become.

And not the only one. The Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Japan, the Bering Sea, the Caribbean... ninety thousand years after the Big Slurp, Siphonia's still adjusting. And this change to a hodgepodge of fresh and salt lakes is the opposite of what I expected. Blame my haste! If I'd just had the patience to wait a few billion years, Gaia would have aged naturally, and we'd have salty little Caspian Seas all over. But I wanted to see her naked now, before her continents drift into unrecognizability; so I stole her blue dress. But when you siphon the seas, you slurp up their salt, too. Siphonia and Future Earth differ in this. Deep time will give Gaia saltier seas, and more salt beds and pans on land; Siphonia's founding catastrophe aborted all that.

The ex-Philippines are less Philippine than they were. The mountains of old Luzon now rise over 5 km (about 17,000') above China Sea level; quite high enough for extensive snow, though it's still rare in Manila. But not unheard of! The Borneo Ranges to the south and the Taiwan Mts to the north both reach 6.5 km (21,400'). Great glaciers crawl down Jade Peak and Kinabalu, above forests where orangutans hide. They seem unchanged, at least; they're still shy. Probably literate, though.

These cool highlands, ringed by snowcapped peaks, extend southeast beyond my sketchmap. Lake Sulu, in the heart of the Philippine Range, is at least 1000 m above the China Sea, and 4 km above the Pacific (13,000' up). It drains northwest into the China Sea. It too is fresh on the surface but probably still brackish down deep. And its deeps are so deep, its volume of water so great, it'll take a few Ice Ages to fully flush it out. Its shores are much cooler than the China Sea; almost temperate-feeling, though snow-free.
Map of the Javan Seas on Siphonia, a study of the Earth with 90% of its water drained away.

Lake Celebes just south of Sulu is even larger and deeper, though not quite as high; around 3.5 km above the Pacific. Celebes rivals the Sea of Japan as the deepest surviving body of water in the world, up to 3 km (10,000'); unlike Sulu, it drains east through a serpentine chain of huge lower lakes like the world's biggest fish ladder, down to the Pacific: Lake Sangihe, 2.5 km up, huge Lake Tomini, 2.3, then little Ceram, 2250 meters, and Halmahera, 2200, tropical below the snowy crags of the Vogelkop Mts; last is steamy Ayu, just 1 km up, and then Palau Sound, the westernmost finger of the Pacific, so hot and humid it's like a time-trip to the Mesozoic...

Philippine Sea

On Earth, this sea is defined only by geology; the islands fencing it off from the greater Pacific to the East are mere specks to a surface mariner. But deep mapping reveals it's a small but independent tectonic plate, bounded by tall mountain ranges and deep trenches; it's just hidden by some of the deepest seas on Earth.

But this isn't Earth; it's Siphonia. All is bared. A bizarre landscape! This Philippine Sea is nearly split into two long, brackish lakes or seas, the smaller East and wider West Philippine Seas, linked by lakes and wide rivers/narrow straits in the north; they're at the same level, about 500 meters above the Pacific. Like Lakes Huron and Michigan, they're one body of water. But they drain through two separate rivers, down to the Pacific! There's no other situation like this on Siphonia, though Earth has a parallel: the Guyana region in South America. One can sail up the Amazon, north along winding inland rivers to a branch of the Orinoco, and float down it back to the sea. In a sense, the Guyana highlands form a separate continent, though a small one! More separate than Europe is from Asia...

Similarly on Siphonia, the Parece Vela highlands splitting the Philippine basin is really a long island, but one with shores at different levels--500 m up, to east and west, but at Pacific sea level to the southeast! Such weird situations only arise where there's a lot of rain...

Map of the Philippine Lake(s) on Siphonia, a study of the Earth with 90% of its water drained away.

The eastern shore of the Philippine basin is rather like two parallel Japans: a long strip of land dotted with tall volcanoes. There's even a long Inland Sea. But the vertical's exaggerated: Fuji, whose name means "no two" (unique, peerless) would here be lost and nameless among the dozens of volcanoes 5 km (3 mi) high that rise almost randomly throughout the east...

The Parece Vela range is lower, but not by much. It's a narrow mountainous strip 3000 km long, with a wide lake-dappled bulbous tip, like a kite on a string. As I mentioned, it's surrounded entirely by water (though two stretches are rivers), so it could be considered a great island--larger than New Guinea.

The western shore of the Philippine Sea is all high mountains: the Ryukyu, Taiwan and Philippine Ranges; Jade Peak in the Taiwans reaches 8500 m above Philippine Sea level (28,000'). Heavy winter snows feed glaciers. But at these low latitudes, the alpine strip isn't wide; many of these mountain valleys have cool, pleasantly mild climates.

The main Philippine Basin is not mild. In summer, this dense abyssal air greenhouses, heating up to 40-45 C (104-113 F). Humidity is 80-100%; hurricanes are common. Rainforests grow huge, up to 100 m tall, with feathery leaves to minimize wind-shear. Instead of parasitic vines, symbiotic ones bind together the canopy; even dead trees don't fall; they rot standing up. Map of the East Asian Seas on Siphonia, a study of the Earth with 90% of its water drained away.

The civilization of the Philippine Basin will not be human. Some smaller treetop creature would be ideal, whether an arboreal mammal (lemurs, orangutans?) or avian (giant parrots or ravens, buoyed up by the dense air).

Chinese Plateau

Brr! South China is what North China was, in winter. Well, no, I'm exaggerating--and a Californian. Temperate climates don't seem temperate at all to me! Hot humid summers and cold winters, that's all. Quite like Eastern Europe, or New York, really. Milder in some areas. The old coast, now the Chinese Escarpment, is frost-free in some winters, nearly up to Shanghai. But in a bad winter the freezes sweep down all the way to the Hainan Hills, south of old Hong Kong. The once-modest eastern mountains are snowcapped. Inland, the ramparts around Sichuan are ice-capped; the great valley itself is now a subalpine grassland. It's basically Mongolian. Humans do live farm and herd there, but only a few million. The hundred million farmers of our Sichuan will have to move way downstream, to the China Sea. Too bad there'll be a billion people in line ahead of them...

Lake Japan

The deepest body of water on Siphonia, averaging 3 km (10,000'), nearly as deep as on Earth. Though it looks small, it holds more water than the huge Mornington Sea or Nazca Sea.

The reason is simple. The straits draining the Sea are shallow, and the basin gets generous precipitation. When the seas around it sank away, the Sea of Japan was stranded, just like the China Sea. It's really a huge freshwater lake--at least on the surface. The depths are briny and will remain so for millennia.

The river draining Lake Japan may be to the northeast, into Okhotsk Basin, pouring down to the Kurile Sea. Or maybe not; the southern straits look a hair deeper, in which case the outlet will pour south into Lake Taiwan (or perhaps it should be named Ryukyu) and then into the northern Philippine Sea. I'm so undecided I drew both on the first map, a scenario that's clearly not gonna happen. Just so you know... Map of Lake Japan and Lake Kurile on the northwest rim of the Pacific Deep, on Siphonia, a study of the Earth with 90% of its water drained away.

As the air poured down into the Pacific abyss and the water failed to, air pressure dropped; along the shores it's equivalent to over 2 km high (about 7100'). So although the evergreen-forested shores look rather like our Japan, the climate's much colder--more like northern Hokkaido or even Kamchatka. Not far up the slopes, the trees dwarf, thin, and fail. Fuji and the Japan Alps are ice-mantled to their knees. Land of the bear, of the Siberian tiger!

If humans live here, they'll be Ainu. Won back their homeland at last! No, not Hokkaido. I mean all Japan.

Kurile Sea

An uncertain lake/sea, and not just its spelling. Does it have an outlet to the Pacific? The coastal Kuril Range (no e) is rugged and three miles high, but there are some gaps, and quite a lot of water pours into the Kurile Basin (with an e) from the huge Amur River. It's going to pool until it breaks out somewhere. Most likely outlet: south of Mt Simushin, around 151 east. The River Simushin will carve a canyon-outlet for itself; the lake will slowly shrink and its level fall. My best guess is a Lake Kurile filling only the southern part of the basin, perhaps 3 km down, and two above sea level.

Lake Kurile will be much warmer than Lake Japan, even though it's further north; for while its exact altitude is uncertain, it's much lower, and has broad lowlands around it, instead of icy peaks within a day's hike. My best guess is that these shores will have a climate like our northern Japan, with snowy winters, mild summers. A huge conifer forest, thinning to the north as the Okhotsk Plain slowly rises.

Not that the region is mountainless in other directions! Our Kamchatka Peninsula is now a rugged isthmus between the Okhotsk Basin and the Pacific; its gigantic, icecapped mountains culminate in volcanic Klyucha, rearing 9700 m (32,000') above the Pacific coast; massively glaciated.

The land north of Okhotsk is about the coldest on Earth, outside Greenland and Antarctica; on Siphonia it's long since glaciated. But the deep Okhotsk lowlands and the southeast-facing Pacific slope of the Kuril Range have much denser air and much warmer (if wildly unpredictable) weather. At least in summer; in winter, the hard freeze to the north sends a steady katabatic blast down into the basin, heating as it drops and compresses; like the mistral, foehn, and other dry winter winds, it brings blue skies and moderate temperatures, but also a relentless pressure, desiccation, and a storm of positive ions. Even if you think ions don't affect mood, an endless dry wind can! Plants droop; animals hide; humans just go mad. Rates of depression and conflict soar here during the Shaman's Wind. Crazy-making land.

No, not all of Siphonia. It's a dirty lie.

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