Saturday, March 3, 2012

Five monobiome worlds

1. Plants

Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass begins with a lyrical description of the world—how the grass forms hills and dunes that fall away into valleys of grass. The colors are different—some grass might be more blue than green, some yellowing—but it’s all a single great endless sea of grass.

Jungle planets fall into the same category—the future Earth in Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse is one. A true Daisyworld isn’t ecologically feasible, but more biodiversity can be added—or the single-species system itself could be sustained through some alternate method, such as magic.

2. Ice

There’s the planet of Winter in Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness, and any SF story about an expedition to the outer giants of the solar system or their moons is likely to describe such conditions.

I’d love to read about iceworlds in a fantasy setting, though, where the characters have fewer hi-tech resources to help them survive. It would be especially cool, no pun intended, for the perfectly preserved corpses of woolly mammoths and so on to be found entombed in the ice—or, for that matter, utilized by the people.

3. Sand

Arrakis, the world described in Frank Herbert’s Dune, is a great example of this, but a far more frightening sandland is the one in Stephen King’s short story “Beachworld”. Not only is there no water to relieve the endless miles of sand, the sand itself is sentient, seeping into machinery to damage it and hypnotizing one of the astronauts into swallowing great handfuls of it.

4. Water

Reviews of Waterworld don’t paint it as promising, but such a biome has a lot going for it. Even if the people haven’t physically altered to handle such an environment (growing gills, being able to hold their breath for long periods), they could adapt in other ways. A tamed dolphin helps protect the ship-city of Armada in China Mieville’s The Scar (the book for sea adventure), but I’d love to see something other than dolphins or killer whales in such a role. A plesiosaur, maybe.

5. Fire

Perhaps not literal fire, but a world like Venus would be interesting.

Everywhere I look, all across the expansive basaltic plains, geysers and fumaroles belch up sulfurous plumes of smoke.

Volcanic features, water reserves deep underground, physical modifications to cope with high CO2 levels and most of all, lots and lots of volatile, dangerous and potentially explosive chemical compounds. What’s not to love?


Loren said...

Thanx. It's most interesting.

In our Solar System, we have a planet with a cold-desert biome: Mars. Complete with dust storms. But there's lots of evidence that Mars once had liquid water, including oceans.

As to water worlds, some extrasolar planets, like GJ 1214b, have densities low enough to suggest that they have deep oceans on them. Thousands of mi/km depth.

The present-day Earth has several climate zones: tropical hot-and-wet, subtropical hot-and-dry, temperate medium-and-wet, and polar cold-and-dry, all from how much sunlight per unit area each bit of land gets. Diablo II has all of them and then some. Act I: temperate, Act II: subtropical, Act III: tropical, Act IV: volcanic, Act V: polar (up in the mountains). You yourself have lived in most of these zones.

An Earthlike planet with a single biome would be hard to do without a big greenhouse effect that evens out the temperature a lot. The early Earth likely had one, since it had liquid water despite the Sun being somewhat fainter.

Marian Perera said...

Now I'm picturing a world like the Eco-Sphere - you know, those glass globes containing a shrimp, algae and bacteria, forming a complete ecosystem? That might contribute to a greenhouse effect - and would ensure a single biome within.

Though the ecosystem inside would have to remain consistent and stable. No introducing new elements unless the old ones died out.

Loren said...

An Earthlike planet with less sunlight than what the Earth now gets, like 80%. That's what the Earth got about 3 - 4 billion years ago.

It would have 10% instead of present 0.01% CO2 in its atmosphere. That's what will warm it enough to keep water liquid and make weathering that soaks up any more CO2. Though it will likely be warm even at the poles, it may still have wet and dry areas.

Imagine the Earth a bit farther from the Sun than it is now, about 10% farther, and you'd get something like this scenario.

Climate Regulation and Atmosphere Evolution through Geologic Time

Mark K said...

Your post on my blog got me curious, so here I am :) Thank you for stopping by the hearth, you're always welcome.

I think I'm going to enjoy reading through your blog. Looking forward to it ;)

Kind regards,


Loren said...

That's pretty much it, Marian. For further reduction in biome variety, one would also need low continents and islands, so as reduce inland and upland and mountain biomes.

However, lots of scattered continents and islands will be good for biodiversity.

Over the last billion years, the Earth has alternated between "greenhouse" and "icehouse" climates.

Greenhouse - warm, wet, continents dispersed, mountains low
Early Paleozoic, Mesozoic - early Cenozoic

Icehouse - cool, dry, continents together, mountains high
Late Proteozoic, late Paleozoic, late Cenozoic, present

So the Earth was closer to a single-biome state during greenhouse periods than during icehouse ones. But even in such periods, it had wet and dry land areas. Chris Scotese's Continental-Drift Reconstructions: Climate History It's also easier than I expected to make it warm all over: New Study Shows How Tortoises, Alligators Thrived in High Arctic Some 50 Million Years Ago | NASA Innovations in Climate Education (early Eocene). From oxygen-isotope abundances in fossil parts, "The team concluded the average temperatures of the warmest month on Ellesmere Island during the early Eocene were from 66 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (19-20 degrees C), while the coldest month temperature was about 32 to 38 degrees F (0-3.5 degrees C)." Far from what it is today, very cold and icy, while still being far north.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by! I love reading about RPGs (and mining them for inspiration), so I'll be checking out anything else you have on that topic.

Marian Perera said...

Loren - That reminds me of the TV Tropes page on "death worlds", because IIRC at least one of the examples given was of a planet where environmental conditions varied sharply. To the point where animals had to retreat underground if they wanted to remain alive (and of course, they fought and preyed on each other there).

Yes, it makes sense that a single-biome world isn't likely to have mountains, which is too bad. I was just imagining a world made entirely of solid rock, though I couldn't really reconcile this with erosion.

Loren said...

There are two ways to make strongly fluctuating environments: high axial tilt and highly eccentric orbits. Darren Williams and David Pollard of Penn State U have done some climate simulations of these cases, because of what exoplanets may have.

As one would expect, high tilt makes high latitudes hot and dry in the summer and cold and wet/snowy in the winter, with equatorial regions having cool to moderate temperatures.

High eccentricity produces a pulse of heating when nearest the planet's sun, and cooling the rest of the time.

Climates inside continents have greater temperature contrasts than climates at or near oceans, because all that water has a lot of thermal inertia, and land doesn't have as much. It happens in our world, and it also happens in the simulations. The oceans go up to 40 C and the continent interiors up to 80 - 100 C in the hotter parts of these simulations. Likewise, continent interiors get colder than the oceans in the cold parts.

Marian Perera said...

I think I read about that interior-of-the-continent vs. near-the-ocean difference in Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel", though I could be wrong. The example given was of England's climate vs. that of the former Soviet Union, though of course I thought about Canada's climate instead.

Though this winter has been a lot milder than I expected. Global warming, maybe?