What Inspired the Geography of Great Lakes Earth?

As an alternate Earth, it makes sense that pretty much everything is inspired by Earth itself. Not just that, but primarily Earth as it used to be, because plate tectonics actually make Earth rather flexible. Its history is so diverse that it makes it easy for me to experiment with an idea of putting those past features into the present day.

1) “Supermoon”

The term “supermoon” actually means that the full or new moon has reached its perigee, or closest point of orbit, giving us the illusion that the moon has grown bigger. Despite that truth, the term used in the news headlines has a certain kind of appeal for an experiment. Even though our moon is the largest in proportion of its parent planet, it is not the largest moon period. Our gas giants — Jupiter and Saturn — have true supermoons orbiting them. The largest in the entire solar system is one of the Galilean moons, Ganymede, with a diameter of 3,273 miles (compared to our moon, which has a diameter of 2,159 miles). The problem with that is that if only the moon’s size has been differentiated, at an orbit of 238,900 miles, the larger size means that the record-breaking tidal differences between high and low in the Bay of Fundy — 47.5 to 53.5 feet — would become the global average, which would mean bad news for coastal cities like New York, New Orleans, Sydney, Lisbon, Miami, Halifax and Rio de Janeiro. How to deal with that problem? Simple — just push it further away, preferably at the outermost limit of Earth’s Roche limit — almost 470,000 miles. But wouldn’t that slow down Earth’s daily spin? Maybe — if Supermoon were as big as the regular moon.

2) Exoplanets

Compared to the exoplanets discovered in recent years, our solar system is not worth phoning home about. Mercury, the first planet from the sun, has a radius of 1,516 miles and orbits the sun from a distance of 36 million miles, resulting in a revolution of 88 days, which earned it the name after the fleet-footed messenger of the Roman pantheon. 55 Cancri e, the “Diamond Planet” orbiting a sun 40 light-years from ours, is twice as wide as Earth, eight times as massive and 26 times closer to its sun than Mercury is, resulting in a revolution of 18 hours.

Due to its thick, CO2-rich atmosphere, Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, tipping the scales at 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of its near-identical size, it’s often been nicknamed “Earth’s twin”. Our closest candidate to the term “super-Venus” is Gliese 832 c, 16 light-years away in the constellation Grus. It is 175% the width of Earth and five-and-a-half times as massive. It is its massive size, as well as its thick atmosphere, that make some scientists consider this planet to be a super-Venus rather than a super-Earth, therefore unsuitable for life to develop.

The next planet after Earth is Mars, so named because of its rusty surface, red as the blood drunk by the Roman god of war. In the case of this planet, science fiction meshes with science fact as there is recent evidence that Mars used to have liquid water and thus support life. Actually, astronomers have recently found a true waterworld — Gliese 1214 b, 42 light-years from us in the constellation Ophiuchus. A Martian ocean might have as much of a cultural prominence in space-adventure fictions as the Martian wasteland back home.

It was thought that should Jupiter exceed 86,881.4 miles in diameter or a mass 318 times greater than Earth’s, it would no longer be a planet but a dwarf star. That said, we have found two planets that are bigger than Jupiter — HD 106906 b, with a mass 11 times greater than Jupiter’s; and WASP-17b, which is twice as wide. This, however, is problematic, because 1) how can we be sure that HD 106906 b is a planet and not some dwarf star? And 2) WASP-17b’s size is most likely due to its close proximity to its star — over five million miles — earning it the category of Hot Jupiter, and according to recent research, there is no way rocky inner planets can exist in a Hot Jupiter system.

It’s believed that the whole orbital makeup of our solar system is one of the key players of the Milankovitch Cycles, a series of astronomical sequences believed to make the Pleistocene ice ages possible. As the name suggests, this theory was the brainchild of Serbian geophysicist/astronomer Milutin Milankovitch. He proposed that the ice ages Earth had been experiencing for the past two-and-a-half million years were made possible by three basic factors:

1) Eccentricity (Orbital shape) — In an average ice age, the shape of the Earth’s orbit varied from 0.000055 to 0.0679 with the mean being 0.0019 over a cycle of 100,000 years. (Just so you know, 1.0 would make a perfect circle.)

2) Obliquity (Axial tilt) — In an average ice age, the earth’s axis varies from 22.1 degrees to 24.5 degrees over a period of 41,000 years.

3) Precession (Axis of rotation in relation to fixed stars) — Today’s North Star is Polaris, but won’t be the case forever — its supposed duration is 26,000 years.

So let’s say that, in regards to size, Mercury is actually 55 Cancri e (orbiting the sun from a distance of 1,384,615.4 miles), Venus is actually Gliese 832 c (orbiting from a distance of seven million miles), and Mars is actually Gliese 1214 b (orbiting the sun from a distance of 142 million miles). Will any of the listed changes provide any change to the Milankovitch cycles? If yes, then to what extent?

3) The Great Plains

Having spent almost the whole of my life in Nebraska, it makes me fully appreciative of the simplicity of the natural artistry that prairies provide. But life in South Sioux City has one glaring, unacceptable problem: It is inside the meteorological danger zone of Tornado Alley.

Image retrieved from http://www.tornadofacts.net/tornado-alley-facts.php

This hotspot, as you can see, is formed from a collision of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, warm, dry air from the Southwest and cold, dry air from the north. Here is a rough figure of North America from Great Lakes Earth:

On Great Lakes Earth, the Appalachian Mountains don’t exist. The Rockies are marked in a brown line, and they resemble a singular spine of Tetons as tall as Denali. The red is a Tibet-like plateau varying in height from 16,000 feet above sea level at its easternmost to 3300 feet at its westernmost. There are great lakes east and west of the Rockies.

Would all these changes help in weakening if not obliterating Tornado Alley without sacrificing the Midwest’s prairie fertility? This question is related to the next number.

4) Personal Prejudice on Deserts

One of our current environmental crises is desertification, as manmade climate change is turning fertile habitats into more arid wastelands. If there is one natural habitat that I can not stand, it’s deserts. The idea of living months in intense heat and with little to no water is more than enough to make me feel ill. Yet, in Earth’s recent history, these deserts were more favorable places full of water. Lakes Bonneville and Lahontan were among dozens of great lakes that made the Wild West a verdant Eden as recently as 20,000 years ago. In Africa, the seasonally-verdant Okovango Delta, the Nxai, Sua and Nwetwe salt pans, Lakes Ngami and Xau and the Mababe Depression all used to be Lake Makgadikgadi, a lake 50,000 square miles in area and 100 feet deep that vanished as recently as 10,000 years ago. North of the equator, North Africa had its share of great lakes, too, but they vanished as recently as eight to seven thousand years ago, turning the Sahara into the largest and hottest desert on the planet. Australia’s Lake Eyre basin was at its peak 60 million years ago before becoming the arid depression we’d recognize today. Would the Sahara, Kalahari, Mojave and Outback still be deserts if those great lakes of the past persist into the 21st century?

A similar problem I have with desertification is salt lake or closed basins, which would have a high enough rate of evaporation to become overly salty. Places like the Dead Sea, Lake Mono or the Great Salt Lake bug me because the water is still liquid, but its salinity content is too high to be considered drinkable, which really irks me because water regulates climate and water draws all forms of life to drink and cool down. For closed basins, I look back to history and recall the Tethys Sea, which connected Asia to the Atlantic. This becomes key to the birth of Great Lakes Earth’s civilization.

Originally, the Arabian Peninsula was supposed to be an island, as I physically erase the Suez Peninsula off the map, connecting the salty Red Sea to the Tethys. The reason I turned Arabia into an extension of northeastern Africa is for simplicity’s sake — otherwise, I’d devote so much time on both Israeli and North African history, so I thought it best to make those two histories one and the same. Considering the differences in African geography (the whole of North Africa being a singular hamada cut down by rivers, like the Colorado Plateau cut down by the Colorado River, creating the Grand Canyon; the Atlas Mountains being a subductive range 1500 feet taller than they are back home; the Aden Bahçesi, a volcanic range stretching from South Africa to Oman 1500 feet taller than Denali and the Great Lakes of North Africa)…

…would these be enough for the existence of a modern Green Sahara, therefore lands verdant enough to feed a Sumerian-Hebrew civilization?

Incidentally, my bias against deserts also explains the creation of Sahul, the name taken from Australia’s continental shelf. Not only has Lake Eyre been returned to its past glory, but it’s also so much further south than Australia that the distance between it and Antarctica is cut by half. Is this enough to promote the Outback from the position of desert?

5) The Meridian Finish Line

Image retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/28yyb4/countries_that_lie_on_the_equator_and_countries/

The nations marked in blue are those touched by zero degrees longitude — the Prime Meridian. Note that Portugal is left untouched, as the Prime Meridian is also known as the Greenwich Meridian. This, to me, strikes me as stopping before reaching all the way through — in this case, Lisbon, Europe’s westernmost city. So what would happen if I push the entire Old World so far eastwards that zero degrees longitude is called the Lisbon Meridian? An obviously wider Atlantic, sure, but other things, too.

6) Beringia

The connection between North America and Asia via the Bering Land Bridge has been an on-again, off-again process. Troödontids, ceratopsians, hadrosaurs and tyrannosaurs originated in Asia before colonizing North America. 55 million years ago, at the start of the Eocene, mammals from Asia migrated to North America. That same story would be repeated 20 million years ago, during the Miocene. And again, hundreds of thousands of years ago during the Pleistocene. The bridge is currently underwater, and this creates a frustrating degree of ecological distinction — in the Old World, pantherines, pigs, vultures, Old World sparrows, hyenas and antelopes; in the New World, pumas, peccaries, condors, New World sparrows and pronghorns.

But by widening the Atlantic, Beringia would be open on permanent business, creating more homogenized ecosystems.

By rights, though, the whiplike Alaska Peninsula shouldn’t exist.

7) Siberian Traps

252 million years ago, Siberia erupted, its lava being the catalyst for the worst mass extinction in history. What are the Siberian Traps now?


Image retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v477/n7364/full/477285a.html?message-global=remove

252 million years of erosion have turned the Siberian Traps into pale shadows of their former selves. On Great Lakes Earth, inspired also by the long-winded eruptions of the Columbia River Flood Basalt Group, the Siberian Traps erupted from 60 to 45 million years ago, covering an area of 11 million square miles and a volume of four million cubic miles.

45 million years of erosion would mean an altogether different Russian landscape, but to what extent? Would we still see vast, singular bands of boreal forests and steppes, or would we expect to see Russia hosting a wider variety of habitats?

8) The Arctic

What makes the Arctic suffer is not just the manmade greenhouse gases, but also the simple law of albedo. The Arctic Ocean has more water than land, and this is problematic because water absorbs heat whereas ice reflects it (dry land is in-between). So how to make the Arctic 50/50 on land and water, thus more resilient on the ice? Well, we could widen the Atlantic to make space, for starters. But if we could change the average and maximum depths of the Arctic, we may have better regulation, as deeper water is cooler and more nutritious than warm, shallow water. Back home, the Arctic’s average depth is 1038 meters, maximum 5,450 meters. On Great Lakes Earth, the average and maximum depths have dropped to 1652 and 7,236 meters. How should this happen? Simple — by turning the Arctic into a plate, complete with subductive trenches like in the Pacific.

Of course, the map provided above is not 100% accurate. Greenland is so much further northward than our Greenland that Mont Forel, the island’s highest peak, is situated in or near the North Geographic Pole.

Would any of this change the global climate in any way? If so, how?

Universe Factory

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange's community-run blog

John Dailey

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Universe Factory

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange's community-run blog