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ABYSSIA Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Pacifica on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge. Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Atlantis on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge.

by Chris Wayan, 2004-2011

for William Beebe and Otis Barton, first voyagers into the abyss

Abyssia- map- building Abyssia- geology & geography - critters & cultures - the clash of names - - more worlds? Planetocopia!


Abyssia demonstrates just how much water Earth has--dangerously much. We're lucky to have any land at all! The recipe for Abyssia is simple:

  1. Remove the world's oceans (keep them handy. You'll need them soon.)
  2. Now mark the altitude of every point on Earth, and make every depth a height, and every height a depth. Our ocean trenches are now huge mountain ranges; our ranges, trenches. Rugged, isn't it? It's as if you'd turned Earth inside out like a glove... 
  3. Now pour your stored seawater back into the new seabeds--the Eurasian Sea, the African Sea, the American Seas. But they'll fill up fast. You'll reach the old coastlines with water to spare. Lots to spare. Keep pouring. Soon you'll be refilling the seabeds, and wondering how much land there'll be. Soon you'll be adding "if any." Keep pouring! Don't hold any back.
  4. Look for land. Good luck. Most of our abyssal plains, which you'd think would form new continents, are just shallower seas; the bits that do rise above water are low and broken. Only 12% of Earth's surface is land! That's all.
As you look at the map below, are you starting to realize how drenched our world is? And how lucky we are that continental rock is so light! We're living on rafts, and don't know it.

Earth, what a name! Don't make me laugh. Oceana, Drownia, Uptoyournosia! That's what we live on. Float on.

Map of Abyssia, a world-building experiment.


Oh, partly for fun--all the deepest, secretest parts of Earth are suddenly center stage, and all the geography you know is just an oceanographic footnote! Just a little bias-correction for all my land-animal readers (you know who you are).

It was partly a dare, too--my friend Dan saw a sister-planet I was building, Inversia, where up is down and down is up, and he noticed that to preserve the distinctive outlines of the continents, I'd put a lot less water over the inverted land. Dan asked "What if you put ALL our water back, so the only land is our deepest abysses?" It was an interesting challenge. I thought we'd still end up with fair-sized continents--basically, all the abyssal plains would become land. Wrong! Orbital photo of Atlantis on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge.

It was harder to calculate than I expected--and no, I couldn't run my handy-dandy super-accurate 3-D dataset of Earth with a minus sign to turn it inside out. Done by hand, folks--and that means a margin of error of at LEAST 100 meters! Worse yet, when I estimated the volume of my new, alien sea basins they implied a coastline near the six-kilometer mark. I even did a quick map of this world: call it Abyssia Six. Catastrophic! Islands dot the sea, but their total area's less than Australia--not much over 1% of the surface. Then I found a glaring math error; the real contour was around 4900 meters, not 5900! Better, but still mighty blue. Vast reefs and low scattered lands--except Pacifica.

I was surprised. Such a familiar planet; so modest an alteration; so alien a result. How could an artist resist?

But Abyssia's also serious. It's my way of highlighting a problem exobiologists don't emphasize enough. After centuries of highly visible Martian deserts, and decades of Venus-as-Hell propaganda, we tend to think space is dry and other worlds all have drought problems; wonderful Earth has the optimal amount of water for a biosphere. Gaia, gem of the cosmos, life-cradle, Mother Earth. Well, I'm dissing your mama! It's quite possible to be too wet, and frankly, Earth is. 10-20% more water would have changed our geography profoundly; continents would erode into tall, narrow platforms only half as big. Or if our tectonics had been just a bit less active, the relief a bit lower, like Venus... well, if Venus had oceans even two-thirds as deep as Earth's, only 8-10% of the surface would be land! Earthlike oceans? Make that 1% land! Earth is drenched. Half our water--a tenth our water--would have been plenty, thanks.

I don't go as far as Peter Ward Douglas in Rare Earth, who argues that planets with world-seas and little land won't develop complex life (my world-model Lyr is 95% sea but still sustains a complex land-civilization); but still, experiments like Abyssia show how dangerously close Earth came to lacking land entirely. Only ruggedness saved us: and it arose from very active tectonics, courtesy of the tidal drag of our huge moon. How common is that?


In some ways, drier is safer. Even 1% of our water would be enough for very extensive seas, after all. Water does spread out! For three examples of drier biospheres, see Serrana(8%), Mars Reborn(1.5%?), or Tharn (0.2%!). Sealife concentrates in the surface layers, and the rain that landlife needs evaporates off the surface, too. Our seas are unnecessarily deep--so deep they're a liability. But hey, I'm grateful! They could easily have been fatal.

So as we look for life elsewhere, remember: we may love Earth, like Mom, for sentimental reasons, but she's not unique--not even optimal. Just a good-enough mom--and yet we're proof that's all life needs. We don't need to look for other Earths; our search can be much broader than that.


For years, Abyssia felt like an empty stage--or a theater just starting rehearsals.


Map of Abyssia, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOURS: this route snakes around Abyssia's major lands - Lena Is. (brr!) - Greek Is. - Atlantis - Azorea - Cayman and Albatrosia - Andean Is. - Scotia Is. - Morningtonia - Agassiz - South Pacifica - East Pacifica - Hawaiian Sea - Pacifica Desert - Filipinia - Banda Is. - Vityaz Archipelago - Tasman Is. - The Bight - Whartonia - Chagosia - Somalia - Mascarenia and Crozetia - Weddellia - Argentia - Pernambuco - Angolia - Tristania - Agulhas group

Abyssia's homepage - map - peoples - regional tours - names

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