The Ring Continent by David Macfie
It took all of three months to complete the mapping of the Ring Continent. The various maps now contained all the data that was needed to begin the design process for the transformation of the landmass into a mixture of habitable areas and conservation parks. Meanwhile, the remainder of the human settlers had arrived on Androm and their training was in progress. Instability on Taurus seemed to have worsened again and more refugees were arriving and being accommodated in Newtown and the Baltra farms. Scientists on Taurus were pessimistic. The majority believed that this time the deterioration of the planet would continue. Emergency plans to evacuate the rest of the Taurian population, using star ships freed up by the conclusion of the transport of humans from Earth, had been prepared.
Much of the map-making had been concluded from the air but, inevitably, landing at various places was unavoidable. This was particularly required when the biology of living things was involved, or closer inspection of geological aspects was needed. There were three narrow escapes when ground surveying took place in the areas near places where the ring joined other peninsulas. In the first, Robert and Laura were charged by one of the very large male felines like the one that had gone after Jamie. Only the quick thinking of their robotic guard saved them. It fired three shots from a laser gun just in front of the beast when it was only two meters away. The animal took fright and ran away. The other incidents involved attacks by venomous snakes. In one the snake was seen in time for Gillian to hit it with a stick and drive it away. In the second George was bitten and Liz saved him by rapidly fetching and injecting the antidote.
At the end of the process the team got together to discuss the findings.
“Let’s begin by getting a summary of major conclusions from each specialty area,” suggested Jamie. “And I’d like to begin with the geological aspect that Peter and Gillian looked at. That’s mainly because I think the biggest problems might be associated with that.” Nobody objected to that, so Gillian and Peter took the floor first.
“We found that the overall geology was rather strange,” began Gillian. “The entire continent is unusually flat. There are no mountains to speak of so we thought that might be a problem from a weather management point of view. Jenny will pick up that point later. Our second major finding was four large rift valleys that run approximately north to south, but don’t reach the sea on either side. We couldn’t determine how these valleys were formed. Rivers would surely have reached the sea on one side or the other and there’s no evidence of volcanic activity. Our conclusion is that it may be to do with tectonic plates. If so, then it suggests that the ring may have been formed by four major landmasses coming together. We discussed these rifts with George and Elizabeth, and they have some ideas, so I’ll leave it to them to expand on this. Otherwise, the geology is like the other landmasses, but the climate has made the surface into desert or semi-desert everywhere. We’re very puzzled as to how that happened, particularly for the places where the ring joins up with habitable places. But we rationalized it by comparing to Earth deserts that exist next to habitable areas.”
“The other major finding is that the total area of the ring is only slightly less than the combined area of all the habitable lands combined,” added Peter. “So, there are big benefits to be had, if we can transform it. In summary, there are no other significant problem areas that we can see that will complicate our activities.”
“That’s all positive news, thank you,” complimented Jamie. “Let’s hear from George and Elizabeth now.”
“We’ll begin with the rift valleys,” said George. “We think we can relatively easily convert them into canals that connect the northern seas to the ones in the south. Then we can site desalination plants at suitable places along their banks, as well as at various places on the seacoasts. There are no rivers at all, so we’ll have to create those from scratch. And because the place is so flat there are no natural opportunities for hydro-electric schemes. All that infrastructure will have to be built from scratch once we decide where to site rivers and dams. Solar energy is plentiful as it is on all the landmasses so we will make plentiful use of that. Other than that, as Gillian said, the natural topology is featureless and not much help to us from an energy creation point of view. On the upside, it doesn’t present many obstacles either. We will terraform as required for hydro and wind once Jenny determines what she needs for weather management. Anything to add Liz?”
“Only that the surface covering is mainly sand, so I think Robert and Laura have their work cut out to make the land fertile, but they’ll cover that, I’m sure.”
“We’ll have to import all our topsoil,” began Laura, taking a cue from Liz. “We think the basic terraforming must consider where the major settlements will be, and where we want to have farms and green areas. Then we must water and enrich the soil before anything will grow. It’ll take a year or two before we’ll be able to graze or farm here. But I guess it will take that long to create the infrastructure anyway, so I don’t see that as a real issue.”
Robert picked up from there.
“The flora and fauna are sparse and concentrated near the joining points of the ring to Bindlo, Baltra and Debuffon. That’s a bit of a blessing. We’ll simply add some extra land to the conservation areas that we’ve already created on those three landmasses. The rest of the continent is barren. We didn’t find any life there at all, not even spiders, scorpions, snakes or cockroaches. We thought there might be lichens or mosses or even more primitive plants but there was nothing, which reinforces Liz’s point. We’ll have to get the reshaping, water and weather right before we’ll make much progress with bringing life to the land. It’s going to be quite a challenge.”
Jamie grinned as he looked at Jenny.
“Looks like you’re on the spot, Jen,” he said, his grin widening. “No pressure, but everybody seems to be waiting for your weather forecast.”
This got a laugh and Jenny grinned right back.
“No pressure,” she confirmed. “Like you all have said, the ring hasn’t got anything much to help us other than the rifts. That means we must alter the topology even to create flowing rivers. Probably, the best way to do that is to create a ridge of high ground all along the spine of the continent. Then we’ll have inclines going both north and south and we can create dams, upslope, for hydro-electric schemes and have rivers flowing in both directions for irrigation. If the ridge is high enough it will also encourage rainfall, but I have no idea if we can build something that high and make it stable. Otherwise, increasing the available water on the surface and keeping evaporation going will help cloud formation, but we may need to enhance the wind currents around the planet. I’ll research into that some more to come up with recommendations. Also, the more vegetation we get the better the climate will become, as all other natural processes are enhanced.”
“That all sounds quite positive,” commented Peter, with a smile. “I can put your mind at rest on the point of the height of the spine ridge. If we construct it in terraces with a rocky central skeleton, we should be able to go up high enough to encourage precipitation. I can’t help with the winds though.”
“I hadn’t finished,” replied Jenny, with a frown. “I left the bad news to the end. The biggest problem we have is Androm isn’t like earth. Earth’s rotation axis is not perpendicular to its orbital plane round the Sun. So, the Sun sometimes shines directly over the northern hemisphere, and sometimes it shines directly over the southern hemisphere. That’s what causes our seasons and it’s why when it’s summer in the north it’s winter in the south and vice versa. Androm’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to its orbital plane around its sun so the seasons are fixed, and the sun is always directly over the Ring Continent. That’s why it’s always so hot in the ring and why the climate in the northern landmasses is always the same as the climate in the southern landmasses at the same time of the year. I have no idea how to affect that, so I have no idea how to make it less hot than it is now. The bad news is that we can do what we like with water and vegetation and winds but, without a reduction in atmospheric and surface temperature, I’m not sure the desert conditions will abate, whatever we do.”
“Piece of cake,” quipped Jamie, looking remarkably cheerful, in the face of this devastating assessment. “All we have to do is alter the axis of rotation of the planet. Shouldn’t be too difficult with our combined wisdom.”
Everybody looked at him, in astonishment. Then, realizing that he was joking, they relaxed and broke into laughter. Jamie let it run, until it reached its natural conclusion, then he continued.
“Seriously folks, we must carry on planning and constructing all the other items we’ve identified, starting with the canals and the spine and then the dams, rivers and desalination plants. In parallel we’ll consult with the Taurian scientists on the issue of changing the seasons. Their science is more advanced than ours so they may know things that we don’t. We can talk to them about wind at the same time. Now the last item on my agenda was to give a hearty thanks to our four cartographers. I assume that you guys will be leaving us now, is that correct?”
“It is correct,” confirmed Zentaku-Ro. “Certainly me, Manitu-Ki and Santandi-Nu. We all are simple cartographers. But you may want to consider keeping Mark Newman around for a while. He is also a structural engineer and a draftsman. He could be useful for drawing all the structures you will need for this project. I’d like to conclude by saying that we have enjoyed this experience. Surveying the Ring was exciting and interesting and working with this team was stimulating. You all have such fun while working. We will try to be more like you in that respect in the future.”
Jamie turned to Mark.
“What do you say to this suggestion, Mr. Newman?”
“I think it’s sensible under the circumstances,” Mark replied. “I think I can add value and you will certainly need engineering drawings for several of your projects, particularly the ridge on the spine and the elevated dams for your hydro schemes. And, I must admit, I’m enjoying being at the sharp end for a change. It’s fun seeing my drawings and maps being used in practice.”
“What about your family? You’ve been gone for a while already.”
“I don’t have kids yet. My girlfriend is a Doctor and is working at the hospital in Newtown. Truth is we’re in a trial separation. That’s why I jumped at this opportunity.”
“In that case, welcome to the team. We’ll go tomorrow to Genesis and in the next day or two we’ll report back what we’ve found and kick off the further research. If the Taurian leadership approve the terraforming, we’ll also arrange all the materials and equipment we’ll need for the canals and the ridge to start with. I’d like Peter and Gillian, George and Liz and Mark to get together to pin down the structures we’ll need to make the canals and the ridge, together with the bill of materials and equipment. Jenny, please liaise with that group to provide input from the weather angle. Any other comments or suggestions?”
“Just a question,” said Peter, with a serious face. “Are we the best available team to manage this terraforming project? The Taurians have more experience than we do of such things. Shouldn’t we hand over and withdraw at this point?
“Comments, please,” requested Jamie.
“I think we must stay involved at least for the detailed planning of structures and engineering considerations,” offered Liz. “But I agree that the Taurians have more experience with the earth moving and construction aspects of terraforming. They did a pretty good job of the water infrastructure in the habitable places.”
“We had significant input to the generation and energy aspects of the Androm project as a whole,” commented George so, I agree, we must be involved to the end of the detailed planning and design of all the major aspects of the Ring project. But Liz is right, it’s not essential that we manage the details of the actual work.”
“What about the project management aspect, Gillian?” asked Jamie.
“We should stay involved in that, I think,” she mused. “We’re more focused and driven than the Taurians. So, we’re better major project managers than they are.”
“OK, that’s clear. We must be involved in the detailed design of all structures and the layout of the terraforming and we must be involved in the overall project management. It’s not essential for us to be part of the nitty, gritty. Is that a fair summary?”
All agreed that it was, so Jamie asked a different question.
“If we’re only going to be involved full time in the early stages, have any of you thought about what we will do with the rest of our time, and what about the future? It’s getting close to the time when we will all have a serious decision to make. Will we stay in Androm or will we go back to earth? You need to consider these questions, while the Ring project gets underway.”