The Northern Polar Region of Mars in Space1889

by Anders Blixt 

When you say Mars to a human, he will immediately think of vast steppes or deserts intersected by straight canals and with pastel cities scattered here and there, or of harsh, dry hills haunted by savage High Martians. 

But Martian geography is varied. The polar regions are very different from the rest of Mars and contain their own distinct climate, topography, flora, fauna, and other factors that affect human or Martian visitors. 

This article deals with Hyperborea, the northern polar region of the Red Planet. The topography and climate of the southern polar region are fairly similar, but its flora and fauna are completely different, since evolution in the two areas has been separate with no opportunity for any creatures to migrate between them (look at the dissimilar animals of Earth's Arctic and Antarctica to see the magnitude of the differences). 

The contemporary polar caps are rather recent in a geological perspective. During the Brifanoon, the average temperature on Mars increased and all the snow and ice of the poles melted and formed the seas of Mars. When naBrifanoon came the polar caps re-formed and gradually grew until they contained almost all free water. (This also happened on Earth during the Pleistocene Ice Age, though our oceans did not dry out. However, their level sunk hundreds of feet.)  

The polar region consist of two areas: the glacier zone and the borderzone. The glacier zone is covered by a permanent ice layer. The temperature never rise above +30F and during cold spells it may fall to -60F (comparable to the conditions on Greenland). The glacier ice is of unknown thickness, at least 1000 feet, since no human scientist has yet drilled down to the soil. There is little precipitation in the central glacier zone, since the winds coming from the south loose their humidity as snow above the borderzone and the glacier edge. 

The borderzone is an area extending 150-200 miles south of the glacier edge. It is covered with snow during parts of the year. There are only two seasons in the polar region: the snowing, when the snowcap grows, and the melting, when it shrinks. During the climax of the snowing, the snowcap will extend past the northernmost cities, eg Saardaar, Panthes and Propontis. During the melting the temperature usually is +30F to +50F, while it during the snowing lays between -20F and +30F. 

Mars's axis of rotation has an inclination of 24 degrees, which places the Polar Circle at the 66th parallel. Above it, the sun will never set during parts of the melting and never rise above the horizon during parts of the snowing. 

In the center of Hyperborea is the big Kong Christian range, consisting of high and steep mountains of volcanic origin. Some of the snow-covered peaks penetrate the ice layer and reach heights of 15,000-20,000 feet above its surface. 

There is almost no life in the glacier region, since there there is no fertile soil, very little sunlight and extreme cold. 

Instead, the Hyperborean life-forms are mainly found in the borderzone. Here, the conditions for life are very different from the deserts farther south. There is, at least for Mars, an abundance of water. When the melting begins, the upper layers of the soil are soaked with water, sparking the growth of seeds and eggs that have hibernated during the snowing. 

During the first half of the melting season, the snow-free land turns into shallow swamps, teeming with plant and animal life. (However, the permafrost is always present deeper down in the soil, which prevents plants from growing deep root systems and burrowers from get more than some feet below the surface.) The swamps gradually get dry during the second half of the melting and when the snow starts to fall, the soil is again compact and solid. During the drying period the animals and plants prepare for the coming winter. Many small animals hibernate in burrows in the soil, while the larger species migrate southwards ahead of the advancing snow layers. 

When venturing into the borderzone the traveller may encounter some of the following notable life-forms. 

 Boreopard: This rare, slim carnivore has four long legs with wide, clawless paws that provide support on snow or in swamps. It is about five feet long, excluding two feet of tail, four feet high, and weighs 100-150 lbs. Its fur is reddish grey during the melting and purely grey during the snowing. The name alludes to its feline look. It hunts in pairs, stalking grazers. It usually tries to sneak up on the prey and attack it with a short, vicious burst of speed (reaching 50-60 mph during 30-40 seconds), much like the steppe tiger. The boreopard can be domesticated and they are not uncommon as hunting beasts among the borderzone nomads. 

 Brunk: The big brunk is a hulking, furry, sixlegged beast, with a ursine shape. Its weight may reach 1500 lbs. Its most interesting feature is the head, which is has a huge, sharp beak, not unlike an eagle's, but far bigger and far stronger. The brunk is omnivorous and its main diet is dendronix branches, but it also feeds on carrion and can readily crush bones. There are no reports that it hunts actively. However, a brunk will defend itself viciously when feeling threatened. 

 Dendronix: The vegetation of the borderzone consists mainly of hardy, grass-like plants, but there is also the family of the dendronix bushes, containing several similar species. The dendronix is a compact coniferous plant, about four feet high with rust-colored needles, which do not fall off during the snowing season. It grows in extensive, dense copses with interconnected root systems. These copses may cover several square miles and become the homes of many small animals, that occupy ecological niches equivalent to Terrestial rodents, shrews, small felines, and sparrows. The plant is very sturdy and it is quite a task to hack a path through a copse. 

 Northern gashant: This herd animal is a close relative to the common gashant of the steppes. It has adapted well to the northern cold and has thicker fat layers under the skin.

The borderzone is the home of several nomadic gashant-herding Hill Martian tribes. They adjust their wanderings to the advancing and receding snowcap. During the height of the snowing, many tribes take winter quarters in the partially abandoned northern-most cities, where they trade pelts, beautiful fur clothes, rare herbs, and gashants with the city dwellers for such tools and weapons they cannot make themselves. 

 The Hyperborean Hill Martians are shorter and stouter than their southern brethren, having a more favorable ratio between body mass and skin area, giving less radiation of body heat. The tribes are distinguished by language (dialects of Tempes or Ruugoraant), customs, and clothing. 

 The attitude to strangers range from suspicious to friendly, though humans, being unknown to most Hyperboreans, are usually greeted peacefully and with curiosity. However, following the Russian expedition in 1886 the attitudes towards humans became noticeably more cautious, which might imply that the Russians came into conflict with some tribes. The details still remain unclear, though, since the exact route of the Russians is unknown.

The Lost Cities of Hyperborea: During the Brifanoon the climate of Hyperborea was hospitable and many Canal Martians settled here and built cities. When the snow and ice returned, they migrated southwards to survive, abandoning their homes. The cities gradually became covered with snow and ice and their locations and names faded into oblivion. However, among today's Canal Martians there are still legends of lost cities nested in ice caves in Hyperborea, thousands of feet below the surface. They are said to be untouched by time and hiding fantastic machines and long lost secrets of the advanced Brifanoon culture. Some of the legends speak of evil persons, who caused the coming of the ice by their vile sciences, and whose buried knowledge should better remain forgotten. Other stories claim that the former Hyperboreans were cursed by the gods for their blasphemous pride and insolence. 

 The Ice Burrowers: The Hyperborean nomads have many legends of monstrous creatures that burrow though the ice layer of the eternal snow zone. These monsters have been spawned by the evil gods of the cold wastes and they actively search for warmblooded beings to devour their body heat. Some burrowers are described as white serpents with grotesque heads, while others are said to look vaguely crablike with innumerable sharp pincers. The Hill Martians rarely venture into the glacier zone out of fear of the ice burrowers, but the existence of such creatures has not yet been confirmed by any humans. 

 The Dancing Snow Demons: Other nomad legends talk about the snow demons. These creatures are said to look like small whirlwinds of snow crystals that dance erratically over the eternal snow of the glacier zone. The Hill Martians claim that the demons are a race of malignant spirits that were invoked a long time ago by wizards then living in the Hyperborean mountains. The wizards tried to enslave the snow demons as slave servants, but the spirits managed to break the bonds, slay the wizards and escape into the wilderness, now hating all Martians alike. Human scientists guess that this legend originates from observations of small tornadoes on the snow cap. 

The human exploration of the polar regions has so far been fairly limited. Mars is such a vast place to explore and there are other more alluring places that men want to investigate first. The polar regions also have a hostile climate which poses extra dangers to humans. 

The Canal Martians have paid little attention to the poles for thousands of years, so there is little reliable knowledge to be extracted from the ancient tomes found in canal city libraries. Often it is impossible to separate facts from fancies and therefore it is difficult to make proper preparations; going into the snowfields means going into an unknown land. 

 The exploration of Hyperborea began in 1882, when experienced Danish explorers, using the skills they had acquired on expeditions to Greenland and the Arctic Icecap, ventured into the snowy wastelands. Both the Germans and the Russians soon became interested when they read the Danes' reports and they soon sent their own teams into Hyperborea. During the 1880s there has been five major expeditions, which each has contributed significantly to expand human knowledge of the area. 

 1882 The First Danish Expedition: This expedition, sponsored by Copenhagen University and led by the famous Arctic explorer Dr Poul Hartwigsen, consisted of ten scientists and ten Eskimo frontiersmen from the Danish territory of Greenland. The Danes arrived in Syrtis Major, travelled by canal to the small city of Polodaar and established their base there. The purpose of the first expedition was to conduct an aerial survey of Hyperborea and try to make large-scale topographic maps. Since Denmark did not have any steam flyers on Mars, the expedition chartered an armed Polodaari merchant kite. For ground work, the Danes brought dogsleighs, driven by the Eskimos and pulled by huskie dogs, a combination that proved to be a success on the Hyperborean snowcap. Among the discoveries were the Kong Christian mountains, named in honor of the reigning Danish monarch. The Danes also established very good relations with Prince Nodoon XXIX of Polodaar and the scientists were granted the status of "court scholars" as a favour for educating the Prince's children about Earth. 

 1883 The Second Danish Expedition: Only three of the Danish scientists returned to Earth when the first expedition was finished. The others, including the Eskimos, stayed in Polodaar and prepared the second Hyperborean expedition. Its purpose was to survey the flora and fauna of the region. The team was augmented by four zoologists and botanists arriving from Earth in early 1883. The major animals and common plants became properly classified. When this expedition was finished, the Danes returned to Earth, carrying gifts from Prince Nodoon to King Christian IX of Denmark, and preserved species of the flora and fauna. Dr Hartwigsen was awarded the Order of the Dannebrog by his king in recognition of the scientific success of the team. The findings of the two expeditions were published as a series of books in German by Copenhagen University in 1884-87, immediately gaining the attention of scholars worldwide, even though the coverage of Hyperborea was far from complete. 

 1886 The Russian Expedition: It is said that the Russian expedition surveyed the mineral resources of of the Kong Christian range, but very little has been made public about its composition or mission. Transport was by a zeppelin from the Russian navy and, as far as can be judged from independent reports, the military escort was remarkably big. The findings were never published. 

 1887 The German Expedition: The German expedition was led by Dr Eberhard Franke from Heidelberg University and had its base in the German-dominated city of Dioscuria. It consisted of twelve scientists and 20 Bavarian mountaineer soldiers. Unlike the Danish, who had relied on traditional Eskimo ways to survive in Hyperborea, the Germans had a modern technological approach to the polar environment. The expedition was equipped with many new-fangled devices, whose capabilities would be tested in the exacting climate, including petroleum-powered electrical generators, a steam-driven snow-crawling vehicle (also using a petroleum derivative as combustible), and various glaciological tools to investigate the thickness and composition of the Hyperborean glaciers. Air travel was by a Dioscurian armed merchant kite. The expedition was an total disaster and returned to its base after only a few weeks in the wilderness. Somewhere in Hyperborea the Germans encountered a hitherto unknown foe, which slew at least 13 humans and eight Martians under circumstances that have not yet been made public. The German governor in Dioscuria has done his best to place a lid on the matter. (However, a rumor talking of a terrible "Boreal Hound" haunting the icy wastes of the glacier zone has spread among humans.) Whether the Germans plan to go back north is not known at the present. 

1888 The Third Danish Expedition: Dr Hartwigsen and his Eskimo frontiersmen returned to Polodaar with a group of anthropologists to study the nomadic Hill Martian tribes roaming the outskirts of Hyperborea. The Danes were gladly received by Prince Nodoon. After extensive preparations, they went into the wilderness in mid-1888 and returned to Polodaar in early 1889. There the scientists are compiling their data and planning for their next journey in early 1890. The Danes have recently published some articles in the English newspapers of Syrtis Lapis, mentioning, among other things, Hill Martian rumours of human, probably Russian, atrocities against Hyperborean nomads. The Russian charge-d'affaires in Syrtis Major calls these reports "baseless slander originating from ignorant savages and propagated by sensationalist, irresponsible journalists".

Weather: The Hyperborean weather is always unpredictable. On a clear and sunny day, you may suddenly be hit by very bad weather. An explorer must always prepare for the worst possible circumstances to survive. There is rarely snowfall in the glacier zone. Instead, hard winds may whip up the surface snow layer, creating something known as a white-out. The air is filled with miniscule snow particles and vision is limited to a few yards. During a white-out you can get lost even though you are within 50 feet of your camp. For that reason, explorers travelling on foot prefer to have everyone connected by rope, so that no one unintentionally strays away during a sudden white-out. 

 Clothing: Proper clothing is essential to survival. When the temperature falls below freezing, an unprotected human or Martian will perish quickly. An experienced polar traveller dresses like an Eskimo: boots, pants, mittens, and a long cloak with hood, all made from the furs of Arctic or Hyperborean animals, eg polar bear, wolverine, or brunk. Under this, he wears several layers of wool clothes to minimize heat loss through radiation or convection. 

Guides: Native gudies are essential, since they are the only ones that know Hyperborea well. The local Hill Martian hunters are skilled and reasonably honest. 

The experiences of the 19th century explorers of Earth's polar regions, e.g. Nordenskiöld, Amundsen, Perry, Scott, Nansen, and Shackleton, have been well documented. There are many books, both by the explorers themselves and by scholars, about their travels and research in the Artic and Antarctica. Such books will be excellent sources for the moods and hardships of Hyperborea. 

Copyright © 1996 Anders Blixt
Space: 1889 is Frank Chadwick's registered trademark for his game of Victorian Era space-faring