Endless Blue – Week 23 – The Vastness   6 comments

Aerology

The Vastness

The oceans of Elqua cocoon the world in a thick, cool embrace that nurtures a complexity of life unparalleled.  The majority of the intelligent races are content to swim in their mostly borderless world, encapsulated in their blue underwater haven.  But there are few — those with inquisitive minds and more daring natures, that seek to peer beyond the one border no one dare to cross: past the surface, into the Vastness.

Above the waves, existence becomes alien.  No longer do the waters envelop you in their comforting currents.  Instead there is only openness, expansive nothing, the vastness of above.  This is a strange world of waterless blue expanse filled with light that slowly corrupts into inky blackness.  When sudden and violent storms rage, their crackling anger fluorescing the sky with whipping curtains of color.  It is  here the Maelstrom resides, its year-long howling fury screeching across the globe as it parts the turbulent waters like a finger scratching in the silt mud, as if searching for some long lost dire need.

The Vastness is an emotionally charged term for everything that is not below the surface of Elqua’s oceans.  Through constant religious propaganda anything “upward” has become tainted with images of damnation and suffering, that life above the waves is aberration and suffering.  There is much to be said of that fact — what little land breaks the surf is a teeming jungle of savage creatures with the sole drive to feed on the lesser being.  The most basic survival law is to eat while not being eaten, and that is monumental achievement in the lush islands that speckle the Endless Blue.

It was from glimpsing these isolated pinpricks of land that Seamus Lorwynn, famed explorer, first pondered the origin of species and brought a new way of thinking, kicking and screaming in protest, to the world of the Endless Blue.

Climate

Climate under the waves is a function of the Gulf Stream as it draws cold water away from the polar regions and distributes it in the areas between the Tropics of Kraken and Cetacean.  Cyclically, it then draws the tepid, phytoplankon enriched waters from the tropics to the temperate regions, and finally back to the poles, where it serves as the basis of all food chains.

Above the waves, the climate is much more stable, with tropic, temperate, and tundra zones very clearly defined.  With such great swaths of water separating the peppered specks of land, climate zones tend to stay very homogenized and ubiquitous.  The banded circulatory air currents keep most equitorial zones an amalgamous equivalent, with variation more the result of the evolution of life forms on land than from the weather itself.  Biomes are predictable to almost the degree of latitude, with altitude being the only variant effect on any particular island.  There is less erosion in this environment than under the sea, and despite planetary age rocks and stone formations have kept a sharper edge.  The sand that makes up the shore is a product of aquatic erosion, the eons of tidal waters lapping at the exposed ground wearing away sediment and  detritus.

This does not preclude the existence of air currents — a Jet Stream most certainly does exist, but it does not meander over the world, tracing edges of continents and borders of mountain ranges.  Few surface objects affect its constant rolling around the planet, with the volcanic islands of the Spine of the World being the most numerous, and the Maelstrom being the most visual.  These introduce enough agitation into the otherwise calm climate zones to produce a variation of seasonal weather, such as monsoons.  This in turn have, over time, produced landscapes from the hyperhumid to the arid, and has given rise to Elqua’s own rainforests, steppes, deserts, and even tundras.  Though rarely are more than two types of terrain ever found on a single island; such a limited space cannot support that level of minute variation without another source of interference contributing to the formation.

Weather

Usually, the weather of the Vastness is relatively calm when compared to our world.   A quick comparison between the Earth and Elqua illustrates the huge difference in storm systems between the two worlds.  This is primarily due to the nearly glass-smooth surface of the water.

Ninety-five percent of Elqua is covered in oceans, leaving only 5% to land mass.  Land mass contributes significantly to the formation of weather patterns by causing turbulence in air currents and providing surface areas of negative albedo for cooler air to shed heat.  By comparisson, our world has mighty continents that shape the flow of air around the land mass, and the variation of land altitudes — from the deepest valley to the tallest mountain top — further adds friction and movement to the atmospheric fluidity.

Since Elqua is comparatively a smooth round ball, air currents are not as dramatically excited by obstacles.  The tidal motion of the world, though complex due to the three moons, is essentially less choppy, and storm systems will instead tend to form bands around the planet such as those of gas giants than swirling vortexes between high and low pressure fronts.

This is not to say there are no differences in temperature.  There most certainly are.  Elqua is tilted on its axis, and rotates enough to have a day/night cycle.  This means the hemisphere closest to the sun during daytime absorbs more radiant heat from the world’s sun, while the opposite point of the globe sheds heat quite rapidly.  This intake and release of sunlight-born heat is exacerbated by the albedo of the waters and the insulation of the ozone layer.

Remember how much more of Elqua is covered in water?  Nearly 19/20ths are covered in pristine waters.  Well, water has a interesting property called albedo, which means the amount of light reflected away instead of absorbed.  While water has a very low albedo, the waves formed by the tidal motion and deep sea currents cause light that shines down on the ocean to become scattered.  This is the familiar “glinting” that waves produce to the observer — light that would normally be absorbed by the water as heat energy is being reflected back into the atmosphere.  With such a large surface of water to undulate and scatter light,  a much larger portion of light is reflected back into the atmosphere.

The southern polar ice-cap compounds this system.  Ice and snow are high on the scale of albedo expressing materials, so the southern polar region contributes to the heat cycle of the planet.  This is observable by the yearly melting of the ice-caps, where ancient rhodoarchaea bloom as they are freed from their cryogenic slumber, flowing down the newly created arctic rivers in a bright red flow, like a waterfalls of blood.  This jarring coversion of heat to melt the ice results in a lowering of both the gulf (water) and jet (air) streams as cold air and water seep into the heated areas.  As the cycle rotates, precipitation covers the south pole in fresh water, that freezes into ice and restores the extent of the Antarctic covered in ice to previous levels.

What keeps all this heat from escaping back into space is the ozone layer, intermittent cloud cover, and the strange over-abundance of noble gasses in Elqua’s atmosphere.  The lower noble gases — helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon — make up a significantly larger proportion of the Vastness than they do in our own atmosphere.  Helium, for example, is abundant, at nearly 1% of Elqua’s atmosphere (as contrasted by the 18 parts per million in our own air).  Argon, which in our world is .9% of the atmosphere, is over double that on Elqua — an amazing 2.1%.  The rest of these inert gases exist in a range from 3x to 5x the predominance as that of Earth.

Since helium is lighter than oxygen — the mainstay of either world’s air — it will rise in the atmosphere, taking its potential energy (as heat) into the upper stratosphere.  The helium is then dragged along the ozone layer by air currents to the gaps in the ozone above either global polar region, and there shed their heat.  The solar winds that form the planet’s auroras drag it downward, heightening the colorful curtain effect so much it is visible in pure daylight.  The electrical storms that suddenly spring to life and rage unyieldingly until spent cause the turbulence necessary to disperse the now cooled helium back into the weather fronts and spread it across the globe.  The effects of the other noble gases are similar, but due to their atomic weight provide more impact on the redistribution of the atmosphere than the dispersion of heat.  As a side effect, it provides some strains of aerostat a constant source of light from which to photosynthesize, and a select few the potential energy to maintain their bioluminescence.

Beyond the Vastness

Perhaps the most blasphemous act of the godless is the realization that there is more beyond the strangely colored aurorae that dance at the poles.  The three moons of Elqua — Oberus, Urowes, and Ymaris — are well known by the scholars of the intelligent races, even if they hide the suspected effect those satellites have on a rare condition called lycanthrope.  Beyond this trinity of heavenly bodies, the so-called “stars” and the inherent repercussions of their existence, have frightened and angered the devout to very extreme reactions.  It only cements for the them that the godless’ twisted fascination with the damnable Vastness is a sign of their degenerate and perverted ideals, and should be stamped out before they corrupt the right minded citizens of the Known World.  Luckily, one burgeoning mind somehow broke free of religious dogma and wrote rhetoric to gift the Endless Blue with a whole new paradigm of cosmology.

Even as a small child, Endira Mundi was fascinated by the hushed stories of twinkling lights in the night sky.  She braved potential ostracization and even death to indulge in her adolescent fancy of star gazing.  With her wide, black eyes peeking out in abject wonder just above the slow undulation of the waves, her nimble mind soared among the clouds and aurorae during the day and danced along the glittering diamonds of far away stars at night.  Eventually as the amazement of youth waned and the intellectual curiosity of adulthood waxed, she began to catalogue the position of the stars in rudimentary arrangements she called “constellations”.  She charted the slow drift of these constellations as the seasons changed, noted the frequency of the new and full moons as their bizarre orbital paths criss-crossed the Vastness, and that gave birth to some of the higher forms of math.  It was from her preliminary notes that later astronomers deduced that the ocean-world of Elqua was perhaps twice or three-times the size as originally inferred from holy scripture.

Despite the intrinsic truth of her ideas, Endira’s adult life was one fraught with persecution and prosecution.  She faced prejudice and outright hostility in her home currents, and a near constant conflict with local laws and magistrates kept her practically poorer than a beggar.  With the eventual slaying of her family at the hands of murderous zealot Olyhydrans, she eventually fled to a hermetic life in the Lumulus Basin.  While the xenophobic Lumulus shunned her as they would any other race, there she at least could embrace the one remaining love of her life — peeking above the waves at a world so different, yet so close to her own.

Elqua's Night Sky

The Vastness: Elqua’s Night Sky

The insert in the map of the night sky shows a to-scale measurement of the depths of the Elquan oceans and the extent of the world’s atmosphere, weighted in density between cyan and white.  Almost half of the world’s atmosphere is below the 6 kilometer mark, contrasted with 99% of the atmosphere by 38 kilometers.  These blue areas are the habitat of most of the areostats, with only a rare few venturing up higher into the thinning atmosphere.  The air finally thins to the point it is virtually a vacuum somewhere around 110 kilometers up, and at 650 km from the surface of the planet’s waters the last vestiges of the stratosphere exist simply as random molecules.  By comparison, the 12 kilometers from sea level to the bottom of the Shelf seems rather shallow, until you realize that at those abyssal depths the weight of the water crushing in on top you is only acerbated by the downward pressure of that much atmosphere.

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