The Making of
the Red, Green & Blue Marsmap.

I've been drawing maps ever since I found out how to hold crayons. The most important project during my primary school days featured Sunland, an archipelago in the North Atlantic, where it only rained on Thursday nights. At highschool I went into terraforming Venus, naming rivers, mountains and islands after favourite girls and rockbands. No need to say that geography and history were my favourite subjects. After this history the choice to go studying architecture and urban design felt like a more or less logical one. Over the years however the emphasis shifted to much smaller scales than the countries and planets of my childhood.

Reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars-trilogy woke up a part of me that I'd almost forgotten. After finishing the three books I just couldn't return to the boring life in the 20th century. I had to go and terraform Mars with my own hands. And even though I might get the longevity treatment in time ( after all, in 2050 I'm only 88...) and see it all happen with my own eyes, I couldn't wait so long.

Making a good full color map of the terraformed planet seemed to be an interesting challenge. The maps provided in the books are not bad at all, but they're very basic. They're like an Earth-map showing nothing more of the United States than the shape of the coastline, an indication of the Rocky Mountains and two or three major cities. There's hardly an indication of landscape and vegetation. It's hard too imagine from those maps that the total land area on Robinson's Mars is almost as big as on Earth (especially after the 2127 flood on the homeworld). And most of all, they're black and white instead of red, green and blue...

I took the year M-100 (AD 2219) as a kind of official date for my map. Around this year, a few years after the end of the trilogy, the conditions on the planet will be more or less stable, or so I presume.

In the three volumes a lot of information on the climate and vegetation of Mars can be found. There's a complete chapter about Sax contemplating the changing weather, the belt of deserts in the southern hemisphere and  the tundra that covers much of the southern highlands. Nirgal treks with a group of ferals from Amazonis Bay to Chryse Gulf, presumably through the forests on the northern slopes of Tharsis. Maya and Michel sail from Dumartheray to Odessa via the Grand Canal and Minus One Island. Tyrrhena Massif, Nirgal's home during ten years, is being described as a "precipitation island", like there will probably be more in the dry belt in the south. Already in the 2130's, when Nirgal flies over South-Elysium this area is nicknamed "the mediterranean of Mars", whereas the northeast of that semi-continent is much dryer and colder. The polar peninsula is obviously not entirely covered with snow and ice, as Sax is wandering there through the fellfields.

But even in 2400 pages not everything can be told. A lot of questions remain unanswered, a lot of areas uncovered. Another problem is that Robinson's maps don't completely match with each other. I tried to project the map of the Chryse Gulf area on the global map in the Blue volume, but I couldn't make it fit, no mather how much I stretched, scaled and skewed. The reason is probably that until quite late in the 22nd century the exact position of the final coastline remains unclear.

During the early stages of the terraforming a lot of genetically engineered plants and animals are used: Ann gets almost killed by a polar bear that can freely walk around while she still has to wear a CO2-mask, and near Shining Mesa, where Nirgal stays for a short while on his quest for Hiroko, there's a forest with balsa's and other cold-hardened tropical trees. This can be enough to get any sensible person completely disorientated: any kind of vegatation could be found anywhere. Imagine palm trees on the Northpole or tundra around the equator... Robinson doesn't mention any of these extremes, so I assume that in AD 2219/M-100 vegetation will generally follow familiar habits: pine forests in areas that are high or far from the sea or the equator, broadleaf forests in more moderate areas. Mediterranean vegetation will mainly be found in relatively small seaside areas just north of the equator; the cold southern aphelion winter would freeze any palm tree further south. Rainforest and other tropical vegatation is limited to manipulated mesoclimates like the crater Zo's coop maintains in the north of the Xanthe subcontinent. Rather large areas will have a tundra landscape that's similar to Northern Canada or Tibet. Also snow and ice have a strong presence on the once red planet; townships circumnavigating Mars will probably have a hard time avoiding icebergs. High elevations, protected by the constitutional 5 kilometre breathable limit, will resemble the primal pre-human landscape, but these will be relatively small areas: even the "saddle" between Pavonis and Arsia, at an elevation of nine kilometres, is invaded by plant life (it's here that Sax has his mysterious meeting with Hiroko). Finally, I assumed there will be a kind of steppe or prairie as a transition zone between the deserts and the wetter areas.

Finding a good map of Mars in its current state took some time. You can get detailed images from any area on the planet at different locations on the Internet but global maps seem to be more difficult. Finally David Larsen at United States Geological Survey provided me with a beautifull map that he originally made for the Babylon 5 television series. It was small enough not to fit on my harddisc but big enough to feel like John Boone in a low orbit.

Mixing my highschool knowledge, Robinson's indications and Larsen's map was actually a tremendous amount of work, but it was fun. With one click of the mouse I determined the looks of areas the size of Europe. One wrong click was enough to flood the whole planet, another wrong click and oops! pine forests all over the North Sea! God bless the bloke who invented "undo"...

I don't consider these maps definitive ones. New data from Mars Global Surveyor, comments from the Author himself, or enhancement of my computer's capability could stimulate me to make improved versions. If I were an eco-court menber, sometime in the early 23rd century, I would not base my judgements on these maps. But I'm convinced that they provide a good base for planning your 2219 holiday, and further dreaming.

Frans Blok, Rotterdam, January 8th 1998

Addendum, July 5th 1999

So far I didn't get a reaction from Kim Stanley Robinson himself, but the two other events I mentioned: new data from Mars Global Surveyor and improvements in my hard- and software, took place. In the meantime I also developed a naming system for months and weekdays on Mars. I combined all these things in a new site, the Darian Defrost Calendar on which you're invited to take a look.