Earth's Oceans and Deserts Help (page 3)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Apr 25, 2014


Antarctica is a huge ice cap centered at the Earth’s south geographic pole. All the continental land mass, with the exception of a small peninsula that reaches northward toward South America, is covered by water ice throughout the year. This ice extends offshore into the sea for a considerable distance in some places.

It is April, early autumn in the Earth’s southern hemisphere. We are concerned about the possibility of high winds upsetting our craft and low temperatures straining our life-support systems if we land on the ice cap itself. We therefore decide to land at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula that juts northward. This is not only the northernmost point on the continent, but it is largely surrounded by ocean, which, we hope, would keep temperatures from dropping too low.

As we approach the surface, it becomes apparent that this landing is going to make our North Atlantic excursion seem tame by comparison. We see snow (small flakes of water ice) rushing horizontally along the surface, driven by a wind of hurricane force. When we land, a gust almost knocks our craft off its landing gear and onto its side. Despite this wind, small black-and-white bipedal animals, looking like birds but acting more like bipedal ant children, run around, seemingly unaffected by the tempest. They jump in and out of the water, and some of them waddle up to our vessel and then stand there watching us, as if they expect us to come out and play in the water with them. We reject this option. The temperature is –37°C (–35°F).

The gale increases steadily. We decide to return to the main ship before the storm plucks our landing vessel up and rolls it across the bleak, rocky terrain. It never crosses our minds to venture outside into these conditions, which seem, despite the hospitable atmosphere, more severe than the worst storms we have ever seen on Sol 4 (Mars). Thus we blast off, struggling to maintain stability, and we are relieved when we reach the stratosphere and spot our main ship, the Dragon , as a bright dot in the sky.

Sahara Desert

The only characteristics that the Sahara Desert shares with Antarctica are wind and dryness. In every other respect the two places are so different that it is hard to believe that they exist on the same planet.

We land at high noon on sandy, rolling terrain that looks like certain parts of Mars but with fewer rocks and boulders. The atmospheric temperature is 49°C (120°F) and rising. There is little wind, but the large dunes give away the fact that strong winds blow regularly in the area. The sky is hazy blue, pinkish near the horizon, again reminiscent of Mars.

By late afternoon, the temperature reaches a peak of 53°C (127°F), which we on Epsilon Eridani 2 consider ideal. The Sun, which has passed the zenith, sets in a ruddy cloud that again reminds us of home. The temperature quickly drops, and a brisk wind comes up. By midnight the temperature is 17°C (63°F), and in the predawn hours it drops to 14°C (57°F). We attribute this large day-night temperature differential to the high altitude of the site we have selected and to the fact that sand does not retain heat very well.

Just before liftoff at sunrise, we see tracks in the sand that appear to have been made by four-legged animals. However, no life is in sight, and we have been strictly warned to avoid the risk of contact with the bipedal ants. According to our Earth sociology books, it is not unknown in the Sahara Desert to see bipedal ants riding four-legged, long-necked animals.

As we blast off, in the distance I see objects moving slowly across the sand. I get my hand telescope and take a magnified look. There is a scene out of a picture book I saw about Earth when I was a child: Four Homo sapiens , each riding a four-legged, long-necked, hump-backed animal! I am astounded. Who would have guessed that the bipedal ants of the planet Earth have progressed to such a level of sophistication that they employ nonmechanized, nonpolluting modes of transportation? I expected, if I saw any life at all in the Sahara, to see them riding crazily around in four-wheeled, internal-combustion-propelled vehicles, tearing up what few plants manage to survive in that environment. Maybe the bipedal ants are not as barbaric as we have supposed.


From what we have seen of Earth, it is a stormy, desolate place. We deliberately chose regions where intelligent life would not likely be found. However, based on these observations, it is hard to imagine how any place on Earth could allow humans to build a civilization without great struggle and sacrifice. The bipedal ants must cooperate closely to build and maintain their anthills. But how can we know what these anthills actually are, what they do, and why they exist until we can visit one of them?

We only looked at three places on Earth, and this is not a sufficient sampling to know the nature of the planet as a whole. Perhaps there are fields of green plants, or undamaged forests, or snowy mountains with small settlements where the bipedal ants can revel in their surroundings and take time to enjoy the art of living. Maybe there are clean lakes and rivers and windy, empty prairies with small individual dwellings separated by enough distance so their occupants do not become mentally and physically deranged. We have heard rumors of such places, and our telescopic observations indicate that they might exist. For now, however, we must content ourselves to visit only desolate regions. We have been told by our security agencies that were these bipedal ants to encounter us, they might think we had come to invade them and react with violence. Even if they did not fear us, they might capture and analyze us, as if we were created by the Cosmos for no other purpose than to arouse and then satisfy their curiosity.

Practice problems of this concept can be found at: The Planet Earth Practice Problems

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