The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape
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The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape

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The Topography of Mars

The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape

The surface of the Red Planet is full of surprises.

While the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest are both impressive features on Earth, they are nothing next to Valles Marineris and Olympus Mons, their epic Martian counterparts.

Even more extraordinary, the overall difference between the highest and lowest point on Mars is 19 miles (31 km), whereas just 12 miles (20 km) separates the summit of Mount Everest from the bottom of the Mariana Trench on Earth.

This week’s map comes to us from Reddit user /hellofromthemoon, who carefully laid out the terrain of Mars in awesome detail.

Take a look…

Lay of the Land

Mars can be divided into two major regions, separated by a ridge of mountains roughly around the planet’s middle.

On the north side are lowlands that have been shaped by lava flows, creating a surface dominated by large plains. Meanwhile, the southern hemisphere is mountainous, with many meteorite impact craters, some of which stretch for hundreds of kilometers.

The Plains Game

The plains of Mars fall into two categories: the planitia (Latin for “plains”) and the maria (Latin for “seas”). The latter type is named after the sea because these regions appeared to be under water in the eyes of early astronomers. But actually, the surfaces of these regions are covered with many rocks, making them look darker to the eye.

The second type of plains are the planitia, and they account for vast areas covered by sand rich in iron oxide. The strong winds that blow the sand and dust around can change the configuration of the plains, forming new patterns on the surface of Mars. However, the planet’s features remain relatively unchanged over time.

One of the largest plains is the Utopia Planitia (Latin for “Nowhere Land Plain”) impact basin. This giant impact crater lies within a larger lava plain. With an estimated diameter of 3,300 km, Utopia Planitia is the largest recognized impact basin in the solar system.

As Above, so Below

The northern and southern hemispheres are vastly different from one another on Mars, and such a stark difference is unlike any other planet in the solar system. Patterns of internal magma flow could have caused the variation, but some scientists think it is the result of Mars taking one or several major impacts.

About 4.5 billion years ago, Mars formed from the collection of rocks that circle the sun before they formed the planets. Over time, the red planet’s molten masses differentiated into a core, a mantle, and an outer crust.

Understanding how the red planet’s topography changes over time is a crucial step in grasping how the planet formed. That is why NASA launched the InSight Mars lander on May 5, 2019. This probe will listen for vibrations deep within the Martian crust to further understand the composition of the planet.

Site Selection

Understanding the topography of Mars is critical for any mission to the planet, including the selection of a site for a potential colony. There are three basic criteria for picking a manned mission landing site:

  1. A spot that is sustainable in terms of water, energy generation, and building materials.
  2. A spot that is scientifically interesting for a long mission.
  3. A spot that is safe to land.

Brian Hynek, a planetary scientist and Director of the Center for Astrobiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, offers five potential landing sites:

  1. Outer edge of Mars’ North polar ice cap
  2. Deep canyon of Valles Marineris
  3. Martian “glaciers” in the Hellas Basin near Mars’ mid-latitudes
  4. Arabia Terra
  5. Martian lava tubes and caves

With growing information from every new mission to Mars, a greater picture will help guide future human activity and ambitions on the planet.

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Green

Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

This detailed map looks at where humans have (and haven’t) modified Earth’s terrestrial environment. See human impact in incredible detail.

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human impact on earths surface

Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

With human population on Earth approaching 8 billion (we’ll likely hit that milestone in 2023), our impact on the planet is becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.

Our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution are all forms of stress we place on the natural world. This map, by David M. Theobald et al., shows just how much of the planet we’ve now modified. The researchers estimate that 14.6% or 18.5 million km² of land area has been modified – an area greater than Russia.

Defining Human Impact

Human impact on the Earth’s surface can take a number of different forms, and researchers took a nuanced approach to classifying the “modifications” we’ve made. In the end, 10 main stressors were used to create this map:

  1. Built-Up Areas: All of our cities and towns
  2. Agriculture: Areas devoted to crops and pastures
  3. Energy and extractive resources: Primarily locations where oil and gas are extracted
  4. Mines and quarries: Other ground-based natural resource extraction, excluding oil and gas
  5. Power plants: Areas where energy is produced – both renewable and non-renewable
  6. Transportation and service corridors: Primarily roads and railways
  7. Logging: This measures commodity-based forest loss (excludes factors like wildfire and urbanization)
  8. Human intrusion: Typically areas adjacent to population centers and roads that humans access
  9. Natural systems modification: Primarily modifications to water flow, including reservoir creation
  10. Pollution: Phenomenon such as acid rain and fog caused by air pollution

The classification descriptions above are simplified. See the methodology for full descriptions and calculations.

A Closer Look at Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

To help better understand the level of impact humans can have on the planet, we’ll take a closer look three regions, and see how the situation on the ground relates to these maps.

Land Use Contrasts: Egypt

Almost all of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile and its delta, making it an interesting place to examine land use and human impact.

egypt land use impact zone

The towns and high intensity agricultural land following the river stand out clearly on the human modification map, while the nearby desert shows much less impact.

Intensive Modification: Netherlands

The Netherlands has some of the heavily modified landscapes on Earth, so the way it looks on this map will come as no surprise.

netherlands land use impact zone

The area shown above, Rotterdam’s distinctive port and surround area, renders almost entirely in colors at the top of the human modification scale.

Resource Extraction: West Virginia

It isn’t just cities and towns that show up clearly on this map, it’s also the areas we extract our raw materials from as well. This mountainous region of West Virginia, in the United States, offers a very clear visual example.

west virginia land use impact zone

The mountaintop removal method of mining—which involves blasting mountains in order to retrieve seams of bituminous coal—is common in this region, and mine sites show up clearly in the map.

You can explore the interactive version of this map yourself to view any area on the globe. What surprises you about these patterns of human impact?

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Politics

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.

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The World Hunger Map

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.

Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.

The World Hunger Map

After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.

The Fight to Feed the World

The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.

The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.

But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.

Country % Population Affected by HungerPopulation (millions)Region
Afghanistan 🇦🇫93%40.4Asia
Somalia 🇸🇴68%12.3Africa
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫61%19.8Africa
South Sudan 🇸🇸60%11.0Africa
Mali 🇲🇱60%19.1Africa
Sierra Leone 🇸🇱55%8.2Africa
Syria 🇸🇾55%18.0Middle East
Niger 🇳🇪55%22.4Africa
Lesotho 🇱🇸50%2.1Africa
Guinea 🇬🇳48%12.2Africa
Benin 🇧🇯47%11.5Africa
Yemen 🇾🇪44%30.0Middle East

Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.

Wasted Leftovers

Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.

According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.

All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Solving Global Hunger

While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.

Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.

But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.

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