GEOGRAPHERS OF MARS I:
MATCHING MARS AND BARSOOM
A NEW APPROACH
Attempts to Map Barsoom
Mars and Barsoom
Toonolian Marshes and Valles Marinis
Gathol Seamount and Elysium Monte
Hills and Tharsis Montes
Throxeus and Forgotten
Torquas and Hellas
Omean and the
South Polar Bulge
Other Areas On
Mars and Barsoom
Iss, Valley Dor, The Lost Sea of Korus and Argyre Basin
Valley Dor Really at the South Pole
For ease of appreciating this effort, we recommend that the reader
reference maps of the current Mars. There are of course, many
maps of Mars on the internet showing the planet in a variety of fascinating
ways, and I highly recommend browsing through them. I shan't
violate their copyright by pirating them. They're the work of smarter
and finer people than I. But I don't hesitate to refer you to a few...
The first is of course the satellite photography maps developed
by various space probe's cameras, which contain neatly labelled features
and regions. It can be found here:
The second is the MOLA Laser Altimeter Topographic Map of Mars,
which depicts Mars through a series of false colour elevations.
Lowlands are depicted through deepening shades of blue. Intermediate
elevations are shown as greens, yellows and oranges. Highlands
are depicted as reds and browns with volcanic peaks showing white.
It can be found here:
Just for the record, there’s a topographic map with features identified.
But it’s not really interactive, and the level of detail isn’t all that
great. But it might stand some convenient cross referencing.
Ready? Keep them handy, and let’s go.
Barsoomian Geography is a tricky thing with many pitfalls for
the unwary. Although distances between cities are often given
in Martian measurements or travel time, there is a complete lack of an
adequate reference point. Exum is described as the Barsoomian
Greenwich, but where is Exum? Its location is, at best, imprecise.
Certainly Earthly cartography of Mars does not use Exum as a starting point.
It must also be remembered that the original narrators were translating
Martian terms and concepts, and Martian geography into English.
As John Carter and others discovered to the chagrin, even tiny errors could
cumulatively result in major deviations. Accordingly, we must
expect some degree of error in translating Martian measurements to Earth
terms. By the same token a reference to an equator may be taken as
either a specific point, a hypothetical midline of the planet, or as a
broad regional belt.
To render travel distances and relationships on a circular globe
involves complex referential mathematics. Current Terrestrial
society uses a global system of latitude and longitude, but there are hypothetically
other systems. We do not know to what extent a Martian system
matches the terrestrial system, or what degrees of errors may creep in
having even educated laymen translate one system into another.
ATTEMPTS TO MAP BARSOOM
It is acknowledged that Edgar Rice Burroughs drew crude maps to
locate his John Carter’s adventures, he was not a cartographer. As
to his geographical skills, one might look to the Tarzan books which deal
with the Earthly and well mapped Africa. Even setting aside endless
lost cities, hidden valleys and inaccessible regions, Burroughs grasp of
geography on Earth was occasionally loose, one must assume the same applies
Moreover, his work constitutes entirely a second hand account.
He was not the source, rather, he related tales told by John Carter.
Accordingly, as a dedicated and prolific scribe, he may be forgiven for
the occasional error.
In the 1940's a substantially more elaborate map was drafted,
intended to overlay ERB’s Barsoom over the map of Mars as it was known
then. That original Map of Mars has turned out to be highly
inaccurate, and so the superimposition of Barsoomian locations must be
taken as equally inaccurate. In fact, the most compelling thing
about the 1940's map is that it was an attempt, and it was clearly ERB’s
intention to superimpose Barsoom onto Martian geography.
A second attempt to superimpose Barsoomian onto Martian geography
took place in 1998. It represents an astonishing amount of
work, but sadly, it lead the author to conclude that Barsoom and Mars were
two different and unrelated worlds. His map contained numerous
anomalies such as placing the Toonolian marshes in the Tharsis mound, surrounded
by and atop shield volcanoes - just about the most unlikely spot on the
One major mistake of these previous maps was to assume that the
central points of reference were the same. The Barsoomian Globe
has Exum as its zero reference point. That’s pretty damned arbitrary.
The current Martian maps are not based on a fictional Exum, but start with
their own arbitrary reference points. There’s no chance of
those reference points matching.
So, the bottom line is that in attempting to match Barsoomian
and Martian geography, we have to consider Burroughs maps, latitudes and
longitudes and distances as merely rough guides, and not definitive points.
And we cannot make the mistake of assuming that terrestrial mapping of
Mars uses the same reference points.
by Larry Ivie for Readers Guide to Barsoom and Amtor
MARS AND BARSOOM
In this new approach, we would instead attempt to establish reference
points between the two planets geography. Much of John Carter’s
descriptions and locations refer to Barsoomian cities, which, although
picturesque, are of little assistance to us. Similarly, visits
to the north and south pole are of little help.
But along the way, Carter and the other narrators have encountered
a handful of significant geological landmarks prominent enough that their
counterparts should show up on Mars. Principal among
these are the Toonolian Marshes, the Artolian mountains, and Gathol.
Less significant, but also potentially relevant are the forests of Invak
TOONOLIAN MARSHES AND VALLES MARINIS
Toonolian Marshes: -- 1800 earth miles of marsh stretching
between Phundahl on the west to Toonol on the east, narrow winding waterways
connect small bodies of water, the largest of which is a few acres in area;
marsh, jungle, and water, dotted by rocky islands which may be the remains
of an ancient mountain range, often forested by thick jungle. The area
is densely populated by "fierce beasts and terrifying reptiles, by remnants
of savage aboriginal tribes long isolated." Phundahl:
west end of the Toonolian Marshes; located near broken canyons and hills
containing tracts of sompus trees to the southwest; continually at war
What are the Toonolian Marshes? They’re one of the
last vestiges of wet Mars, of the ancient Martian oceans which once covered
the planet. Are they a sea bed? Other Marshes,
around Gathol, for instance, are associated with the remnants of Martian
seas, but most of the ocean beds are already dry. Only the deepest
portions would still contain even a little moisture. But the Toonolian
Marshes aren’t described as being in a particularly deep lowland.
A better explanation might be that the Marshes sit upon and are fed by
deep sea canyons still filled with water. But what canyons they must
be. The Marshes are a band stretching 1800 miles, suggesting a truly
titanic canyon complex. Such a canyon complex, even dried, would
remain and be one of the most spectacular features of the planet.
Is there any such feature on our Mars?
Yes, there is. Valles Marinis, a 3000 mile long complex
of canyons up to eight miles deep, one of Mars most spectacular and prominent
features. Only the Valles Marinis canyon complex would the
one of the last great harbours of the dying martian seas. It’s
immense stagnant depths and restricted surface area would prevent its water
from sublimating as quickly as in the fast flowing, shallow seas.
The Toonolian marshes are nothing less than a rain forest complex in and
surrounding the Valles Marinis aquifer.
But wait: Valles Marinis is 3000 miles long, the Toonolian
marshes are only a ‘mere’ 1800 miles. There’s 1200 miles missing.
So there are. The Valles Marinis complex itself is in a process of
dessication and the Toonolian marshes have been shrinking.
At the west end, Phundahl is located near broken canyons and in forested
hills, clearly a description of the drying end of the Valles Marinis.
One would expect to go further west, or perhaps further east,
and find other pockets of forest or greenery, in emptying sections of Valles
Marinis. And in fact, the Kaolian forest may be an elevated
and partially dry seciton of Valles Marinis.
GATHOL SEAMOUNT AND ELYSIUM MONTE
Next up is Gathol. NW of Helium. Titled the oldest inhabited
city of Barsoom. Gathol began as an island in Throxeus and as the ocean
disappeared, the city built down the emerging seamount. Surrounded by salt
marshes, Gathol has never been conquered though many have tried to take
possession of the fabulous diamond mines beneath the city.
Now, the city of Gathol is not nearly so important as its location:
A seamount island previously located in a large Ocean. From
what we can tell, Gathol is a unique or nearly unique city on Barsoom,
precisely because of its nature as a former seamount.
A solitary mountain is undoubtedly a shield volcano, found on
Mars, but exceedingly rare. A solitary shield volcano in a
lowland area should stick out like a sore thumb.
Well, let’s just go back to our topographic map and look around,
shall we? And what do we find? In the middle of
the northern lowlands, the hypothetical location of one of our major Martian
oceans, we have a lone shield volcano Elysium Monte, with its peak stretching
some 10,000 to 16,000 meters above the surrounding landscape. Here
is our candidate for Gathol.
And Elysium Monte is broadly the right distances and relationship
to Valles Marinis as Gathol is to the Toonolian Marshes.
ARTOLIAN HILLS AND THARSIS MONTES
But let’s not forget about mountains, shall we. There
is another important group of mountains around Duhor. Snow Capped
Artolian Mountains. 10,500 haads NW of Helium. 7,800 haads west of
Toonolian Marshes on western side of Artolian Hills (aka Snow Clad Mountains).
For Mars, Tectonic activity ceased early in its history.
Without tectonic plate activity, we do not get mountains. Mountains
are reported elsewhere on Mars, but I think that we can safely say they
do not compare with Terrestrial mountains. Most Martian mountains
are probably little more than hills or sharp escarpments.
Still, the Artolian mountains have a unique feature on Mars.
They are snow capped, which suggests they might be tall enough to be actual
mountains. John Carter and others refer to the Artolians as
hills, suggesting that they may be relatively gentle rather than steep
slopes. Other features are referred to as mountains.
But there is no other reference to snow capped peaks anywhere else on Barsoom.
Are there any candidates? As a matter of fact there are.
There are a group of shield volcanoes known as Tharsis Montes on the Tharsis
bulge just to the east of Olympus Mons, and west of Valles Marinis.
Reaching heights of 12,000 meters or more above the planetary median, the
Tharsis Montes and Olympus Mons are bound to be snow covered and constitute
four out of the five major volcanoes on the planet (the fifth is Elysium
Once again, the relationships seem to work. The Tharsis
Montes are substantially to the west of Valles Marinis, as the Artolian
Hills are to the west of the Toonolian Marshes.
Our geography of Martian cities is in general agreement.
Duhor wars with Amhor. Amhor’s principal economic partners are Duhor,
Toonol and Phundahl. Phundahl is in the west of the Toonolian
Marshes, further west from Phundahl you come to the Artolian mountains,
and just west of that is Duhor.
It fits into the Barsoomian geographical features that match up
with Martian geography, and there is enough space in the Martian geographic
features to fit the Barsoomian cities.
AND FORGOTTEN OCEANS
John Carter refers to five oceans or seas on Mars, only one of
which is specifically referred to, Throxeus. Throxeus
is located in the northern hemisphere, but apart from that, its dimensions
and contours are uncertain.
A look at the topographic map of Mars shows us where an immense
northern ocean would have been. But this seems to leave us
a bit short. The topographic map shows only one potential immense
northern ocean in blue, and a couple of smaller blue spots in the southern
hemisphere. Three oceans or seas at best.
But look to the northern lowlands again. The lowlands are
divided by an immense peninsula moving up from the Tharsis area and a vast
seamount belt around Elysium. So, the northern lowlands are
divided into three great lobes which unite in the near polar region.
Hence, to Martian explorers from southern or temperate regions,
the great northern ocean would appear to be three great seas or oceans.
In the southern hemisphere of Barsoom, there are features called
the Torquas Mountains, which surround a the dry bed of a vanished body
of water called the Gulf of Torquas.
In some usages, a Gulf refers to a round sea, far larger than
a bay or lake, as in the Gulf of Mexico.
Turning to the southern hemisphere of our topographic map of Mars
we find the Hellas Planitia, an immense basin formed by a huge asteroid
strike. The basin is the deepest place on Mars, and on a wet world,
would have been the site of a great sea.
As the site of a huge asteroid strike, the Hellas area was deformed,
with high ridges or mountains, known as the Syrtis highlands, thrown up
all around it.
Thus Hellas and its jagged ring of mountains forms a fairly good
match for the former Gulf of Torquas and the ringing Torquas mountains.
Torquas, though referred to as a Gulf may well be the fourth great
sea or ocean.
And the last of the five seas? I’ll get to that.
AND THE SOUTH POLAR BULGE
Omean, the buried south polar sea might well be represented by
an immense four kilometer bulge of a portion of the south polar area.
One can imagine a geological process wherein an ancient ice cap
is covered by a layer of thousands of feet of rock and debris from a major
asteroid strike, such as the south hemisphere impacts that created Hellas
and Argyre basins.
Over time internal heat, derived from the coriolis stress of the
polar axis and geological pressure causes part of the buried ice cap to
melt forming a liquid, underground sea.
Would Omean be the fifth sea referred to by Carter?
No, unfortunately. By all evidence, it was not a part of the
known ancient Barsoomian world. The final sea still awaits
AREAS ON MARS AND BARSOOM
Are there other areas which are not manmade but which represent
significant geographic features?
There are also unnamed, but large and strikingly deep craters
in roughly the correct locations for the Valley of Kamtol in the northern
hemisphere and the Valley Hohr in the southern Hemisphere.
The Valley Hohr notably, is a crater, although referred to as a volcanic
There are the forests of Kaor and Invak, near the equator to account
for. Forests suggest microclimates where there is still enough
water in the environment to support trees.
These may represent the remains of ancient isolated seas, lakes
or bays, which have retained some of their moisture. Or they may
be remnants of the water stored in the canyon complexes which are part
of Marinis Valles.
Kaor appears to be relatively near the Toonolian marshes and may
indeed be another temperate fragment of the Valles Marinis complex.
Invak is more challenging being placed substantially to the east
of Gathol near Dusar. The most likely candidate is the Amazonas
Planitia, a sea bay of the polar ocean abutting the other side of the Tharsis
bulge and the vast Olympus Mons shield volcano.
Surrounded by highlands, backed by the immense wall of Olympus
Mons, the Amazonas Planitia is a natural collection point for moisture.
A second, less persuasive candidate is Ieidias Planitia, another
bay located south and west of Gathol near the equator. It too
might be the site of the Invak forest, or another remnant ecological zone
sustained by higher than average moisture.
ISS, VALLEY DOR, THE LOST SEA OF KORUS AND ARGYRE BASIN
The most challenging zone is Otz Mountains, surrounding the golden
cliffs, which contain Otz Valley and within it a section known as Valley
Dor, containing Lost Sea of Korus, all apparently nestling inside
one another like a series of russian dolls.
The Otz valley drains the immense river Iss from the north, and
holds the Valley of Lost souls between it and the South Pole. The
location is indistinct. The area is depicted as being at the south
pole, but this cannot be literally true.
The lost sea of Korus is, of course, the last of the five seas
of ancient Barsoom, and uniquely is, apart from the Toonolian Marshes,
the last major body of open water on the planet.
Whatever its true history, the Otz/Dor/Korus complex is home
to the unique plant men, a life form unknown elsewhere on Barsoom.
This suggest that the Otz/Dor/Korus complex may have been an extremely
isolated region, an ecological ‘island’ zone largely cut off from the rest
of the planet where such a bizarre creature might have evolved safely?
Once again, we have a candidate. Between latitude -55 and
-60, and longitude -60 and -30 in the southern hemisphere is the
Argyre Planitatae. A relatively small circular lowland, of
a quarter of a million square miles. It is bounded on the northwest
by the imposing Tharsis bulge, and to the northeast by the Syrtis plateau.
Directly above towards the equator is Valles Marinis. It is
the furthest south of any major depression or lowland, even slightly to
the south of the Hellas Planitatae.
Argyre seems to be a perfect site for Otz/Dor/Korus.
One factor is its isolation, only about 1900 miles from the south pole,
2400 miles from Valles Marinis, and 2700 miles from the Hellas Planitae,
it is the most isolated lowlands on the planet.
The network of sharp ridges surrounding it are effective candidates
for the Otz mountains. It’s location near the southeast end
of the Tharsis mound further isolates it and may have formed an atmospheric
barrier for water loss, enhanced by the Syrtis Plateau, and protected by
the high ridges/mountains surrounding it..
Above Argyre is a slender gap between the highlands, the potential
site of the river Iss which would drain from the vicinity of the Toonolian
Marshes down into the Korus. A close up examination of the
area literally allows us to trace the course of the Iss.
The Argye is slightly closer to the south pole at its lowest extremities
than Hellas. Immediately to the south, there is a separate large
shallow depression or crater, a candidate for Valley of Lost Souls, which
brings it even closer to the south pole. Argyre would be the
logical starting point for a canal project to attempt to drain water from
the south polar cap. And in fact, we have some evidence that
this may have been done, and that there is a canal/river connection between
Korus and the south polar cap through the valley of lost souls.
The Toonolian marshes have survived because of the immense depth
of the Valles Marinis. The Argyre Planitae is a much shallower feature,
shallower than the deep reaches of Hellas or the northern lowlands, but
it has managed to retain its water through a combination of features, drainage
from the south pole, drainage from the river Iss, and the geographical
isolation beween the Tharsis bulge and syrtis highlands.
VALLEY DOR REALLY AT THE SOUTH POLE?
Of course, traditionally, the Otz Mountains, Valley Dor and Lost
Sea of Korus are supposed to be located at the south pole of Barsoom.
A series of concentric bulls-eye rings surrounded by the polar ice cap.
But come on now. How is this even remotely possible.
What warms the Valley Dor? Why doesn’t the Sea of Korus freeze solid?
There are other anomalies to be found. John Carter experiences
days and nights in fairly normal succession. Well, at the absolute
bottom of the planet, assuming that its standing perfectly upright with
no axial tilt, you won’t get days or nights, just and endless waxing and
And forget about photosynthesis in a place like that.
The Otz mountains would cast permanent shadows into the Valley and the
sea would be eternally in darkness. In fact, there are places
like this on the moon, polar craters whose bottoms are eternally shadowed,
and thus are believed to contain the moon’s only water. Despite
this, the Valley Dor is one of the lushest locations on Barsoom.
Or we might have a wandering axial tilt, in which case, as on
Earth, polar days would last six months, and the inhabitants would experience
a ‘midnight sun.’ Again, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Another anomaly? John Carter from the Valley Dor observes
the passage of Barsoomian moons. No way. If these
moons are at all similar in orbit to their counterparts in this Universe,
there’s no way Carter could see them.
All of which goes to suggest that the Otz/Dor/Korus complex is
not located at the Martian south pole in the traditional sense, despite
So, how do we reconcile this? There is a solution.
On Earth, we have three different sets of poles. The magnetic poles
which wander, the poles of the axis of rotation, which are inclined and
provide the earth with seasons, and the poles of axis of revolution.
Perhaps we have a similar situation on Mars in John Carter’s time.
Perhaps the Barsoomian axis of rotation is permanently skewed or very slow
moving (compared to earth), and that the centre of the axis of rotation
is in or at the edges of the Otz/Dor/Korus complex.
If this is the case, this might explain why Carter can still see
the Moons of Barsoom, and why the complex seems central to rotation.
If the south axis is permanently inclined towards the sun would be
a normal day night cycle with plenty of light, and the possibility of a
In short, if we accept this hypthosis for Otz/Dor/Korus, or if
we merely set the whole thing aside, we’ve got an excellent set of correspondances
between real Mars and John Carter’s Barsoom, and within a fifteen or twenty
percent margin of error, everything seems to be where it should be in relation
to each other.