The Inverted World Map – Variations on a Blue Marble
It probably happens to everyone who likes to look at maps. You imagine land to be water and water to be land. Continents to be oceans and and oceans to be continents. Islands to be lakes and lakes to be islands. An inverted world map.
I could not resist the temptation to make a detailed map of such a topsy-turvy world. But I am not the first to do so. A little bit of googling yields a nice collection of inverted maps. Vladislav Gerasimov, for example, made a lovely styled fantasy map. And Chris Wajan on his Panetocopia website extensively discusses climate, vegetation and culture of Inversia (and of another twenty or so possible worlds).
The Blue Marble
Still, I think my inverted world map adds something, especially because of the color scheme, for which I let myself be inspired by the famous Blue Marble maps by NASA. Those show the Earth as it looks from space. Of course my version is a little less blue and a little more green and especially more yellow, red and brown. Indeed, a Brown Marble.
It is a miraculous planet, this inverted world. The surface is only 29 percent water, compared to 71 percent on our own Earth. So there is more than twice as much land available. This does not mean, however, that twice as many people can live there, because a large part of that surface is uninhabitable. After all, the rain has to come from somewhere.
It’s not just the coastlines that are reversed in this world. The relief is also consistently the opposite of reality. The deepest parts of the world’s seas are therefore located in the Tibetan and Himalayan troughs in the south of the Asian Ocean. And the highest peaks, up to eleven kilometers, can be found in the Mariana Mountains in the west of the Pacifica continent.
If you zoom in very far, the inversion stops at some point. It’s hard to imagine inverted rivers as headlands running hundreds of miles into the ocean. But that scale level is not relevant for this world map.
The inverted world is the same size as ours and at the same distance from the sun. But the climate is radically different. Water has a moderating effect, so if there is less of it, the extremes are much greater. The sea currents, which transport heat from the equator to the polar regions, also play a much smaller role.
Many areas are very far from a sea. So there will be little rainfall in those regions. And in a number of places, mountains and plateaus block the rain.
Especially the continent of Pacifica, surrounded on almost all sides by high mountain ranges, is one big desert. A super-Sahara that spans almost half the planet, with only a few oases like the Hawaii and Tahiti Lakes. Nice for lovers of desolate stone plains, which also include myself. But not very suitable as farmland, and so very, very sparsely populated.
There are also areas that immediately give you picture of lush green hills. The Mediterranean peninsula for example, or the Big Islands in the Canadian Ocean. Or the area around the Indonesian lakes, or Caribia, surrounded by lakes and seas.
In our own world there are a number of areas with their own flora and fauna: Australia, Madagascar, the Galapagos Islands. Isolated areas where evolution could run its own course. That is not the case in the reversed world. Over land, species can easily spread across the planet. Although life does adapt to the more extreme conditions that occur here.
But the great diversity lies in the seas. There is not one global body of water, but six smaller water basins that are not or hardly connected to each other. In addition, there are quite a few smaller seas and lakes. The evolution of marine life therefore follows the most outrageous side paths. This inverted world is a paradise for seafood lovers!
Such an inverted world is not optimal for shipping. You can get almost everywhere on foot, so a walk around the planet is possible. But a simple sailing trip around the world is not an option.
The cultures that sprout on the coasts of the oceans are therefore in general inwardly oriented. Trade is mainly conducted with cities located on the same water basin. Thereis contact with civilizations around the other oceans, but it’s limited. I imagine caravans moving slowly across dry plateaus.
A Bering Canal will eventually be made between the Alaska Sea and the Gulf of Chukotka. But that is so far north that it is only navigable for a few months a year. And even then there is a constant threat of icebergs on that route.
The naming on such an inverted world map is obvious in many places. North Sea becomes Northland, Greenland becomes Green Sea. Polynesia remains Polynesia, New Zealand becomes New Land Sea. And of course there is a Strait of Panama, a Newfoundlake and a Gulf of Suriname.
But especially in the Southern Hemisphere, which in our world consists largely of water, there are areas where names are scarce. The area below the forty-fifth parallel is one world-encompassing Siberia anyway, very sparsely populated. So there not so much need for naming there.
Let’s zoom in a little further on a number of interesting regions. The Australian Sea, for example, with a wide variety of landscapes along its coasts. From the tropical forests in the north through the drier areas along the east and west coasts to the deciduous and coniferous forests in the south. In an arc around the Australian Sea are a large number of lakes. Some of them are actually small seas. Here we find a great diversity of cultures, which make this part of the world a fascinating area. The tundras in the far south and the deserts in the east, on the other hand, are virtually unpopulated.
In the Western Hemisphere, the Strait of Panama is an important hub. This is the connection between the American Oceans, also referred to as the Canadian and Brazilian Oceans. Over the centuries, this has always been an important trade route between the cultures of the North and South.
The tropical rainforest of Caribia contrasts sharply with the snowy highlands of Bermuda. Behind the El Salvador Mountains begin the endless rocky and sandy deserts of Pacifica. Further north, the strategically located Big Islands, with their relatively mild climate, are a cultural hotspot.
The coasts of the European Sea
The European Sea is a part of the world with fascinating coastlines. From the North Atlantic continent, two jagged peninsulas extend far towards the Asian Ocean. Eastland, which splits into Botnia and Finland. And Mediterrania, which is also connected to Blackland via the narrow Bosphorus isthmus. There are also a few large lakes on the peninsula.
Unlike many other regions of this strange world, the Mediterranean enjoys abundant rainfall. And at downright pleasant temperatures, certainly in comparison with neighboring areas. This has always been a popular and densely populated area. And, of course, there have been battles for supremacy over the peninsula throughout history.
The Northland and the area around the British Lakes lack in this world the mild influence of the warm Gulf Stream. We find extensive boreal coniferous forests here. To the west, the Celtic lowlands rise to the barren North Atlantic heights. The Eastland and the Scandinavian archipelago form a transition between coniferous forest and tundra. Even further north, the Ice Lake and the Green Sea, surrounded by glaciers, are partially navigable only during the short summer.
To summarize: the Inverted World is an ideal setting for a 48-part fantasy series. With Carice van Houten as Queen of Biscay… Does anyone happen to know people at Disney or Netflix?
Just started pondering about this earlier today, and I’d like to say nice job on detailing the map. However, I’ve also been wondering about what implications would the planet’s new proportions of land and water proportions have on its albedo levels (most likely raising them), and how they would influence global climates. Well, one unnerving conclusion that I came to, based on surface albedo only (in addition to factoring in my basic understanding about climate as a result of atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns), is that, because ocean water has an albedo of just 0.06, whereas desert sand has an albedo of up to 0.4, grass has an albedo of up to 0.25, and snow has an albedo of up to 0.8, and because there’s more desert and less ocean within this hypothetical inverted Earth, wouldn’t the planet be colder as a result of its higher overall albedo (like as cool as during the Ice Age, or even colder), possibly even trapped within a Snowball Earth cycle in a worst-case scenario?
Good point. You’d certainly end up with a higher albedo, resulting in lower temperatures, more snow and ice and an even highter albedo. A Snowball Earth seems indeed like a plausible scenario. Unless the planet is moved to an orbit closer to the sun which, after turning all land into water and vice versa, sounds like just a minor adjustment…
My imagination runs a little more fancifully when it comes to naming the places. I would instantly call the Atlantic continent Atlantis, which of course makes the Pacific Mu and the Indian continent Lemuria.
The former Caribbean is Antillia, the former North Sea is Lyonesse, oh, I think there are almost enough sunken lands alone to fill out the map, but if there aren’t, we can call muster on the simply imaginary as well.
Those would certainly be excellent names as well!
You really should read Ian Watson’s ‘In the Mirror of the Earth’. He imagined the whole thing forty years ago; curiously, even some of the names are the same (e. g., Pacifica).
Being a rather profound world of speculative fiction, ‘Mirror’ demonstrates how such a world might impact on its human inhabitants. The populace of Thraea (the – almost – anagrammatically mirrored ‘Earth’) do not sleep (the reduced oceans impacting their circadian/biological functions; whilst their construction projects are not so much vertical (tall buildings, etc.) as linear and horizontal (canals, dams, bridges).
The story is short, but its effect is long-lasting. Just like your map, it is a hauntingly beautiful evocation of the alternative.
Wow, I hadn’t heard about the story but it does sound like something I should read. Thanks for telling me about it!