My world has a conlang that heavily emphasizes words in 'grades' of 5. For example the words for issues are grouped as: Danger-Threat-Risk-Hazard-Situation.

Usually it isn't hard to find a set of things in groups of 5, since you can always move delineation points (e.g. drinks by alcohol content is Juice-Beer-Wine-Vodka-Spirits, skipping over a lot, but still a general sense).

I have hit a brick wall when it comes to biomes though. In order to make it work I would like to create a 5x5 grid of biomes. Using a temperature/precipitation chart I was able to get up to:

║        ║ Colder ║             ║                  ║                      ║ Hotter                   ║
║ Wetter ║ ?      ║ ?           ║ ?                ║ ?                    ║ Tropical Rainforest      ║
║        ║ ?      ║ ?           ║ ?                ║ Temperate Rainforest ║ Swamp                    ║
║        ║ ?      ║ ?           ║ Temperate Forest ║ ???                  ║ Tropical Seasonal Forest ║
║        ║ ?      ║ Taiga       ║ Grassland        ║ Woodland             ║ Savanna                  ║
║ Drier  ║ Tundra ║ Cold Desert ║ Shrubland        ║ ???                  ║ Hot Desert               ║

As you can see I was easily able to fill in the hotter/drier side of the table, missing just a few biomes where I just have yet to come up with a good name due to unusual delineation points. My bigger issue is that entire upper triangle. I guess earth just doesn't have many cold, wet biomes? I can't think of a physics oriented reason why - which leads me to think it is semantic (we don't live anywhere that cold, so we just lump all cold climates into "tundra/taiga").

Is there any way to come up with good words to describe cold/wet climates? Are they even possible? The language exists on a custom planet, so if the biomes could exist but just don't on earth all I need to do is 'create' them and come up with a good name for them (e.g. flowerscape if a biome caused mostly flowers as flora).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Riparian is a word for wetlands $\endgroup$ – user22106 Jun 30 '18 at 23:16

Assuming your conlang is on an Earth-like planet, then yes, the problem is physics, not just linguistics.


To quote the important part:

When temperature decreases, the maximum capacity of water vapor that can be in the air decreases. Therefore, the colder it gets the less water vapor there will be in the air.

To paraphrase: how cold a specific climate is determines how dry it is.

So basically, the colder an environment, the drier it will be. So any "wet" and "cold" environment will still be, due to the laws of physics, warmer than tundra, taiga, or cold deserts.

As a result, most cultures have never needed to coin a word for an environment that is both colder and wetter than taiga and cold deserts. The chances of someone encountering such a place approach zero. And this is reflected in your graph, in the very neat and tidy stair step up from tundra to tropical something.

Maybe that stair step is one of your groups of 5, in addition to describing relative temperature and humidity/precipitation? Maybe your culture thinks of the world as five distinct grades from the equator to the poles, defined by those five biomes?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I like this answer. An actual reason for the staircase pattern is useful. I may make the other dimension something else, but I like the answer as to why temp vs precipitation is not so useful. $\endgroup$ – LambdaBeta Jun 30 '18 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ Please do not change the phrase, "how cold a climate is determines how dry it is." The reverse, "how dry a climate is is determined by how cold it is," implies that temperature is the only factor in an area's humidity/precipitation levels. I'm trying to avoid that implication without going off on a tangent about all such factors, since they aren't relevant to the question. I tried both phrases and specifically ruled out the latter for that reason. $\endgroup$ – Jaycie Beveri Jul 1 '18 at 1:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @LambdaBeta Most of my academic colleagues who specialize in similar topics think of it as a triangle with temp on one side, precipitation on another, and latitude from the equator to the poles or altitude above sea level on the third. You can google "biome triangle" for examples. Also, you might find this interesting: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – Jaycie Beveri Jul 1 '18 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, if you check my matrix you'll see that it lines up pretty closely to the results in the picture you linked (in fact it was my reference) I guess I misunderstood the axes a bit. I think I can still map it to a matrix of temp/lat+alt somehow... I just wish there was a site that listed 'all' the biomes with information about them (temp/precipitation/lat/alt/etc) do you know of such a reference? $\endgroup$ – LambdaBeta Jul 1 '18 at 1:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The irony dawns on me. I just finished my 5 year degree last year at UWaterloo, which has a full geo museum on campus where I used to hang out to write code (had a cool depth accurate great lakes fountain) although I've moved to Ottawa which has a few solid universities and many museums, so perhaps I can find the information I want there. Thanks for the help! $\endgroup$ – LambdaBeta Jul 1 '18 at 2:44

I do not agree with a lot of your matrix as it stands - I cannot see how swamp can be drier than tropical rainforest, and tundra means to me a cold place where the ground is permanently frozen below a certain depth - permafrost.

Deserts are usually without water, but they do range from blazing hot to extremely cold.

Marsh, bog and fenland may be useful words to your quest, but you should reconsider whether this matrix concept is a good idea, to my mind. Most cold and wet places are elevated, among or on mountain ranges - perhaps some consideration of height should go into your thoughts.


As for the other two, use thornwood and temperate desert.

Also since there aren't many temperate deserts on Earth, you might have to consider adjusting the rotation rate of the planet (maybe 1.5x Earth's which will probably give five Hadley cells, hopefully, it's complicated) to give more different types of biomes. Five cells would also fit in nicely with the idea of five zones from the equator to the poles. Or just make the world very mountainous/ having a ton of islands. Or both.

There are very cold, wet areas but those are rare: I suggest perhaps renaming the "tundra" part to "polar" (e.g. Northern Greenland, Antarctica) and putting tundra on top of that (Northern Canada, Siberia), as well as sleetwood on top of taiga. Of course that breaks the neatness of the triangle...


Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.