Came across this wonderful site while googling my conundrum, so this past question is definitely relevant; can a water cycle exist on a planet without oceans?

I'm looking for constructive criticism on the following scenario;

A steppe-world in the middle (1) of an ice age, with the northern and southern ice caps separated from the equator by twin mountain ranges (2). There are no significant bodies of water, at least none that can be identified by sight from orbit (3).

A colony ship has been forcefully crash landed right in the middle of the planet.


(ANSWERED)(1): Given that the ice caps cover 1/3 of the planet each, and assuming the required climate for the following questions, would this be at the beginning, middle or the end of an ice age? Does it really matter?


(ANSWERED)(2): Are the mountain ranges necessary at all to separate the ice caps from the steppe terrain? Is it possible to have a completely flat planet, say with the presence of multiple celestial brothers to intercept any terrain-changing asteroids? If it is, I will remove the mountain ranges all-together.


(ANSWERED) (3): If there are no oceans, where would the water collect?


Given that the colony ship is almost 6km in length and 1km in height, how realistic would it be for a rain trap to form on one side of the artificial mountain range, to ease farming? How large would the colony ship have to be to provide a significant rain trap?

Would there even be any rain on this planet? If there was, would it be possible to collect it via industrial means of condensation, as well as personal condensation machines located on the roof of every home?

(ANSWERED) How realistic would it be to force wheat agriculture (say, winter wheat varieties) to be the key export of the planet, as opposed to the herding of (imported) livestock? I'm hoping I can settle on a 50/50 split here, so the world can act as a lynchpin MRE production & export site.

Would it be realistic for the climate to be such that the planet experiences catastrophic wildfires that threaten the crop plantations? One of the central plot points is that they are catalysed by still-active ship shield sabotage in an effort to cripple the agriculture sector. Do steppes even have wildfires? Can you have a wildfire in an Ice Age?

Most importantly; given the temperature fluctuations, would there be any significant life-forms present, and in what form; would massive herbivores be more realistic than insect-sized species? Earth worms?

Considering the planet is all-steppe, would it be realistic for significant oil & gas reserves to be located under-ground? Doesn't the formation of Oil & Gas require something more than steppe grass?

(ANSWERED) Bonus Question: Am I correct in settling on a cloudless, warm days/cold nights weather pattern?

My thanks, and you guys have a great site, I'm thinking of going for a casual browse!

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, welcome to worldbuilding! Your question is indeed a valid one - just a minor typographical comment - personally, I'd like it if you were a bit clearer about where your actual question is, e.g. instead of 'questions', have 'questions I've already answered', then separating this from your actual question in some way. You also might want to consider splitting your questions across multiple 'questions' on the site, depending on how related to each other you feel they are, then link the 'questions' to each other $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was wondering how to approach this; do I just edit the question once JBH answered a solid half of it, or do I make another one with the remaining half? I posted a more specific version, that relating to wildfires & winter wheat, in the Earth Sciences Stack just a couple of minutes ago. Let me know which way I should approach this and I'll tidy the question up! $\endgroup$
    – Kais Klip
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Generally, it's not a good idea to post the same question across multiple Stack Exchange sites, so you might want to get rid of that bit either on here or on Earth Sciences. I think, at this point (as we don't like invalidating already existing answers if at all possible), the best thing to do is probably to put the questions that haven't been answered yet into at least one other question, then ask that question(s) and post a link to this question in the new question(s). Hope that helps! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ It sure does, thanks for the heads up Mith! $\endgroup$
    – Kais Klip
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Please limit yourself to one question per post. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 6:55

1 Answer 1


1) It doesn't matter what stage the ice age is in unless your story covers thousands or tens of thousands of years.

2) Mountain ranges are a consequence of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics are a consequence of an active, liquid core. If your planet doesn't have an active, liquid core, it won't have mountains (other than those caused by meteor strikes). Check out this post from Astronomy.SO.

3) Here's where you need to make a choice. Frank Herbert's Dune is a story about a desert planet ("never one drop of rain falls on Arrakis..."), which includes the windtraps used by the natives to capture water. If yours isn't a desert planet — in other words, it has regular ground cover if not large bushes and trees — then your solution is aquifers with a shallow water table. Plants would develop deep roots. Pumps would access the water, but you'd need serious sand/dirt filtration and you'd need to worry about contamination from the surface (or dig deeper wells).

The colony ship itself would likely be sufficient to use as a windtrap, but only to a point. Eventually population growth and the amount of cultivated ground would exceed its abilities (although six klicks long is a lot of ability... building in a series of wind traps actually sounds pretty cool... After all, "Luck favors the prepared".

4) Actually, winter wheat is a great idea and as described by Asimov in his Foundation series, large planet populations need other planets to supply them food.

5) Yes! Lightning is caused by the potential imbalance between the atmosphere and the ground. Rain and temperature are, basically (from a certain point of view... it's fiction, after all), irrelevant.

6) Rather than deal with oil here (and thereby start another argument), I'll direct you to this worldbuilding answer. The other answers are likely more valuable, but hey, it's my answer! :-)

7) Cloudless? Yes. Warm? Well... (it's an ice age and you've covered 67% of the planet in ice... that's a lot of refridgeration). The average planetary temperature during the last of Earth's major ice ages is estimated to be -4.5 degrees C (check this out). The arable land would certainly warm up (maybe 20C), but wind coming off those two polar caps would keep things generally cold.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you JBH! Your Windtrap remark especially sounds fascinating so I'll write it in alongside aquifers. On WILDFIRES: yes, artificially "encouraged" lightning was what I was thinking in regards to wildfire; but would (1) winter wheat or (2) native steppe grasses actually catch fire during harvesting season? Wouldn't they be too hydrated? $\endgroup$
    – Kais Klip
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ Technically, no... but you have a future society where the wheat may have been genetically altered to accomodate a shorter growing cycle and no precipitation. Consequence: basically dries out at harvest time. Your goal isn't necessarily to be 100% technically accurate according to today's standards. Your goal is to take what we do today and modify it believably for the story. This can work. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ If that's not technically accurate for today, you fooled me. You've been legendary help mate. $\endgroup$
    – Kais Klip
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:51

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