Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Test #4 Ecological Boundaries

The Book of Mormon text describes at least three abrupt boundaries between different ecological zones. The first is the border between the populated local land of Zarahemla to the south and east and the wilderness of Hermounts to the north and west Alma 2:37. Gravely wounded men staggered across this border and died from their battle injuries, their flesh promptly consumed by ravenous beasts and vultures Alma 2:38. On the Zarahemla side of this border we would expect to find settled agricultural lands. On the Hermounts side we would expect wild, undomesticated country. This kind of stark border is discernible using modern geographic information systems technology such as Google Earth.

We find another obvious ecological border between the city of Ammonihah and its wilderness side Alma 16:2. The Lamanite armies invaded Ammonihah in a lightning strike, completely destroyed the city before its inhabitants could escape, marauded around the city of Noah, and retreated back toward the greater land of Nephi with captives before the Nephites could even begin to assemble a defensive army Alma 16:3. The line between Ammonihah and its wilderness side, which must have been very close to the city, is a feature that should show up on satellite imagery.

Another life zone boundary in the text is the line along the west coast Alma 22:32, Alma 63:5 separating the land Bountiful on the south and east from the land Desolation on the north and west. The text paints a picture of a wetter, more verdant Alma 22:31 Bountiful fronting a drier Mosiah 21:26, more sparsely vegetated Helaman 3:5-11 Desolation. Again, this is a border we should be able to detect using specialized data sets in Google Earth.

Test #4a Our local land of Zarahemla is shown in red overlay on the map below, our candidate for Hermounts (Pantanos de Centla) in light green. The border between them is in white. For a more detailed discussion of the wilderness of Hermounts, see the blog article entitled "Hermounts."
Proposed Local Land of Zarahemla with Wilderness of Hermounts
to the North and West 
Zooming in on this border region we set a terrain plane at an altitude of 15 meters. Everything lower than that altitude appears in white.
15 meter terrain plane showing higher ground on the
Zarahemla side of the Hermounts border
At an average elevation of about 15 meters, our border between Zarahemla on the south and east and the wilderness of Hermounts on the north and west is the line between arable piedmont and the permanent flood plain of the Usumacinta River Delta. North and west of this line the land is a huge swamp, the largest wetlands in Mexico. The dramatic image below was taken by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite on October 10, 2010. The blue-black areas are standing water. The white puffs are clouds. There is near total inundation on the Hermounts side of our line, virtually no standing water on the Zarahemla side.
NASA image of our Zarahemla Hermounts border
region at the height of the rainy season
NASA's land cover imagery (LANDSAT) confirms a similar pattern. We have changed the color of the Hermounts/Zarahemla line to black so it stands out on the image below. Land on the Zarahemla side is almost all planted in crops. On the Hermounts side we see standing water, wetlands, grasslands and various forest types in addition to scattered cropland. Much of the farming taking place in this very wet area is recent. As Mexico's population has continued to increase, more and more marginal land is being brought under cultivation, even in legally protected areas such as Pantanos de Centla which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
NASA image of our Zarahemla Hermounts border
region showing land use
Test #4b We correlate the city of Ammonihah with the site of El Hormiguero II in the San Pedro River Valley just east of the Mexico/Guatemala line. For more details about this correlation, see the blog article "Ammonihah." Turning on a shaded relief layer, it is obvious that a sizable mountain lies immediately south of the city.
Proposed Ammonihah (El Hormiguero II) at the foot of
a mountain that rises to an elevation of 450 meters 
Our Ammonihah sits at an elevation of approximately 50 meters. Setting a terrain plane at an elevation of 100 meters shows that less than 1/2 kilometer from the city the mountain begins its sharp vertical rise to a height of 450 meters.
100 meter terrain plane showing our proposed Ammonihah
immediately north of a heavily forested mountain
Test #4c We place the Bountiful/Desolation line on an east - west transect (shown in red on the map below) fronting Mar Muerto and rising to an elevation of 522 meters in the Sierra Madre. From that point, we follow rivers and other terrain features in a general NW direction to the great southern bend of the Coatzacoalcos. From then on, we postulate the Bountiful/Desolation line followed the big river to the sea.
Proposed border between the land Bountiful (shown in green)
and the land Desolation (shown in brown) 
We turn off all other details except the Bountiful/Desolation line shown in white and overlay that with isobars from INEGI showing average annual precipitation.
INEGI rainfall map
There is a great deal of detail in the map above. The dark blue areas receive more than 4,000 millimeters of rain annually, making them among the wettest places on the planet. The light blue areas receive more than 3,000 millimeters of rain each year, still very wet. The green areas receive more than 2,000 millimeters of annual precipitation, still wet. The orange areas only receive 1,500 millimeters of rain annually, which makes them significantly drier. The tan areas receive from 1,000 to 1,200 millimeters of rainfall each year, making them quite dry. And, the brown areas receive less than 800 millimeters of annual precipitation which creates very dry conditions, particularly during the dry season (November to April). The black areas (further north in Mexico beyond the range of the map above) receive less than 500 millimeters of rainfall annually, making them deserts or nearly so.

The white line on the map above is our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line from the west sea to the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos. It is 505 kilometers long following the meandering river, 246 kilometers long in air (straight line) distance. Along that vast distance, four distinct ecological zones show up clearly, marked by black transect lines. During the first segment of the border, from the Mar Muerto outlet to Santa Maria Chimalapa, land on the Bountiful side of the line is generally much wetter than land on the Desolation side, receiving as much as 2X or even 3X more annual precipitation. From Santa Maria Chimalapa through the center of the isthmus of Tehuantepec to the area just south of the ancient Olmec site of San Lorenzo, there is no distinguishable difference between annual precipitation on either side of the Bountiful/Desolation line. From the area upstream from San Lorenzo to the area just south of Minatitlan, again we see land on the Bountiful side of the line is generally much wetter than land on the Desolation side. Then from the area upstream from Minatitlan to the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos, there is no discernible difference between average annual rainfall on either side of the Bountiful/Desolation line.

Another way to look at the differences on either side of the Bountiful/Desolation border is through vegetation density. INEGI publishes a map of areas within Mexico with very dense foliage. We use it as a base map and place our Bountiful/Desolation line on top.
Areas of dense vegetation in green according to INEGI
It is obvious in the border region there is a great deal more dense foliage on the Bountiful side of our line, precisely as we would expect from the text.

Test #4 Conclusion In all three cases examined above, the distinct ecological boundaries described in the text are obvious when viewed through satellite imagery or specialized data sets rendered in Google Earth. Our proposed local land of Zarahemla/wilderness of Hermounts boundary is the edge of the largest swamp in Mexico and Central America. Our proposed city of Ammonihah/wilderness side boundary is the foothill line of a mountain with 400 meters of vertical rise immediately south of the city. Our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line precisely aligns with major annual rainfall boundaries along much of its length. These three examples corroborate our text to map correlation. We believe any viable correlation will show similar results.