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December 31, 2008

Wrapping Up ’08 in Christchurch

An unexpected free day in Christchurch, and an opportunity to re-visit the Canterbury Museum. I peruse its various areas, but like a heat-seeking (or in this case, ice-seeking) missile, I’m drawn back to the Antarctic gallery.

Artifacts from the heroic age of polar exploration.

The displays and dioramas here are decidedly old school, but in a uniquely attractive way. Perhaps it’s the lighting, or maybe classic exhibition cases are retro-cool. In many instances, I find the artifacts compositionally well-arranged. This is one of them. The items include a large bottle of Methuselah champagne to celebrate Richard E. Byrd’s return after the first flight over the South Pole, a .410 gauge shotgun used by zoologist Alton A. Lindsey to collect birds in 1933 (the signage adds that “penguins were never shot but caught and pithed with a large needle”), and three models of aircraft flown in Antarctica over the decades (Byrd’s plane, the Floyd Bennett, is the smallest of the three).

Looking like a Chuck Taylor high-top on treads, this Ferguson tractor is the first motor vehicle ever to reach the South Pole. The journey was led by Sir Edmund Hillary (of Mount Everest fame) for New Zealand’s section of the 1958 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. It was the first overland journey to the Pole since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912, and was followed shortly by Vivian Fuchs’ arrival in the hulking orange Sno-Cat shown in the December 28 post.

This Antarctic motor-tractor is among the earliest vehicles ever used in Antarctica, and also the most troublesome. Built in London for Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, constant breakdowns required the team to haul the tractor, instead of the other way around. The exhibit’s explanatory text describes the plywood-bodied machine as “the embodiment of mechanical perversity.”

New Year's Eve in Cathedral Square, Christchurch.

There are a lot more polar curiosities at the Canterbury to share, but I’ll leave it at that for today. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m headed to Cathedral Square for the Times Square-like extravaganza.

Happy New Year from Christchurch!

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:25 am

December 30, 2008

Southbound Flight Rescheduled

We passengers did our part, but the weather did not. Having suited up at the CDC at 6 A.M. with bags checked and boarding passes in hand, we learned that inclement weather had delayed our plane from leaving McMurdo to pick us up. By 11 A.M. the flight was cancelled altogether.

It was very frustrating, but we were warned that these things happen. And it was probably better than having taken off only to be forced back (“boomeranged”) just shy of McMurdo. That’s not uncommon given Antarctica’s swift and unpredictable weather patterns. The all-time record for consecutive unsuccessful attempts is seven, as explained in yesterday’s CDC video — a record, they added, that they’re not eager to break.

The next flight attempt is scheduled for January 1st. Our checked bags were all returned and our hotel rooms re-booked. New Year’s Eve, you could say, has boomeranged to Christchurch.

The International Antarctic Centre's Snow & Ice Experience.

Before returning to town, I dropped by the International Antarctic Centre‘s visitor attraction across the campus. Its indoor Snow & Ice Experience is touted as the next best thing to actually being in the Great White South, and whether or not that’s true, I must say it gives Singapore’s Snow City (December 25 post) a run for its money.

Granted, the Snow & Ice Experience lacks a bunny slope, Ice Bar, and the essential Yeti. But these oversights are compensated for with a polar room that simulates an Antarctic tempest in dramatic fashion, complete with lightning, blizzard audio and and 25 mph (40 kph) winds. Jackets and shoe covers are provided for victims… er, visitors, but legs are on their own as seen in the photo.

In the four seasons room.

Another room cycles through Antarctica’s four seasons in a matter of minutes, complete with a milder snowfall. Here’s part of that area during a calm summer moment.

Let’s hope it’s an omen for January 1st.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:25 pm

December 29, 2008

ECW Clothing Issue

There are 40 of us flying to McMurdo tomorrow. 29 are with the U.S. Antarctic program, the others are with New Zealand. Most of our 29 are either National Science Foundation grantees or Raytheon Polar Services Company staff. RPSC is the NSF’s prime Antarctic support contractor.

One of the USAP buildings at CHC

We were fitted today with government-issued ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing for the duration of our deployment. The CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) is out at Christchurch Airport, across the street from a behemoth hangar announcing the USAP’s presence.

Participant briefing at the CDC.

We were welcomed and briefed in the front room by Marlene, the CDC Assistant Supervisor. There was a fair amount of information to take in regarding bagging, tagging, fitting, weight limits and other requirements which were reviewed in an instructional video afterwards.

Our issued gear, whose sizes matched the requests we’d made earlier, was already waiting in labeled orange bags in the changing room. It was a matter of fine-tuning the fitting at this point.

View from the CDC loft.

The adjoining warehouse is massive. It has to be: more than 140,000 ECW items are stocked for issue to USAP participants. Stacked boxes line the upper loft from where this photo was taken, and a sea of red parkas fill the ground floor below. By this time of year nearly 2,000 of the down jackets have already been worn to Antarctica, leaving about 950 in stock. At least one of them fit me perfectly.

All geared up!

Ta-daa! I’m all snug and comfy. Yes, that’s me behind the balaclava, sporting all 6 items required to be worn or carried on all flights: knit headwear, goggles, wind pants, hand wear (there are 8,676 pairs of leather gloves to choose from at CDC), white insulated bunny boots (2,877 pairs available) and of course Big Red.

There are also neck gators, wind jackets, wooly socks, thermal underwear, caps, fleece, mittens, liners and lots more for whoever needs it. I clearly brought too much of my own stuff from home.

After the fitting, we packed our gear back away, ready to be worn again tomorrow.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:15 pm

December 28, 2008

New Zealand’s Gateway to Antarctica

Cathedral Square, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Today was my free time in Christchurch before suiting up tomorrow. It’s summer here in the southern hemisphere; the warm days and crisp evenings remind me of San Francisco’s best weather, perfect for strolling around town.

Christchurch is known as New Zealand’s Gateway to Antarctica for its century-long association with polar travel. Luminaries such as Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, and Edmund Hillary have a history here, along with many others whose expeditions utilized the Port of Lyttelton.

Robert Falcon Scott statue.

Captain Scott’s statue stands just a minute’s walk from Cathedral Square near the banks of the Avon. Scott, a British Royal Naval Officer, is best known for his 1912 Terra Nova Expedition. Expecting to be the first to reach the South Pole, Scott and his party not only lost out to Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team, but perished in dire conditions on the return journey.

The pedestal’s main plaque reads in part from Scott’s diary: “I do not regret this journey which shows that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great fortitude as ever in the past.” The monument, unveiled in 1917, is all the more fascinating for having been sculpted by his widow, Kathleen Scott.

Tucker Sno-Cat, Model 743.

A few blocks further up Worcester Street is the Canterbury Museum dedicated to New Zealand’s cultural and natural heritage. Its Antarctic gallery houses a wonderful assortment of machines, tools, artifacts, and information relating to various exploits. The Tucker Sno-Cat Model 743 is the dominating centerpiece. It was one of four such vehicles to complete the first crossing of the Antarctic continent as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1957-58. The venture, led by Sir Vivian Fuchs, commenced at the Weddell Sea and culminated 98 days and 2,158 miles (3,473 km) later at McMurdo Sound.

Motor Toboggan, 1980.

The second crossing of the continent happened in 1981 in smaller orange transport — a motor toboggan, also called a ski-doo. This journey was part of Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Charles R. Burton’s Transglobal Expedition which circumnavigated the earth longitudinally, taking them across both poles and back to England for a round trip of 37,000 miles (59,546 km). In addition to having been the first to visit both the north and south poles by surface transport, Fiennes was also the first adventurer to traverse Antarctica by foot.

Ancient Space Samples display.

I’m glad I’ll be spending a few days in Christchurch again on my way home from the Ice. I’ll want to comb through the Canterbury’s memorabilia in more detail, and I plan to check out Warners Hotel (Scott’s hang-out), the International Antarctic Centre’s visitor attraction, and yes, even some non-Antarctic-related art and history.

Christchurch sunset from my hotel room.

Wrapping up the day, a lovely Christchurch sunset as seen from my hotel window. Summer days are long this far south; the sky doesn’t fully darken until after 10 P.M. (this photo was taken at 10:03 P.M.), and it starts brightening back up by 5 A.M.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,New Zealand — mbartalos @ 3:05 am

December 27, 2008

Arrival in Christchurch

This is my first time in New Zealand. I’ll be here till Tuesday. Christchurch feels good and the weather is awesome.

I’m 5,244 miles (8,439 km) closer to McMurdo than I was yesterday. 2,415 miles (3,864 km) to go.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 3:57 am

December 25, 2008

Keeping Cool and Green in Singapore

I’m officially on my way to Antarctica, and my first stop is Singapore. I initially didn’t expect this visit to figure into the project blog. The climate here is anything but polar (it’s downright tropical) and I’m not collecting recyclables yet. But with Antarctic and environmental themes on my mind, there were bound to be related encounters. Plus, it’s not often I have the opportunity to report from one of the hottest places on earth while en route to the coldest!

The Singapore Flyer and downtown as seen from the Marina Barrage.

Development here is rapid. The Singapore Flyer (currently the world’s tallest Ferris wheel), HortPark, and the Marina Barrage dam/reservoir are just three of several major projects to appear since my last visit two years ago.

Happily, public recycling bins are proliferating too. Singapore’s recycling program really took off in 2001 with the National Environmental Agency’s creation of the National Recycling Programme and its outreach efforts. In 2002, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (which oversees the NEA) launched the 10-year Singapore Green Plan which strives to achieve “zero landfill” and a 60% overall recycling rate by 2012. The NRP’s efforts seem to be paying off. According to its 2005 figures, the proportion of recycled waste had reached 48% — presumably higher still by now. The U.S. by comparison recycled 32% of its waste in 2005. (In ways perhaps an unfair comparison. Even so, the figures can be motivating.) Sharing the Singapore government’s gusto in promoting green initiatives are independent organizations such as Green Future Solutions whose informative sites include ZeroWasteSG.

An Antarctic research diorama at the Singapore Science Centre.

There are at least a couple of environmental science exhibits on view here at the moment. One is the Climate Change show at the Singapore Science Centre. It’s a small scale overview with some fun interactive elements geared primarily towards kids. My favorite displays were, of course, the Antarctic research dioramas. I was immensely pleased to meet up with polar scientists so early in my voyage, even if they were manikins.

Sustainable Singapore Gallery 1 at Marina Barrage.

The other exhibit is the Sustainable Singapore Gallery‘s multimedia installation at Marina Barrage. It’s by far the more spectacular and comprehensive show. No manikins here. The focus is on visitors’ relationships with the environment.

Sustainable Singapore Gallery 2 at Marina Barrage.

The venue’s six stunning galleries showcase Singapore’s environmental aims and the Marina Barrage’s role in it. The innovative displays (many interactive) appeal to adults and kids alike.

The Barrage / Marina Bridge.

The Marina Barrage itself is a recently completed dam forming the city’s first reservoir. Its stated goals include self-sufficiency in water supply (i.e. eliminating reliance on Malaysia for fresh water, ending past disputes) as well as a means of flood control in the city’s low-lying areas.

The greater complex includes a solar park, a green roof (differently designed from the Academy’s), retail and dining outlets, and recreational areas. Its key feature though is the Barrage / Marina Bridge which spans the Marina Channel. It acts as a barrier to keep out high tides, and will in time also separate fresh water in the Basin on the left from the seawater on the right. Like the rest of the complex, it offers nice views of the Singapore Flyer (still decommissioned and under investigation after having gotten stuck a couple days ago) and the ever-evolving downtown skyline.

Snow City, Singapore.

Lastly, my stay wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Snow City, a refrigerated indoor recreational facility featuring a modest skiing / snowboarding slope, sculpted ice bar, and a series of frosty photo-ops.

Beware of Yeti!

Snow City's sculpted ice bar and ice pagoda.

There’s also an educational program in the “science of the supercold” (i.e. liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen) and opportunities for kids who would otherwise never experience snow. Singapore’s daytime temperatures of around 31°C / 87.8°F and relative humidity of 60 to 90 percent year-round makes this frigid fun house a truly exotic novelty here. Me, I was just happy to be out of the equatorial heat. Call it a welcome climate change.

Happy Holidays to all!

Filed under: Environment,Singapore — mbartalos @ 6:40 pm

December 15, 2008


HMS Endurance photographed by Frank Hurley, February 1915.
HMS Endurance photographed by Frank Hurley, February 1915.

Greetings and welcome to The Long View Project blog. My name is Michael Bartalos and I’m pleased to be designated the Academy’s first Affiliated Artist. I’ll soon be on my way to Antarctica on an exciting project at the crossroads of art and science, and you’re invited to follow along.

My ultimate objective is to create a very long piece of sculptural artwork using recycled materials from polar research facilities in order to raise international awareness of resource conservation and eco-preservation practices in Antarctica, and by extension, to promote and inspire sustainability worldwide. In the process, I expect to learn a whole lot about environmental issues, scientists’ lives on the ice, the history of polar exploration, and creativity’s role on the southern continent. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you here through text, photos, artwork, videos, fun factoids, and perhaps even tales of spine-tingling adventure. (My two young sons are counting on it!)

My project, fully titled The Art of Recycling in Antarctica : The Long View, is supported by an Antarctic Artist’s and Writer’s Program grant from the National Science Foundation. This award allows me to access the U.S. Antarctic Program’s waste management system throughout January to collect recyclable material specific to research conducted at McMurdo Station, South Pole Station, and a Dry Valleys field camp (most likely Lake Hoare).

The completed artwork (to be assembled back in San Francisco) will consist of 100 individual sculptural vignettes hinged to one another for display as a continuous, free-standing accordion-fold book structure. With this conspicuously lengthy form, I’ll be drawing analogies to taking “the long view” in regards to worldwide environmental consciousness as exemplified by the stringent recycling practices in Antarctica.

The project is inspired by the environmental mandates of the Antarctic Conservation Act and its principles. In an act of exceptional recycling, nearly all the refuse generated by the U.S. Antarctic Program is periodically removed from the continent. I’ll be looking for a variety of usable material representative of the 3.64 million pounds of solid waste generated by McMurdo and South Pole Stations, and I’ll be referring to Antarctic waste management data to conceptually structure my compositions and determine the relative amounts of each material to include.

Aurora Australis front cover and title page, 1908. Edited by Ernest Shackleton, illustrated by George Marston.

Aurora Australis front cover and title page, 1908.
 Edited by Ernest Shackleton, illustrated by George Marston.

Why 100 vignettes? The number is significant to the project in three ways. As I mentioned, the U.S. ships nearly 100% of its refuse off the southern continent. Secondly, the number commemorates the centenary of an early instance of polar recycling. In 1908, Ernest Shackleton fashioned wooden covers from provision crates to bind numerous copies of Aurora Australis, the first book ever published in Antarctica. (This is a fascinating story — look for a separate post on this shortly.) In an homage to this legacy, each of my 100 vignettes will symbolically correspond to each year passed since Shackleton’s example of innovation and resourcefulness. Thirdly, the number represents a coming century (at least) of sustainability. Hence the title The Long View.

By using material unique to each of the three research station’s fields of study, the vignettes will differentiate to form a comprehensive picture of each. For example, I expect to find more recyclables relating to biological and oceanographic fields of study at McMurdo, while South Pole will be heavier in astrophysics and geomagnetism.

These reclaimed elements will be the centerpiece of each artwork. I’ll supplement these compositions with my own drawings, materials, forms, colors, textures, and pigments in order to create a uniquely Antarctic ‘portrait.’ To this end, I’ll also use my time at McMurdo, South Pole and the Dry Valleys to sketch, photograph, and otherwise document the technologies and practices of Antarctic researchers more extensively than could otherwise be possible. Contact with scientists in the field is valuable to my inquiry. I hope to converse with them, take notes, and join excursions if possible, which will all feed into the artwork’s imagery — and consequently, into this blog.

Here’s the anticipated timeline: From December 15 through 25, I’ll be in Singapore with family; then off on my own to Christchurch, New Zealand where the U.S. Antarctic Program will outfit me with ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear. On December 30, it’s on to Antarctica to collect cool stuff to make art with. Then back to Christchurch on January 23 to surrender the ECW, and on to San Francisco on January 28 to build the Long View artwork in the coming months.

The entire process will be documented online here exclusively, so please visit often. I’ll also be posting information about upcoming presentations and workshops at colleges, art venues, K-12 youth arts programs and, of course, the California Academy of Sciences. Much gratitude to the Academy for its enthusiastic support of my work and the opportunity to share it with a broad, diverse audience. For me, this project promises to be the learning and creative experience of a lifetime. Thanks for tuning in.

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