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September 15, 2014

LV Sketchbook Page 062

LV Sketchbook Page 062-500x330

Four of the fifty signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty fly a flag of the Nordic Cross. They are Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The flags all share a similar design, but they have individual histories and symbolism.

Denmark was the first to adopt the so-called Scandinavian cross characterized by the vertical part of the cross on the hoist side. Representing Christianity, Denmark’s cross is white on a red background. Finland’s cross is blue on a white background; the blue said to represent the country’s lakes and sky, with white for the abundant winter snow. Norway’s flag is red with an indigo blue Scandinavian cross fimbriated in white, designed in 1821, while Sweden’s cross is yellow/gold on a blue background, colors dating to the country’s royal coat of arms in 1275.

My latest sketchbook entry — the fourth in a series of Antarctic flag designs — plays off the Scandinavian cross. Instead of highlighting the cross however, the four background quadrants are brought to the fore. The upper left one represents the long, dark Austral winter; the upper right expresses the Austral summer; the lower right stands for water and ice; the lower left for Antarctica’s ‘web of life,’ or ecosystems. The cross itself remains a neutral space, acknowledging Antarctica’s lack of sovereign rule.

Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 3:35 pm

August 31, 2014

LV Sketchbook Page 053

LV Sketchbook Page 053-500x337

Antarctica’s future is difficult to ascertain. Will it remain relatively undisturbed or will it see increased settlement and population? McMurdo Station has certainly grown in activity and density since its establishment in 1956. A town of sorts, it now supports up to 1,258 residents at any given time. It has dining halls, libraries, recreational facilities, stores, a barber shop, television and radio studios, and a fire station. A proliferation of buildings dedicated to research, transportation, waste management, logistics and administration also make it a very busy place.

My newest sketchbook page — the third Antarctic flag design in a series — hints at the roads and infrastructure necessary to a sprawling base. The composition suggests a system of routes, channels, and conduits that accommodates multiple needs and functions. It is a flag as map, to be updated periodically, serving to chart Antarctica’s level of development and density.

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:54 pm

July 31, 2014

LV Sketchbook Page 034

LV Sketchbook Page 034-500x337

The presence of the U.S. Armed Forces is a conspicuous feature of America’s major research bases in Antarctica. This may appear odd in a peaceful continent whose internationally-agreed upon treaties prohibit military activity such as weapons testing. However military personnel and equipment are permitted to facilitate scientific research or other neutral purposes, which they are heavily called on for. Operation Deep Freeze, the military’s codename for a series of United States scientific expeditions to Antarctica, involves Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard forces, primarily for transportation and logistics. 

Military presence on the Ice can be traced back to 1839 when Captain Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. Naval expedition into Antarctic waters. In 1929, Admiral Richard E. Byrd established a naval base at Little America on the Ross Ice Shelf south of the Bay of Whales. And from 1956 to 1969, Operation Deep Freeze was an annual mission supported by the U.S. Army Aviation detachment.

The United States Antarctic Program still draws heavily on the military for operational and administrative support. Every austral summer a variety of aircraft land at McMurdo Station, from military jets like the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III to ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the New York Air National Guard. In addition, the U.S. Army provides helicopter transportation and limited logistical support to geophysical scientists and topographic personnel, facilitating research activities in remote areas of the continent.

This Antarctic flag design, my second in a series, references the Armed Forces’ visible role on the Ice. It draws on military decorations for its motif, specifically ribbons worn on uniforms above the left breast pocket. The color bars also resemble the patterns produced by climate graphs gleaned from Antarctic and Arctic ice core samples. Such ice cores are of course often procured and transported with the help of military personnel and equipment.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:16 pm

June 25, 2014

LV Sketchbook Page 056

Antarctic Sketchbook page 056-500x326

Antarctica is Earth’s only continent without a native human population. Nevertheless it now has as anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people residing in research stations throughout the year across the region. They come from 30 different nations, all signatory to the Antarctic Treaty that regulates international relations on the Ice. An additional 20 nations without Antarctic bases are signatories as well. As such, the The Antarctic Treaty Organization’s flag design, adopted in 2002, is the closest that the continent has to an official flag.

This has prompted several designers to propose their version of what Antarctica’s official banner might be. The designs are not unattractive. However in my view, any single flag is bound to fall short in communicating the continent’s lack of sovereign rule. Single emblems imply single political entities, which Antarctica is not. Instead, Antarctica’s identity might better be served by introducing not one, but an endless procession of new flags. Collectively, this would represent continually changing ideas of what a non-nation continent can and should be.

This and the following few sketchbook pages muse on what this procession might look like. Created with fabric, they combine national and territorial emblems with altered colors and fictional embellishments to produce hybrids that speak to the shared nature of Antarctica and the diversity of its inhabitants.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:39 pm

May 31, 2014

LV Sketchbook Page 009

Antarctic Sketchbook page 009-500x324

LV Sketchbook Page 009 takes France’s Dumont d’Urville research station for its subject.
The base was established in 1956 and named after 19th-century explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville. Situated off the Antarctic coast on Île des Pétrels in the archipelago of Pointe Géologie in Adélie Land, the station accommodates about 120 summer personnel and 30 winter-overs.

Science conducted at the base includes the study of wildlife, notably that of Emperor penguins which reproduce there in winter. It is also a summer home to Adélie penguins, Giant petrels, Snow petrels, Cape petrels, and skuas. Various species of penguins, killer whales, and rorquals also make appearances, inviting studies in ornithology, ichthyology,
and microbiology.

Other fields of research include atmosphere chemistry, polar ozone, meteorology, geophysics, seismology, human immunology, psychology, and sleep studies. In addition to scientific work, Dumont d’Urville serves as a conduit for supplying Concordia Station, France’s Antarctic inland base.

Logistics support is provided by a team of contractors that make up about half of the crew at any given time and the program is operated by the French Polar Institute (Institut Polaire Français Paul Émile Victor – IPEV), a governmental support agency. A chronological sequence of weekly pictures shot by IPEV’s webcam at Dumont d’Urville can be found on their website here.

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:37 pm

April 27, 2014

LV Sketchbook Page 007

Antarctic Sketchbook page 007-500x332

My newest sketchbook page pictures Sagittarius, the largest constellation in the Southern Hemisphere. It has many bright stars and the most stars with known planets — 16 at present count. But perhaps its most celebrated feature is a bright astronomical radio source called Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star”), believed by scientists to be the site of our galaxy’s central supermassive black hole.

Sagittarius A* is invisible as all black holes are, but researchers are on course to observing the glow of matter near its edge — a region known as the event horizon — through an international effort called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Led by MIT and and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the project links several of the world’s most powerful radio dishes to create a telescope array that discerns detail 2,000 times finer than the Hubble Space Telescope can. As a result, the EHT is expected to offer mankind its first image of the black hole’s ridge, or “shadow,” located 26,000 light-years from Earth.

The array will include the South Pole Telescope operating at the Amundsen-Scott Research Station, as reported by Space.com. The SPT’s advanced capabilities and remote location are key to the array’s technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry. VLBI uses the distances between the EHT radio dishes — which stretch from Antarctica through Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, California, Spain, France, Greenland and beyond — to capture the black hole’s signals from several different angles which MIT’s supercomputers precisely combine to produce a data set with much higher resolution than any one dish can manage on its own. The EHT is, in effect, a virtual telescope the size of the Earth.

In observing the black hole’s dynamics, scientists also hope to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity which defines our contemporary understanding of gravity. While Einstein’s theories have been verified in low-gravitational situations such as on Earth and in the solar system, it remains to be seen whether they hold up under the extreme gravitational fields at a black hole’s edge. The EHT project will be conducting these studies in collaboration with BlackHoleCam, a European-led VLBI endeavor with similar objectives.

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:34 pm

March 24, 2014

Antarctic Item 041

Antarctic Item 041-CC-Sat-500x363

Antarctic Item 041 is a 2.5-inch discarded rivet that I found at McMurdo Station. Although it lacks the bend of my previously posted wire pieces, I’ll make the case that this too resembles a line graph — specifically the Keeling Curve, which is more of a steep, steady incline than a curve.

Keeling Curve-500x360

The Keeling Curve is a graph that plots the ongoing change in concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Recorded from atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa since 1958, it is the longest-running such measurement in the world. The Keeling Curve shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing, and doing so at a faster rate each year. In May 2013, CO2 concentrations in the global atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history.

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 12:06 am

February 25, 2014

Antarctic Item 028

Antarctic Item 028-CC-Sat-500x349

Antarctic Item 028 is another artifact retrieved from Marble Point. Like the previous strand of wire, this too suggests a line graph. This one takes a downward-slope however, similar to a diagram released by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center showing the extent of Arctic sea ice at the end of August 2013.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent-Aug 2013-500x421

As the graph shows, Arctic sea ice fared better in 2013 than the previous summer. 2012 was a dire year, having broken the 2007 record for lowest daily extent of the satellite area.

Another indicator of fundamental change to the Arctic is ice thickness (not indicated in this graph). Long-term satellite data shows ice thickness declining as fast or faster than its surface area. The Arctic was previously replete with ice that had survived multiple summer thaws, steadily gaining volume over the years. Today, very little of this old mass remains.

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:57 pm

January 26, 2014

Antarctic Item 027

Antarctic Item 027-CC-Sat-500x353

Antarctic Item 027 is also from Marble Point. Held in the air, the wire strand’s graceful curve echoes the slopes of nearby Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. Placed against a grid, it resembles a line graph that made the news about a year ago.


The graph accompanied a paper published in the journal Science showing that Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are melting at an accelerating pace causing seas globally to rise. Combined, the sheets have lost about 4,250 gigatons of ice since 1992, raising the average sea level around the globe by 11 millimeters. Though less than half an inch, this amount significantly increases the water mass capable of striking land during storm surges, necessitating new protection of coastal infrastructure.

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 3:51 pm

December 27, 2013

Antarctic Item 026

Antarctic Item 026-CC-Sh-500x590

Antarctic Item 026 may be as old as the outpost that housed it. The 12-inch length of bunched wire comes from Marble Point station, established by U.S. military forces in 1956 to facilitate the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year. The IGY was a multinational endeavor to coordinate the collection of geophysical data from around the world. It revived scientific interchange between East and West, initiated a new era of scientific discovery around developing technologies, and lay the foundation for many of today’s polar programs and international collaborations.

Sir Edmund Hillary at Marble Pt-foto by Bill McTigue-500x479

At Marble Point in 1957, this wire would have seen the construction of Antarctica’s first ground air strip (as opposed to ice/snow runways) and its first wheels-on-dirt landing. Or perhaps it arrived on that plane. If so, it was in the company of famed explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, photographed here on his arrival at Marble Point by surveyor Bill McTigue. Hillary went on to reach the South Pole in 1958 as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition for which he led the New Zealand section. Hillary’s party was the first to reach the Pole overland since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912, and the first ever to do so using motor vehicles.

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