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September 15, 2014

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

October 29, 2013

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Long View Sketchbook page 057 addresses the issue of marine litter, a worldwide environmental problem that extends from the Arctic to Antarctica. Marine litter is defined by the United Nations Environment Programme as ‘persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment.’ Such items drift for long distances, driven by ocean currents and winds. The debris is commonly found on the water surface, on seabeds, and beaches, from populated areas to remote regions.

A great deal of this waste is plastic which degrades slowly, if at all. The continued accumulation of these materials in the ocean and their inability to be restored to non-toxic forms exacerbates build-up and ensures long-term environmental pollution. This trend has been observed by a number of scientific studies across the globe, confirming that the marine litter situation worsens each year.

In Antarctica, one such survey was made in 1997 by Chilean scientists on Livingston Island. At this site alone, well over 1,600 pieces of litter were found, nearly all of them plastic. Approximately one third of the items were strapping bands, ropes and net pieces from fisheries to the north. Over 700 of the items were made of polystyrene which is notoriously slow to biodegrade, especially in its foam form.

My image represents the threats that plastic debris poses to marine ecosystems. The left side of the diptych pictures a creature caught in discarded fishing netting, also known as ghost nets for their relative invisibility under water. Entangling sea life, the nets restrict movement, causing starvation, laceration, and suffocation in organisms that need to return to the surface to breathe.

The right half of the collage alludes to the potential transfer of toxic chemicals from marine debris to the food chain. Not recognizing synthetic material, animals often mistake it for food, proving lethal when swallowed in significant quantities.

There are varied efforts presently under way to study and reduce the impacts of marine litter. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is an initiative that partners with other agencies to support research and introduce measures to eliminate plastic debris. Their blog is especially informative. Other notable movements include Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas campaign and Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris events.


Filed under: Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 8:33 pm

August 31, 2013

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The central element of my new sketchbook page is an abstraction of the constellation Pavo. Visible from Antarctica in the austral winter, Pavo is the 44th largest constellation in the sky and contains five stars with confirmed planets. It is named for Argos of Greek mythology who was transformed into a peacock by the goddess Juno upon his death to be eternally honored as a constellation. Pavo was first depicted in a star atlas in 1603 as part of Uranometria by German celestial cartographer Johann Bayer.

In my image, Pavo is flanked by neighboring constellations Triangulus Australe (originally called Triangulus Antarcticus) on the left and Indus on the right, over which a comet passes.

The zippered border represents the lifespan of our universe with a defined beginning and end. Astrophysicists at places such as the South Pole’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory have long gathered data that adds to our knowledge about the birth and expansion of the universe. But what of its long-term stability? Recent studies of the mass of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, whose discovery was announced at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider last year, suggest that the universe may in fact be fundamentally unstable and destined for a catastrophic end.

Should this be so, there is no need for immediate concern. The termination of our cosmos is projected to take place tens of billions of years in the future, well after our own sun burns out in 4.5 billion years.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 3:30 am

July 30, 2013

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My interest in space, time, and the ‘fabric of the cosmos’ has given rise to some new sketchbook pieces — in fabric. This image takes the skies of the southern hemisphere for its subject, depicting an abstraction of the constellation Hydra. It is the largest of the 88 modern constellations, having been listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century.

Hydra’s brightest star is Alphard (Alpha Hydrae), an orange giant represented by the shining orb on the right. Another of the constellation’s notable features is NGC 3314, a pair of galaxies that appear superimposed from Earth yet are separated from each other by millions of light years. NGC 3314 is pictured in the blue field on the upper left.

The centerpiece of my composition shows Hydra A, a galaxy cluster about 840 million light years from Earth. At the center of one of its galaxies lies a supermassive black hole that, while swallowing matter from its host galaxy, also generates large jets of material extending outward for hundreds of thousands of light years. These emissions, believed to be enriched by chemicals produced in galactic supernovae, contain significant amounts of iron and other elements, offering clues to where the complex chemicals that make up our world come from.

In my assemblage, the black hole is nestled securely in its galactic pocket, tethered to the fearful water-serpent.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:50 pm

December 2, 2010

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Pictured is an ocean organism I imagine marine biologists finding in the icy depths some day. But in addition to continually discovering many new sea floor communities, scientists are also studying ways in which known ones are changing. One such effort is ICE AGED (Investigating Change in Ecology in Antarctica by Gizmologists, Educators and Divers), run by the Benthic Ecology Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, the folks behind SCINI mentioned a couple blog posts ago.

The ICE AGED team has returned to an Antarctic experiment site established in the 1960s, a time considered as the dawn of Antarctic benthic research. Comparing original data with the present state of marine life on abandoned equipment is presenting researchers with a unique opportunity to assess nearly five decades of changes in the local ecosystem. One of those researchers is Paul Dayton, now a 71-year-old professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who will be revisiting the very cages and floats he secured to the seafloor as a youth. Here’s wishing Paul and the team success in their research under the ice, and perhaps the discovery of a new organism or two in the process. Read their journals here.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:49 pm
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