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July 9, 2012

Long View Study No. 21 (Cape Royds)

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My series on Antarctic research stations continues with a salute to Ernest Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut, home base to his team’s 1907-09 British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Nimrod Expedition. The Royds hut facilitated cutting-edge polar science of its day in the areas of geology, zoology, geography and meteorology. The scientific team’s director, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, led from here the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. Royds was also the launch pad for Shackleton’s 1908 attempt for the South Geographic Pole. His team trekked to within 97 nautical miles (180.6 km / 112.2 mi) of their goal, the farthest south attained by any expedition at the time.

It was also at Royds that Shackleton’s men printed and bound Aurora Australis, the first book ever published in Antarctica. It consisted of of essays, poems and drawings printed on a hand press in an edition of about 25 completed copies whose wooden covers were fashioned from provisions cases. Such crates, in abundance, were repurposed by them for hut shelving and furniture as well.

My use of wood, letterpress makeready, typographic letterforms, and book / bookshelf structure in Long View Study No. 21 allude to the Shackleton team’s production of Aurora Australis and their resourcefulness. The collage’s central figure is Sir Ernest himself who edited the book, wrote its two prefaces, and contributed an ode to Mount Erebus under the pseudonym NEMO.

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My piece functions either as a wall hanging or a free-standing artwork. A detached wooden element serves as a shelf embellishment in wall mode or as a bottom support in free-standing mode. In either case the right-hand ‘shelf unit’ is modifiable with extra shelves of varying lengths. The hinged ‘spine’ indicates the manner in which the complete string of Long View panels will connect to one another to form an accordion-fold structure.


May 30, 2012

Long View Study No. 20 (Bernardo O’Higgins)

This recent cut-paper composition takes Chile’s General Bernardo O’Higgins Antarctic Base for its theme. The artwork is part of my series on Antarctic research stations operating on the continent and its nearby islands. With these posts I’ll be examining the bases’ fields of study, their differing implementations of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, and their associative architecture, infrastructure, and role in the context of a changing planet.

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Bernardo O’Higgins base is a year-round research facility near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Named for the leader of the Chilean military forces that won independence from Spain, O’Higgins is administered by the Chilean Army which provides logistical support, maintains the infrastructure, and assists in scientific work at the station. The base conducts research into ultraviolet measurements, hydrology, oceanography, and human physiology as affected by periods of darkness and light. It also supports studies of the magnetosphere which envelops and shields the planet from the solar wind.

Prominent on the site (and in the center of my artwork) is the German Antarctic Receiving Station (GARS), a satellite ground station enabling reception of high-resolution remote sensing data on the south polar region. The nine-meter parabolic antenna is a joint venture between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Instituto Antarctico Chileno (INACH), Chile’s Antarctic research institute.

O’Higgins was established in 1948, making it one of the longest-running Antarctic bases of continuous operation. Interestingly it was built in the midst of a Gentoo penguin rookery which still exists. This perch, separated from the Antarctic continent by 50 meters of water at high tide, offers a unique opportunity to study the wildlife and ecology of the region. According to the most recently issued U.S. Antarctic Treaty Inspection Report: “The base keeps a log book documenting environmental impacts on a weekly basis. Penguin nests, eggs and chicks are monitored, as well as other birds in the vicinity of the base. All monitoring is visual; there is no tagging or touching of the birds.” The report however adds: “While base personnel said they attempt to maintain a distance from the nesting penguins to prevent any disturbance, many of the nests are on or near base facilities where people must pass during daily activities, and thus close human contact with these animals is unavoidable.”

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O'Higgins and its surrounding penguins (click to enlarge).

O’Higgins Base made news this year when its seawaters were found to contain bacteria that are resistant to nearly all kinds of antibiotics. The research was led by Uppsala University‘s Björn Olsen and Jorge Hernández who detected higher concentrations of the superbugs nearer to the sewage outfalls of O’Higgins and two other Chilean bases. Linking the phenomenon to the quality of sewage treatment remains tenuous though, as Hernández noted that “Chile has provided its permanent bases with modern equipment for waste water treatment that is constantly improving.”

Scientists are now investigating wildlife for clues since the culprit bacteria were also found in gulls in France. Observations suggest that the bacteria may maintain their super-resilience long beyond their exposure to antibiotics, and that they may survive in the wild using animals as hosts.

That possibility is of concern at O’Higgins, situated as it is in a rookery. Penguins nearby have been checked and are deemed free of that bacteria which carry genes that make the ESBL enzyme capable of destroying penicillin, cephalosporins and related antibiotics. Other types of sea birds in proximity to the station are next to undergo testing. Whatever the outcome, the existence of these microorganisms in Antarctica indicates the troubling extent to which drug-resistant bacteria are proliferating on Earth.


March 30, 2012

Long View Study No. 19 (Halley I-V)

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My latest piece takes the first five iterations of the British Antarctic Survey‘s Halley Research Station for its subject. The base is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf of the Weddell Sea and is well known for its atmospheric studies. The first measurements of ozone depletion in the Antarctic stratosphere were taken here in 1985, leading to the international agreement on banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Halley I was founded in 1956 for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 by an expedition from the Royal Society. Halley II, III, and IV were constructed over successive decades as the snow surface, rising about a meter a year, buried each of the bases over time.

My image’s vertical arrangement references the resulting stratification of architecture and ice which places Halley I at a depth of 56 meters (184 feet) in 2012, with the whole lot drifting towards the Weddell at the rate of around half a kilometer annually.

Halley V, still in use, was the first of these stations to be built on steel platforms supported by extendable legs to keep it above the accumulating snow for at least a while longer. Building on this idea, BAS introduced new structures mounted on skis to be moved by bulldozers to prevent them from being buried.

The newest step in this direction is the spectacular Halley VI station, which warrants an artwork and blog post of its own. Look for it here soon.

Long View Study No. 19 (Halley I-V) was created using wood, acrylic, graphite and cut paper. It’s the third artwork in my Antarctic research station series (Syowa and McMurdo being the first two).


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:36 pm

July 12, 2011

Long View Study No. 18 (The Invisible Universe I)

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At the bottom of the Earth, the 10-meter South Pole Telescope (SPT) is mapping the
farthest edges of the visible Universe. In the process, cosmologists have come to real-
ize that what we can see makes up only 5% of the mass and energy of our Universe.
The invisible remainder consists of 23% dark matter, an exotic form of matter that has
never been directly detected, and 72% dark energy, a mysterious substance fueling an
accelerated expansion of space itself.

Researchers are attempting to understand these phenomena in order to unlock some
of the deepest mysteries in cosmology; namely, where we came from and where we
are headed. They hope to ‘see’ warped space and warped time by novel means such
as harnessing dimples in space-time (described by Einstein in his theory of General Rel-
ativity) as giant “cosmic lenses.” Combining gravitational lensing observations, cosmic
background radiation studies, and simulations using supercomputers may one day
explain this strange form of mass-energy and the big-bang singularity from which it,
and we, were born.

My latest artwork imagines a slice of the invisible Universe, referencing the telescopic
shape associated with light beams, ultrasound imaging, and radar sweeps. Visualizing
the ‘unknown’ and ‘unseen’ intrigues me and I’ll be exploring the theme further in up-
coming studies. This piece was created with found printed matter, cut paper and graphite.


Filed under: Studies — mbartalos @ 11:20 pm

June 30, 2011

Long View Study No. 17 (South Pole Greenhouse)

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My latest piece takes the Food Growth Chamber at the Amundsen-Scott Station for its subject. I touched on this curious greenhouse in a South Pole blog post a while ago, and thought it worth elaborating on a bit more.

The Growth Chamber is a semi-automated, computer-controlled, self-contained environment in operation since 2004, growing a variety of edible plants for research base residents and providing the only source of fresh fruit and vegetables for the winter crews’ 8-month stretches of isolation. Crops that thrive in this bright, humid space include lettuces, Asian greens, kale, chard, spinach, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, strawberries, cantaloupes, and melon vines, among many others.

Built by the National Science Foundation and developed under a NASA grant, the 70-cubic-yard space grows plants hydroponically using nutrient-rich water without soil or natural daylight. The technology of hydroponics allows the tailoring of temperature, humidity, lighting, airflow and nutrient conditions to get the best productivity out of plants year round anywhere in the world. And in worlds beyond as well, as the system serves as a prototype for future plant growth systems — and oxygen generators — for human colonies in outer space.

The chamber can also be seen as a model for growing crops in vertical farms in densely populated cities. With an estimated world population increase of 3 billion people by 2050, of which 80% are projected to live in urban areas, scientists see many benefits to hydroponic vertical farming. Examples include the reduction of transport and carbon emissions with local food production; reduction of pesticide use through controlled growing environments; protection of crops from weather-related problems; increased crop production through year-round farming; and conservation of natural resources by reducing the need for new farmland.

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The South Pole greenhouse is operated remotely by the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. Manager Lane Patterson refers to the chamber as a ‘growbot’ — a robot that grow things. He accesses it via computer and camera, assisting an on-site operator electronically. According to Patterson, the growbot requires about 140 liters (37 gallons) of water, sequesters about one kilogram of carbon dioxide and uses about 281 kilowatt hours of energy (equivalent to eight gallons of gasoline) per day. In turn, it yields about half a kilogram of oxygen and six kilograms of biomass (raw plant matter) daily. That translates to a little more than a half-pound per person per week, providing fresh organic salads to ‘Polies’ on a regular basis.

My collage features tomatoes from a vintage produce label pasted on letterpress makeready with cut paper and graphite. Presiding over the hydroponic harvest is a likeness of Annapurna, Hindu goddess of plenty and nourishment. The wood frame alludes to planter boxes, produce crates, and of course plants themselves.

The assemblage appears in Scott Massey‘s RRR Project featuring art inspired by recycling, sustainability, and environment themes. The latest issue, RRR.003, is viewable in free downloadable ezine format here.


Filed under: Studies — mbartalos @ 11:50 pm

April 30, 2011

Long View Study No. 16 (Remote Sensing: Antarctica)

Long View Study No. 16 is inspired by Earth observation satellites that monitor
environmental changes. Scientists use these satellites to collect and compare data
over the long term to better understand and predict how Earth’s systems interact.

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Over Antarctica, Earth observation satellites track shifts in sea ice, ozone depletion, animal populations, weather and other conditions using radar which allow study of inaccessible areas at day or night, regardless of cloud cover.

The most powerful of these spacecrafts is Envisat, launched by the European Space Agency in 2002. Envisat has been helping scientists study the Antarctic Peninsula’s ice shelves in response to the rapid warming that has occurred in that area over the last 50 years. Within days of its launch, the satellite recorded the dramatic disintegration of the Larsen B shelf, and it recently captured the break-up of the sizable Wilkins Ice Shelf — important indicators for ongoing climate change.

Also significant to Antarctic research is the Landsat program, a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Launched in 1972, this longest-running Earth survey from space recently facilitated an Antarctic mapping endeavor called LIMA (Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica) composed of over 1,000 true-color and high-definition images. They constitute an unprecedented data set enabling precise study of changes on the Ice, including curious methods of tracking emperor penguin colonies. The project is accessible online as part of the participating organizations’ education and outreach efforts.

Satellites continue to be essential as remote sensing technology evolves, providing scientists with more information over time. Every form of gathered data — passive visual, active microwave, and sensitive gravity measurements — adds new understanding of Antarctica’s role in the big picture and helps climate scientists assess, predict, and manage continued human impact on the natural system.

The artwork measures 8.125″ x 14″ and was created with cut paper, graphite and wood. The piece will be on view and available at Southern Exposure’s Annual Fundraiser and Art Auction this Saturday evening, May 7 at SoEx, 3030 20th Street in San Francisco.


Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:02 pm

April 6, 2011

Long View Study No. 15 (Climate Science)

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My latest composition takes climate change research in Antarctica for its theme. The continent is important to scientists for its pivotal role in the Earth’s climate system and
its sensitivity to environmental change. By collecting and merging diverse forms of data
from the Ice, they hope to better understand global warming and predict future
scenarios.

One of the indicators that scientists monitor is the Antarctic ozone hole in the stratosphere, represented by the semicircle at the top of my image. Diminished ozone concentrations are caused by man-made chlorine-containing source gases — primarily CFCs and related halocarbons — which in turn affect weather in the troposphere.
I pictured that as a comet-like gust of wind because ozone depletion combined with increased greenhouse gases and internal climate variability are known to have strengthened Antarctica’s winds. On the positive side, environmental regulation has
been shown to play a successful role in containing the ozone hole and its effects in
recent years.

Scientists also draw information from studying and comparing locales on the ground. I’ve represented two of these areas in my piece.

One is the McMurdo Dry Valleys, indicated by the ‘ice drill’ at lower right. This region’s sensitive ecosystem is monitored for its rapid response to small variations in solar radiation and temperature driven by human activity. Past climate change is studied by analyzing trapped air bubbles in ancient ice, obtained by extracting ice cores from Dry Valleys glaciers.

Another important area is the great Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), depicted in
the left half of my piece. Researchers are collecting WAIS ice cores to measure historic greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, methane) levels in up to 100,000 years of snowfall. The chemical makeup of the ice itself functions as a thermometer, revealing the atmospheric temperature when the snow fell. Research suggests that WAIS may be inherently unstable and that it likely collapsed in the distant past when Earth was a few degrees warmer than today.

Which leads to the issue of sea level rise. I’ve marked my projected water level at 15 inches in deference to the International Panel on Climate Change‘s estimate of a global average rise between 0.6 and 2 feet in the next century. While there’s no question that sea levels are rising, researchers also remind us that climate prediction remains an inexact science. In Antarctica, where temperatures have soared along the peninsula in the last several decades but have changed little over East Antarctica (thanks in part, ironically, to the ozone hole-induced winds), projecting the future has proven even more difficult. In fact just last year scientists were forced to retract a major paper on rising sea levels due to errors that undermined the study’s conclusion. That report suggested that sea levels could rise to a whopping 82cm (32.28 inches) by the end of the century.

Given the number of evolving climatic factors, researchers now generally agree to uncertainty about how much warming will occur in Antarctica. One thing for certain however is that WAIS will be monitored ever more closely, considering the amount of water stored in the continent’s ice sheets.

• • •

On a CalAcademy-related note: I’m currently creating a large, unique Earth Day-themed installation in the museum’s central Piazza space. The project is titled “Handle With Care” and is described on my site and on the CalAcademy’s programs page and in my artist’s statement. You’re invited to come on by, say hi, and see the piece in progress till April 20 and in completed form thereafter.


Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 2:51 am

March 8, 2011

Long View Study No. 14 (Bdelloid Rotifers 1-5)

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The subject of this assemblage is bdelloid rotifers, tiny transparent animals found in
moist environments worldwide, including Antarctica. These fascinating invertebrates
were described in a chapter of Aurora Australis, the book printed by Shackleton’s
Nimrod crew in the cold, dark Antarctic winter of 1908.

The chapter’s author, the expedition’s biologist James Murray, titles his essay “Life
Under Difficulties” which refers not to the hardships endured by the men as he points
out, but “…rather to some of our very humble fellow-creatures, animals quite micro-
scopic in size, which are able to live under conditions which seem to us extremely
unfavourable.”

Murray goes on to describe the bdelloids’ resistance to damage (because of their size), endurance of drought (by entering a state of dormancy), and their tolerance to extreme heat and cold “…which promises to shed much light on the limits of temperature at
which life is possible on the earth.”

Indeed it did. But there was more to come. A hundred years on, scientists learned that these creatures are the planet’s most radiation-resistant animals—more so even than
the hardy tardigrades (a.k.a. ‘water bears.’) They also know now that bdelloid rotifers reproduce asexually, challenging the assumption that sex is necessary for the diversification of species (over 450 species in this case).

Most intriguing is that these animals have evolved and thrived over millions of years through the special ability to pick foreign DNA up from the environment and incorporate
it into their genomes. The new material comes from sources such as as bacteria, fungi, plants, even semi-digested food, and gets into the cells that will become eggs.

Murray wrote about bdelloid eggs but he never knew they were products of ‘horizontal gene transfer.’ He surely would have marveled that this process — common to bacteria — should also apply to his beloved Bdelloidea. Their ability to evolve this way is believed to
be unique in the animal kingdom.

Somewhat along the lines of finding foreign genes to build with, I used scavenged
material to create the specimens here. Wood, hardware, thread, paper, and graphite combine to depict Claria, a parasitic (fam. Clariaidae); Collotheca (fam. Collothecidae); Abrochta (fam. Philodinavidae); Balatro (fam. Dicranophoridae); and Keratella (fam. Brachionidae); a set of bdelloids chosen for its array of physical features.


Filed under: Studies — mbartalos @ 10:02 pm

February 10, 2011

Long View Study No. 13 (Nimrod Shore Party)

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The figures in this piece represent Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic crew from the 1907-09 ‘Nimrod’ Expedition who produced the letterpress-printed Aurora Australis
book, fashioning its wooden covers from recycled provision cases.

Each page of the triptych is 11.75″ high x 10.25″ wide, created in graphite and cut
paper. The set is currently on exhibit in Cutters/Cork, the latest in the Cutters series of international contemporary collage exhibitions curated by James Gallagher. The show is
up through March 12 at West Cork Arts Centre in County Cork, Ireland.


Filed under: Aurora Australis Book,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:55 pm

July 30, 2010

Long View Study No. 12 (McMurdo)

McMurdo Station is Antarctica’s largest human settlement and the first permanent American scientific research base on the continent.

Established in 1955, ‘Mactown’ sits at the southern shore of Ross Island, the solid ground farthest south that is accessible by ship. It’s operated by the United States Antarctic Program under the National Science Foundation, and houses over 1,000 summer residents and about 150 in winter.

Research performed at and near McMurdo includes aeronomy and astrophysics, biology and medicine, geology and geophysics, glaciology and glacial geology, and the study of ocean and climate systems.

This collage, the second in my series on Antarctic stations, focuses on McMurdo’s role in high-altitude scientific research.

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Since 1989, NASA and the NSF have launched large unmanned helium balloons and their instruments from a site near here. Owing to unique atmosphere circulation over the continent during the austral summer, the balloons are often recoverable weeks later in nearly the same spot.

During my stay at McMurdo last January, the NASA-NSF partnership successfully launched a newly designed super-pressure balloon prototype that achieved altitudes of over 111,000 feet — three to four times higher than passenger planes fly. The balloon’s material was unique: an advanced lightweight polyethylene film about as thick as ordinary plastic food wrap.

With further developments to craft size, durability and functionality, the team hopes to eventually hoist a one-ton instrument to the brink of space for 100 days or more. Long duration balloon missions at such heights cost considerably less than satellites, and their scientific apparatus are retrievable and re-launchable, providing sustainable high altitude research platforms.

Balloon flights are used to to make atmospheric studies, to investigate the nature of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, to search for anti-matter, and to make scientific observations in fields such as hard x-ray/gamma-ray and infra-red astronomy. Floated radio telescopes search for indirect evidence of extremely high-energy neutrino particles possibly coming from outside our Milky Way galaxy, while other experiments measure high energy cosmic-ray particles originating from distant supernova explosions within our galaxy.

McMurdo’s next super-pressure balloon launch is an international collaboration involving mostly French and American scientists. Scheduled for August, the Concordiasi project will put as many as 18 balloons in the atmosphere at about 20 kilometers altitude. Their instruments will take meteorological and atmospheric readings in relation to the ice surface and study the processes of ozone depletion over Antarctica.

In addition to my collage’s balloon imagery, the artwork references Building 155 described in an early dispatch. Also included are the station’s acronym MCM and Robert Falcon Scott whose Discovery expedition hut of 1901-04 stands in view of McMurdo Station today.

I created the artwork with found paper and printed matter and contributed the piece to Scott Massey‘s recycling-inspired RRR Project. Look for his new print publication RRR.002 and related exhibitions soon.


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Climate Change,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:22 pm
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