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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.

October 29, 2013

LV Sketchbook Page 057

2013-09-31 LV Sketchbook Page 057-Marine Litter w Eyelets-500x321

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

April 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 7: Aurora Australis edited by Ernest Shackleton, 1986 Reissue

In 1908 the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition occupied themselves over the dark Antarctic winter in part by producing Aurora Australis, the first book written, printed, illustrated, and bound on the frozen continent. Printed on a letterpress and bound in wooden covers fashioned from provisions cases, less than 70 copies are believed to exist. As a result the book fell into relative obscurity until it saw reissue as a trade edition nearly eight decades later, allowing the general public to experience the text and artwork in its entirety.


The trade edition is not a strict facsimile of the original book. Besides obviously lacking wooden boards, it has two notable additions. One is a preface by Lord [Baron] Edward Shackleton, the younger son of Sir Ernest. He comments on the original edition: “Edited by my father, painstakingly printed by [Ernest] Joyce, [Frank] Wild, and [George] Marston, and bound by [Bernard] Day in Venesta packing case boards, it has become a thing of legend. It seems that no copies were sold to the general public and with so few having been produced in the first place many Antarctic collectors have never had the opportunity even to see a copy. It contains no very important information about the success or otherwise of expedition affairs but it does show imagination, ingenuity and a surprising degree of professionalism in the difficult circumstances.”


The other addition is a valuable introduction by John Millard, an Antarctic scholar with a special interest in Aurora Australis. From Millard we learn that Sir Ernest Shackleton, a lover of poetry and literature, took great pleasure in polar publishing. He had served as editor of The South Polar Times and The Blizzard magazines on Robert F. Scott’s Discovery Expedition of 1901-1903, and recognized the benefits of such projects to his men’s well-being, creativity, and morale.

In 1981 Millard initiated a worldwide search of all extant copies of Aurora Australis, hoping to catalog the history of each one’s ownership. “To add to the useful information of the survey I also sought any information about inscriptions, signatures or other annotations of interest to historians, bibliophiles, book collectors and book sellers. To date (Spring 1985) with the help of many correspondents, I have located 56 copies. There is also some evidence for a further number of copies as yet untraced.”

Millard collected data from auction records, booksellers’ catalogs, institutional archives, and private libraries. In the process, he learned that some of the copies vary slightly in content and arrangement. For instance there are two versions of a particular article, ‘An Ancient Manuscript’ by Shellback (Frank Wild), one in which an illustration replaces text and another in which text replaces illustration. Other variants throughout the books have to do with ink color, cover sheet placement, and missing leaves.


Millard concludes by speculating on how the 60 or so copies were distributed: “It seems that one original intention was to sell copies of the Aurora Australis to the general public for the benefit of Expedition funds. This would have been a logical idea after the success of the facsimile editions of the South Polar Times. Margery and James Fisher, in their biography of Shackleton, suggested that this was not done because difficulties arose over the compensation to be given to Joyce, Wild, Marston & Day. A more likely reason would seem to be insufficient paper, ink, and available time to produce a sufficient quantity to make this a viable proposition. It seems likely that each member of the overwintering party received at least one copy of the book and other copies were given to friends and benefactors of the Expedition.”


Technology has come a long way since Millard conducted his research nearly 30 years ago. An increasing number of museums and collections are posting their archives online where several presentations of Aurora Australis can already be found. Two of the more impressive showcases as of this writing are by the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Museum Victoria, Melbourne and the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. The momentum of the internet and global communication may well bring all copies online with time, enabling comparison and study with increased ease.

The “First Public Edition” of Aurora Australis was published in 1986 by Bluntisham Books and The Paradigm Press of Arlburgh, Harleston, Norfolk UK. This book itself is now out of print and relatively hard to find.

February 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 6: The Heart of the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton


“Men go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have a keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the ‘lure of little voices,’ the mysterious fascination of the unknown. I think that in my own case it was a combination of these factors that determined me to try my fortune once again in the frozen south… The Discovery expedition [1901-1903] had brought back a great store of information, and had performed splendid service in several important branches of science. I believed that a second expedition could carry the work still further.”

These are the opening lines of The Heart of the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s chronicle of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. The Nimrod Expedition, as it is commonly called, was Shackleton’s second of four voyages to Antarctica and his first as Commander. Unlike the more famous Endurance Expedition to follow, the Nimrod endeavor was never novelized. Its descriptions remain penned solely by Shackleton and his crew who kept daily diaries throughout the journey, recording everything from scientific surveys and food consumption to their states of mind and the weather. The Heart of the Antarctic is informed by these writings, providing a thorough account of the voyage and great insight into the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.


Shackleton arranges the book in chronological order. The trip begins with its inception and funding in England, the securing of supplies in Norway, and the vessel Nimrod‘s transit to Lyttelton, New Zealand where dogs, ponies, and final provisions are brought on board. On arriving off Antarctica’s shores in January 1908, the company of fifteen men established their winter quarters at the nearest suitable landing site, Cape Royds on McMurdo Sound.

The team’s hut, a prefabricated structure measuring 627 square feet, was constructed shortly upon arrival. It included a kitchen area, darkroom, laboratory, storage section, and living space consisting of several two-person cubicles that acquired addresses such as “No. 1 Park Lane,” “The Gables,” and “The Rogue’s Retreat.” It was in the cramped quarters of the “The Rogue’s Retreat” that crew members Ernest Joyce and Frank Wild oversaw the production of Aurora Australis, the “first book ever written, printed, illustrated and bound in the Antarctic,” as Shackleton writes. (More about Aurora Australis in my next Antarctic Bookshelf post.)


In early March 1908, six of the team members undertook the first ever ascent of Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. At 12,450 feet in elevation, the climb took seven days to complete. The group braved gales, injuries, and shortages, calling for resourcefulness and improvisation. “They were now very thirsty,” Shackleton writes, “but they found that if they gathered a little snow, squeezed it into a ball and placed it on the surface of a piece of rock, it melted at once almost on account of the heat of the sun and thus they obtained a makeshift drink.” Eventually five of the men attained the summit, the sixth having been incapacitated by frostbite.

At the crater’s edge, meteorological experiments were carried out, surveys were made, and geological specimens were retrieved. The photo above was taken by Douglas Mawson, the expedition’s physicist. The trek report describes the scene: “We stood on the verge of a vast abyss, and at first could see neither to the bottom nor across it on account of the huge mass of steam filling the crater and soaring aloft in a column 500 to 1000 ft. high. After a continuous loud hissing sound, lasting for some minutes, there would come from below a big dull boom, and immediately great globular masses of steam would rush upwards to swell the volume of the snow-white cloud which ever sways over the crater. This phenomenon recurred at intervals during the whole of our stay at the crater. Meanwhile, the air around us was extremely redolent of burning sulphur. Presently a pleasant northerly breeze fanned away the steam cloud, and at once the whole crater stood revealed to us in all its vast extent and depth. Mawson’s angular measurement made the depth 900 ft. and the greatest width about half a mile.”


Erebus, however, was a light jog compared to the real work that lay ahead. (The ascent was in fact an unscheduled endeavor, proposed by Shackleton during a period of down-time “to seek some outlet for our energies that would be useful in advancing the cause of science, and the work of the expedition.”) Shackleton’s three major objectives were attempted by organizing the company into three sledging parties. The first of these, the Southern Party, set their sights on reaching the Geographic South Pole. Led by ‘The Boss’ himself, this group set off in October 1908, trekking to within 100 miles of their destination. Along the way they crossed and charted much new terrain, notably that of the Great Ice Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf), the Trans-Antarctic mountain range, the mighty Beardmore glacier which they named after their principal benefactor, and the central polar plateau. The 73-day march was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole, a feat for which Shackleton was knighted. The return voyage was no less challenging, beset by dwindling rations, severe weather conditions and the need to man-haul after losing all the ponies. Altogether the Southern Party travelled over 1,750 miles by foot and sledge.

The second team, the Northern Party, was tasked with reaching the South Magnetic Pole. The three-man group departed winter quarters in September 1908, arriving at their destination in January 1909 to claim it for the British Empire. This return hike too was marred by fatigue, food shortages and severe weather, threatening to delay them from a planned rendezvous with the vessel Nimrod which had returned from New Zealand to pick the parties up. Having missed the ship’s first pass of the shore, the group was spotted and retrieved by the vessel two days later. The Northern Party’s mission was achieved entirely by man-hauling without dogs or ponies, led by Welsh Australian geology professor T. W. Edgeworth David who Shackleton had appointed as the Nimrod expedition’s scientific director.

The third lot, the Western Party, were dispatched twice. Their first job was to plant stores along the Northern Party’s return path from the South Magnetic Pole. Their second operation was to explore the Ferrar Glacier, flowing from the plateau of Victoria Land across 35 miles (56 km) to McMurdo Sound. In doing so, they carried out a full geological survey in the Dry Valleys region and explored new expanses of Victoria Land. Their closest call occurred when they were back on the coast awaiting the Nimrod‘s arrival. The sea ice they were camping on broke loose and nearly took them out of McMurdo Sound save for a momentary brush against the shore, enabling the men to escape. After three weeks of frigid coast-side camping, they were found, rescued, and returned to New Zealand along with the rest of the company to great acclaim.

In the last pages of the book, Shackleton writes about encountering the milder latitudes once more: “That was a wonderful day to all of us. For over a year we had seen nothing but rocks, ice, snow, and sea. There had been no colour and no softness in the scenery of the Antarctic; no green growth had gladdened our eyes, no musical notes of birds had come to our ears. We had had our work, but we had been cut off from most of the lesser things that go to make life worth while. No person who has not spent a period of his life in those ‘stark and sullen solitudes that sentinel the Pole’ will understand fully what trees and flowers, sun-flecked turf and running streams mean to the soul of a man.”

I can attest to that euphoric sensation following even a scant month in Antarctica. Yet if there’s anything to match the experience of flora after the Ice, it is surely the experience of the Ice after flora. Shackleton likely agreed, for in five years’ time he was sailing for the southern continent once more, this time at the helm of the Endurance.


The Heart of the Antarctic, Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 was first published in two volumes by William Heinemann, London, in November 1909. Heinemann also issued a three-volume deluxe edition of 300 numbered vellum-bound copies that year. This scarce set’s third volume, titled The Antarctic Book, includes Shackleton’s poem “Erebus” and Mawson’s fiction piece “Bathybia,” drawn from the pages of the expedition’s home-grown Aurora Australis. It also includes etchings by expedition artist George Marston. Significantly, this third volume features on two leaves the hand-written signatures of all fifteen shore party members; the British participants on one side and the Australian participants on the other.

Pictured in the photos above is the New Popular Edition published by Heinemann in May 1932. It condensed Shackleton’s text into a single volume, offering the book to a larger public at an affordable price.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 10:37 pm
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