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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

August 31, 2010

A Visit to the Polar Research Institute of China

When I traveled with my family to China and Mongolia this summer, I didn’t expect the trip to figure into this blog. Antarctic-related encounters seemed unlikely, outside of conjuring cold thoughts to battle the unrelenting heat.

But on arriving at Mongolia’s vast western steppes, the region’s grandeur triggered a profound sense of Antarctic déjà vu. The lack of ice and snow hardly mattered; there were endless landscapes, diverse ecosystems, undisturbed environments, a sparse human population, protected area designations, and science teams in the field. It was inspiring, and when it came time to leave for China, I resolved to find an Antarctic encounter of sorts there too.

Fortuitously, our itinerary included Shanghai, home to the Polar Research Institute of China. The thought of visiting China’s main polar research center was alluring. So was the notion of gaining admission to an actual Communist government agency in the PRC. It felt rather subversive, and a bit off-limits. Wouldn’t they suspect us as spies? Surely we’d be turned away. So when my wife Lili, who speaks Mandarin, successfully arranged an appointment with the Institute, we were euphoric despite the fact that we had no idea of what there was to see there.

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The Institute is a hulking edifice in Shanghai’s Pudong district. We passed through the
complex’s security gate and into the lobby; no IDs checked. A staffer with a fittingly
icy demeanor led us to an exhibition room devoid of visitors, waved us in, and said
she’d be back in an hour. Photography was OK. Spies were clearly not a concern.

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The exhibition showcases all manners of Chinese polar research and achievements.
There are dioramas, maps, models, charts, and a plethora of informational signage,
all in Chinese. I was grateful to have read up on China’s polar programs beforehand,
and Lili was grateful to be spared from having to translate all the text.

The gallery’s centerpiece is a large relief map showing China’s three polar research
stations in Antarctica: Great Wall Station on King George Island off the Antarctic
Peninsula, Zhongshan Station on the eastern Antarctic coast, and Kunlun Station
situated 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level at Dome Argus, the highest
point of the expansive East Antarctic ice sheet.

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China is a relative newcomer to the Antarctic research community. Its polar scientific program only began in 1981 and the Polar Research Institute was founded in 1989. Today China commands a noteworthy presence on the Ice and participates in several international projects at any given time.

A significant one is the U.S.-led Antarctic Gamburstev Province (AGAP) project, which
last year verified the existence of a rugged mountain range buried more than four
kilometers (2.5 miles) under the giant East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

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China itself led an international team of scientists in 2008 in setting up a robotic observatory, PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) at Dome A that runs a variety of experiments. Each of the last two winters, the instrumentation operated without a human within 600 miles for more than 200 days. Deemed a successful prototype for future robotic observatories, the team is building two new PLATOs this year. One will be deployed to the Japanese Antarctic station of Dome Fuji and the other is a higher-end addition to Dome A that supports a new suite of instruments. The National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, supports the program by providing Iridium satellite communications as well as funding several first-light site-testing instruments.

These current endeavors, however, are absent from this exhibition whose static
displays limit it to broad overviews of polar research and past accomplishments.

Introducing new media would really bring the content to life and up to date.
I imagine a wall monitor featuring live broadcasts and breaking news from Ant-
arctica for example. Real-time updates would convey the excitement, pace, and
immediacy of science on the Ice and enhance the visitor experience immensely.

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After an hour, the icy staffer re-appeared, ushered us back to the lobby, and showed
us the door.

I’ll admit I was hoping for a little something more from the visit; perhaps a tour or
a glimpse of a scientist. But I can’t complain; we’d found our Antarctic encounter,
inside a Communist government building no less.

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Besides, there’s more: Back in central Shanghai on the Pudong end of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, we came across yet another Antarctic exhibition: the “Polar Experience Museum” which isn’t so much a museum as an exhibition space with distinct similarities to the Institute’s. This attraction, presumably a satellite of the Institute, is pictured in these last three photos.

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For those needing to scratch an Antarctic itch in Shanghai, the Polar Experience
Museum will probably suffice. It’s more centrally located than the Institute exhibit,
better lit, and populated by visitors.

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If you do seek out the Polar Research Institute of China though, note that it’s soon to
be renamed the Chinese Polar Research Center. Its present location is 451 Jinqiao Road, Pudong, Shanghai 200136. Call ahead for an appointment at +86-21-5871-2101 or
fax +86-21-5871-1663.


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities — mbartalos @ 11:33 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

July 9, 2010

Long View Study No. 11 (Syowa)

Currently, 29 of 48 Antarctic Treaty member nations operate research stations on the continent and its nearby islands. Some bases are permanent, some are temporary; some operate year-round and others in summer only. Their programs, capabilities and designs differ, and each lends itself uniquely to international scientific collaboration. I’ll be featuring a variety of these facilities in upcoming posts and artwork, starting with Japan’s Syowa Station:

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Syowa (also known as Showa) is located on East Ongul Island in Eastern Antarctica. It is the largest Antarctic science research facility run by the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo.

Syowa was established in 1957 and is home to NIPR’s Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE). The base uses solar power and its research activities include upper atmosphere physics, meteorology, seismology, gravimetry, geodesy and cartography, oceanography, glaciology, geology, geography, terrestrial and marine biology, and medical research.

NIPR and the U.S. Antarctic Program collaborate regularly with a focus on the geosciences and environment. An example is cooperative high-altitude scientific balloon launches at Syowa and Amundsen-Scott Station. By pooling resources and sharing data over Earth observation networks, Japan and the U.S. help each other while allowing worldwide access to information about climate change.

My collage’s chief elements are bits of printed matter I found in Tokyo. The hands are vintage sci-fi, which is how I imagine Japan’s 1957 foray into Antarctica — their first — to have felt. The hands also suggest prosthetic solutions in case of extreme frostbite.

The artwork was contributed to Scott Massey‘s RRR Project featuring art made with and about recycling. His new print publication RRR.002 is in the works as well as an exhibition or two. I’m glad to be part of it!


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Climate Change,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:39 pm

May 5, 2010

Long View Study No. 8 (Plan 1)

Spring greetings from San Francisco! I’m back from abroad and excited to see my Extreme Mammals graphics on display at the museum and its retail spaces. Enjoy the EM show and my images, up through September 12.

In Long View Project news: I have three new Antarctic-related works to share this week. Today’s featured piece is “LV Study No. 8 (Plan 1),” inspired by Lake Vostok, a body of water situated 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) beneath Russia’s Vostok Station at the center of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. This largest of Antarctica’s subglacial lakes was revealed by airborne ice-penetrating radar imagery in 1973, and preliminary ice-core drilling suggests that its depths harbor microbes that evolved uniquely to survive the most oxygen-rich natural lake environment on Earth.

The challenge to scientists is not in reaching these depths, but in probing the lake without contaminating its ecosystems. Presently, ice core drills are stopped 100 meters (300 feet) short of reaching liquid water to prevent the apparatus’s anti-freeze compound of freon and aviation fuel from tainting it. Russian scientists are reportedly devising a solution to safely access the water by next year.

I’ve referenced Lake Vostok in previous artworks, but the environmental issues related to the research are particularly relevant to the Long View Project. I’m curious to learn about the technology being developed for this specific mission; its eventual implementation; its ultimate dependability. Will it be fabulously successful in the long term, or might supposed safeguards fail with disastrous consequences? (And who isn’t asking such questions in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster?)

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My artwork, subtitled Plan 1 (план 1), imagines the inception of the Vostok exploration project by Russian researchers. This schematic would have served to indicate their position relative to the recently-discovered lake beneath their station. Depth (глубина) and active life forms are speculated upon, and a lake bed research base is proposed. Exact coordinates and reliability of mail service yet unknown (неизвестный).

I’m fascinated by the notion of science fiction eventually giving way to science fact, and I enjoy following exploratory endeavors as technology progresses. Perhaps that’s why I find the Lake Vostok project continually engaging and return to it for inspiration and perspec-
tive time and again.

Long View Study No. 8 (Plan 1) measures 8.25″ x 10.25″ and was created with cut found paper, graphite, and a Russian postage stamp. The piece will be on view and available at Space Odyssey: Southern Exposure’s Annual Fundraiser and Art Auction this Saturday evening, May 6 at SoEx, 3030 20th Street in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 1:56 am

July 4, 2009

Fourth of July in Antarctica

Happy Independence Day! Midwinter festivities are under way at McMurdo Station
as reported in the Antarctic Sun’s Around the Continent-Research Station Updates
July 2 entry. Celebrations include the annual Midwinter Dinner, dance, photo exhibi-
tion, outdoor run (brrr), and the Fourth of July carnival. Sounds like a blast, minus
the blast of fireworks.

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Here’s McMurdo as it appears in the darkness of the Austral winter, which lasts from
late April until August. There are 153 residents at the station now, mostly doing
maintenance, repairs, and preparation for the nearly 1,100 people expected for the
summer research season. The photograph was taken on May 6 by James Walker /
National Science Foundation.


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities — mbartalos @ 2:52 pm

January 19, 2009

Scott Base

Scott Base is New Zealand’s research station here on Ross Island. It’s just a couple of miles down the road from McMurdo. Once a week, the base hosts “American Night,” inviting McMurdo residents for a visit and a beer. I hopped a shuttle van and checked it out.

Scott is compact, quiet, tidy, and very green in color. The buildings are green, the pipes are green, the fuel tanks, storage huts and bins are green. Even the milvans are green. Some find it pleasant; others don’t. An American visitor commented that the Kiwis had been played a cruel joke upon, a joke they didn’t get.

I disagreed, but it got me wondering about the reason for the color. My first guess was that it was inspired by New Zealand’s iconic parrots seen on the sign in the top photo.

My second guess was that it represents greenness in the environmental sense. This occurred to me on seeing several recycling bins indoors.

I was wrong on both counts. A quick search led to an interesting Scott Base FAQ where the answer — or at least the mythology — behind the color is revealed.

As well as its name. You gotta love a hue called ‘Chelsea cucumber.’


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Antarctica — mbartalos @ 11:33 pm

January 16, 2009

The South Pole, Part 2

There’s a lot of exciting science happening here at the South Pole, much of it astrophysics. The Pole’s dry atmosphere, deep ice sheet, uninterrupted cycles of night and day, high altitude (9,301 feet / 2,835 meters) and low electromagnetic noise make this an ideal area to conduct such research.

A lot of that happens in these buildings, approximately a kilometer from the main station structure. The large white upright dish on the left is the new South Pole Telescope (SPT). The yellow dish on the right is the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI), part of the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory (MAPO) named for a pioneer in Antarctic astronomy. DASI studies the cosmic microwave background radiation, the leftover glow from the Big Bang. Scientists look for anisotropies, or irregularities, in this glow for clues to the structures of the universe in its infancy.

Here I am in DASI’s dish, on 35,000 pounds of telescopic equipment supported on an 11-meter high tower. I’m sensing anisotropies…

The newer, bigger, 300-ton South Pole Telescope is a project of the University of Chicago and six collaborating institutions. The 10-meter dish and its components reach 7 storeys high, constructed during the 2006-07 austral summer. The goal is to seek out galaxy clusters in hopes of confirming the existence of dark energy which would further reveal the nature of the universe. Similar to DASI, SPT maps cosmic microwave background radiation — only more efficiently, given its array of one thousand detectors offering new levels of sensitivity and resolution.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is another unique project. Borne by its predecessor AMANDA (Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array), thousands of spherical optical sensors are being vertically suspended like beads on a string in the Pole’s 2-mile thick ice. Their job is to detect very high energy neutrinos from sources outside our solar system, allowing cosmologists to understand the nature of dark matter and other astrophysical phenomena.

I ended up taking several pictures of this IceCube Event display showing neutrinos crashing into atoms of ice in real time. The colorful 3-D motion graphics and user’s ability to manipulate point-of-view make spectacular representations of these collisions, whose resulting muons reveal the direction of the neutrinos’ cosmic source indicated by the red path.

Next: Spoolhenge (for real this time!) and the Pole’s poles.


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,South Pole — mbartalos @ 11:27 pm
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