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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

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.


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)


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

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

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.


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:


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

January 22, 2009

Cape Royds: The Penguin Colony

It’s a short walk from Shackleton’s hut to the most southerly penguin colony in the world. Adélie penguins dot the coast for as far as the eye can see, yet the colony of around 2,100 nests is far smaller than its northern neighbors.

The size of the Royds colony varies from year to year depending on sea ice conditions. In 2000 for example, 4,000 nests populated this area until a giant iceberg calved off the Ross Ice Shelf. It grounded about 40 miles (60 km) north, preventing the sea ice from breaking up. Without access to open water, many penguins left for colonies more convenient to foraging.

The last two years have been good again at Cape Royds for proximity to open ocean and successful reproduction rates. But colony growth remains in limbo till the new Adélies start breeding between the ages of 3 and 5.

I had the pleasure here of meeting David Ainley, one of the world’s most respected ornithologists. He’s been studying penguins for over 40 years and is currently tracking the birds’ response to climate change. It’s believed that penguins’ sensitivity to environmental change offers clues to how global warming is affecting the planet.

Dr. Ainley and his team have a special interest in population dynamics. They monitor and compare movement within and between Royds and other Adélie colonies. They hope to find what determines colony locations, what the physical environment’s effects are, what accounts for differing colony sizes and their growth rates, and how competition between penguins affects colony size.

Among their tools is a Penguin Cam in operation since 2006. It’s especially useful in monitoring the birds that return to molt each year in February, by which time scientists have left Cape Royds for the winter.

On our stroll amidst volcanic hills, Dr. Ainley expressed concern about the industrial fishing industry’s impact on the penguins’ food web. I learned that the imminent depletion of the Antarctic toothfish — an upper-food-web predator popularly marketed as ‘Chilean sea bass’ — threatens to upset the entire Ross Sea’s marine ecosystem. The implications of spoiling the planet’s last such pristine waters are significant, as Dr. Ainley describes on his website penguinscience.com.

Around us, penguin mummies and skeletons abound. Freeze-dried carcasses get drilled through by relentless wind storms, eventually reducing them to bones.

The first-ever study of Adélie penguins happened right here at Cape Royds a hundred years ago by James Murray, the Nimrod expedition’s biologist. The following passage from Murray’s obituary in the Glasgow Herald in 1916 provides a wonderful snapshot of the biologist in the field:

“Like other naturalists, Murray notices the resemblance of penguins to human beings. He was convinced that the penguin had powers of speech, and he describes a palaver he witnessed when an ‘old man’ bird made a long speech in a muttering manner, short sounds following a group of four or five. Murray, to whom the speech was addressed, confesses that he did not understand a word of it, but the penguin was very patient and repeated it all over again, with no better results.

“One can imagine the great joy that must have come over Murray’s heart when he discovered that the frozen freshwater lakes at Cape Royds contained a fauna and flora akin to that which he first studied in Campsie Glen, for many lichens were found in them, a few mosses, and large numbers of infusorians, rotifers, and water bears. He also demonstrated afresh the strong resistance which rotifers have to extremes of temperature.”

The rotifers referred to — the resilient Bdelloidea — are those that James Murray describes in his essay “Life Under Difficulties” which, to bring my Cape Royds tale full circle, was his contribution to the expedition’s book Aurora Australis.

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