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October 29, 2013

LV Sketchbook Page 057

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.


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

May 15, 2010

First LV Print Edition Complete

The Long View Project’s first print edition, previewed in progress some posts ago, is now complete. It’s titled “21-Step Grey Water Treatment System,” issued as four pochoir stencil prints, each on a different color of paper.

As I mentioned back in the Dry Valleys, grey water is a term for waste water resulting
from washing, cooking, and similar activities. Grey water contains cooking fats, oils, and soap and detergent residues which Antarctic stations manage along with human waste (‘black water’) in accordance with the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (a.k.a. the Madrid Protocol) in efforts to minimize human impact on the environment. Releasing untreated waste water containing microorganisms into active ecosystems is particularly concerning since some pathogens can remain viable in low-temperature Antarctic conditions for extended periods, providing them the potential to occupy local habitats and infect native bird, mammal, and marine populations. You’ll find representations of this bacteria lurking in my artwork below.

While all of Antarctica’s 82 research stations (operated by 28 nations) presumably meet the Protocol’s minimum requirements for waste water management, their methods vary widely. Stations’ capabilities depend on their size, accessibility, longevity, and local weather and geography among other factors. Large coastal stations such as McMurdo are likely to have established plants using mechanical, biological, and disinfection processes, while most U.S. field camps’ sewage is removed from the continent altogether, while inland bases such as the U.S.’s Amundsen-Scott and Russia’s Vostok dispose of untreated human waste in deep ice pits.

This artwork imagines a future with advanced waste water treatment technology in place at all Antarctic research stations. The imagery is inspired by plant schematics and a 2005 Swedish survey of 71 stations to identify optimum grey water cleaning techniques in the context of Antarctica’s challenging conditions.

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The “21-Step Grey Water Treatment System” edition was made by a hand-printed process called pochoir which employs stencils in creating imagery. I used gesso and matte acrylic as the medium, and Japanese ‘surikome bake’ rubbing brushes to apply the paint. Each of the four prints measure roughly 24″
x 18″ and are embellished with graphite line work.

Print #3, shown here, is currently on exhibit along with “The AA Five” in REFRAME: Making Sense of Waste at ARC Gallery, San Francisco through May 30.

From curator Hanna Regev’s press release:

“‘Reframe’ is a teachable moment and reflexive show that calls for individual responsibility, an examination of the waste around us, and questioning our consumption behaviors. While viewing the exhibit, we ask that you think of ways to harness the insatiable appetite for goods that drive the demand of ever-increasing products. As consumers and viewers, think of what you contribute to environmental degradation and your consumption habits.”

Featured artists are Michael Bartalos, David Broom, Alejandra Chaverri, Gregangelo Herrera, Wolfgang Ganter, Rebecca Goldfarb, James Goode, Beth Grossman, Avi Hoen, Judith Selby Lang, Richard Lang, Jose Ramon Lerma, Liz Mamorsky, and Noah Wilson. Music will be performed by James Goode on instruments created from recycled materials.


Filed under: Environment,Print Editions,Waste Management and Recycling — mbartalos @ 10:27 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

August 14, 2009

LV Sketchbook Page 025

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The 1988 Madrid Protocol, as I mentioned yesterday, calls for all Antarctic Treaty countries to remove their old trash as well as their newly generated waste from the continent. Twenty years on, cleaning up the old stuff remains the taller order because of irreversible early waste management practices.

One such practice involved bulldozing rubbish out onto sea ice during winter to have it sink when the ice broke up in spring. “Sea-icing,” as it was called, had its heyday from 1955 (when McMurdo Station was built) to 1981 (when sea-icing was discontinued). During this period, scores of fuel drums, machinery and scrap metal accumulated off McMurdo’s shores. Open burning, untreated sewage, oil and chemical spills, and coastal landfills also contributed high concentrations of hydrocarbons, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals to the water and bottom sediments.

View across Winter Quarters Bay towards McMurdo Station in January 2009, with Scott's Discovery Hut at left.

The primary dumping ground during those decades was Winter Quarters Bay, seen here in January ’09 with a view towards McMurdo. Robert Falcon Scott had used this natural harbor to anchor his ship Discovery for two winters during his 1901-04 expedition. During their stay, he and his crew built the historic Discovery Hut seen at left.

Winter Quarters Bay would never be that clean again. By the 1990s, the cove was deemed one of the most polluted spots on Earth. (“Testing Tainted Waters.”)

Despite the clean-ups, contamination still exists and is likely to remain for some time. One reason is that hydrocarbons break down at very slow rates in Antarctic temperatures. Another factor is the cost and logistics of retrieving vast quantities of sunken trash. According to a 2001 New Zealand sponsored study, researchers revealed 15 vehicles, 26 shipping containers, and 603 fuel drums among approximately 1,000 items strewn across the Winter Quarters seabed. In addition, a 2005 survey determined that the act of decontaminating the bay risked creating greater adverse environmental impact than leaving the waste where it is. (“Contaminants Measured Near McMurdo.”)

On a positive note, the bay’s contaminants appear to be localized thanks to a shoal that prevents the toxins from spreading into open water beyond. I imagine Captain Scott cheering for that. And toasting the Madrid Protocol. And flipping over conscientious waste management. And high-fiving Shackleton over the ban on sea-icing.

This could be good sketch material. In the meanwhile, today’s drawing/collage juxtaposes stacks of stuff in Scott’s hut with stacks of stuff submerged outside his door to illuminate the proximity and continuity between them. More artwork to follow on this theme.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:37 pm

August 13, 2009

Long View Studies 3 & 4

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These two compositions allude to a time when open burning of garbage was common in Antarctica. The practice lasted well into the 1980s alongside proliferating dumps, sea-bound sewage, contaminant fuel and lubricant spills, and casual littering (providing for most of the found items showcased on this site).

1988, however, marked a turning point in attitudes to waste disposal on the Ice. Extensive clean-up efforts initiated at McMurdo Station led to the removal and return of major trash dumps to the U.S., to the prohibition of shoreline dumping, and to the enforcement of new sewage and grey water discharge protocols. Incineration and hazmat handling were also rethought and refined with environmental awareness in mind.

By 1998, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (also known as the Madrid Protocol) was ratified by all countries operating in Antarctica, expressing a joint commitment to protecting the continent’s natural resources. It specifies that newly generated waste be routinely removed from Antarctica and that waste from previous decades be dealt with as well. The clean-up of that earlier waste has proven to be the greater challenge, which I’ll speak of tomorrow.

Both these artworks are small, about 2.75″ square, created in cut paper, graphite and gesso on bark paper. Study #4 was recently featured in the Dime Bag 3 exhibit at Giant Robot New York. More on the show here and a flickr set here.


Filed under: Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:52 pm

March 25, 2009

LV Sketchbook Page 004

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The subject of this ‘sister image’ to yesterday’s post is whaling.

The first Antarctic whaling station was established in 1904 at South Georgia island. By the mid-20th century, several of the eight whale species that populate Antarctic waters had been hunted to the edge of extinction. They’re now gradually recovering thanks to international regulation of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean, though their numbers aren’t nearly that of a hundred years ago.

At the other end of the world by contrast, whale hunting has been central to the Inupiat people’s subsistence for over a millennium. I’m currently marveling over thewhalehunt.org, a unique photo-documentary of an Inupiat whale hunt in Barrow, Alaska. Its extraordinary approach to storytelling and brilliant interface was created by Jonathan Harris, with stunning photography by Andrew Moore. Not to be missed.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:14 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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