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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

June 11, 2010

Long View Study No. 10 (Bellingshausen)

Who discovered Antarctica? Any number of early pioneers are credited, depending on how their accounts are interpreted. Here are the all-time top candidates:

The first reported sighting was by Russian Imperial Navy officer Fabian Gottlieb (Thaddeus) von Bellingshausen while commanding the second Russian expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Bellingshausen recorded seeing “ice mountains” on January 28, 1820 in the vicinity of what is now known to be the East Antarctic coastline. However his journals don’t mention that it may be land, and his expedition charts don’t indicate any land.

Two days later in the continent’s northwestern quadrant, British navy captain Edward Bransfield sighted the northernmost point of the Antarctic mainland, named it Trinity Peninsula, and produced the first recorded Antarctic land chart.

The next sighting of the continent was by American sealer Nathaniel Palmer in November 1820 — yet neither he, Bransfield, nor Bellingshausen were first to set foot on the continent. That distinction is claimed by American sealer John Davis who allegedly made the first landing on February 7, 1821 on the Antarctic peninsula’s west coast.

While these early pioneers certainly speculated on having encountered a significant land mass (John Davis’s logbook entry reads: “I think this Southern Land to be a Continent”), the first person to actually know he’d discovered a whole continent was United States Navy commander Charles Wilkes. In 1839-40 Wilkes’ expedition sailed along the edge of the ice pack south of Australia for some 1,500 miles, confirming the existence “of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands.”

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This image depicts Bellingshausen, winner on the timeline if not for best evidence. He’s aboard his flagship, a 600-ton corvette named the VOSTOK (meaning “East”) after which the Russian research station and fascinating subglacial lake are named. The letters VOSTOK are incorporated into the piece and the graphic element on the right edge is Bellingshausen’s stylized Russian initials ФФБ.

The artwork was created with cut paper and graphite and is currently in MOVE, a group show curated by Rich Jacobs at Space 1026 in Philadelphia.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:33 pm

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 10, 2010

Long View Study No. 9 (The AA Five)

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“Long View Study #9 (The AA Five)” is the latest study for my Long View Project series whose theme is waste management and recycling in Antarctica.

“AA” refers to Aurora Australis whose covers were fashioned from wooden provision cases in 1908 to create the first book edition ever published in Antarctica. “Five” refers to the five major figures behind this effort: Ernest Shackleton who edited the edition, illustrator George Marsten, printers Frank Wild and Ernest Joyce, and Bernard Day who bound the books. AA’s production marks an early instance of recycling on the continent and exemplifies the resourcefulness and creativity inherent to Antarctic scientific and artistic endeavors today.

The imagery draws from my 2009 visit to Shackleton’s hut where the edition was created over winter a century earlier. Shackleton devised the project to ensure that “the spectre know as ‘polar ennui’ never made its appearance,” as he put it.

I’m using found wood, paper, wire, hardware, and a leaf to reference the explorers’ workspace environment, their team efforts, and their fondness for tobacco. References to their fondness for whiskey to follow in future artworks.

The piece measures 7″ wide x 12″ high and is currently on exhibit in REFRAME: Making Sense of Waste at ARC Gallery in San Francisco through May 30.


Filed under: Aurora Australis Book,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:25 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

October 11, 2009

Long View Study No. 6-7

This diptych pays homage to Antarctic explorer Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, director of scientific staff on Shackleton’s 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition. On that voyage, David led the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano.

He was also a participant in the Nimrod crew’s production of the book Aurora Australis.
His 35-page narrative account titled The Ascent of Mount Erebus is the edition’s single lengthiest contribution.

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My artwork’s left side references David’s lifelong engagement with geological investigations. The right-hand panel’s images represent his alma mater New College Oxford, his ascent of Mt. Erebus, his epic voyage to the ice plateau and back, and his professorship at the University of Sydney till age 82.

In 1920 David was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire,
and later helped set up the Australian National Research Council and served as its first President. Clearly his accomplishments — and these are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ so to speak — are too numerous to fit into a mere diptych so I’ll be paying additional respects
in my final 12″ square panels.

This study measures 16″ wide x 9″ high. It was created in graphite and cut paper (using mostly found and recycled stock as usual) mounted on gessoed wood panels. It can be seen along with LV Study #5 at CUTTERS: An Exhibition of International Collage curated by James Gallagher at Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn from October 16 through November 15.

Photo © Australian Antarctic Division 2008
Photo © Australian Antarctic Division 2008

Lastly, I can’t close out this post without including David’s iconic self-portrait of himself (center) and his teammates Dr. Alistair Mackay (left) and Douglas Mawson raising the flag at the Magnetic South Pole on January 16, 1909. Their epic trek took over four months and 1,200 miles to complete. A thorough account of this journey replete with perils and close calls can be found in the Nimrod chapter of the Shackleton story here.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:43 pm

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

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
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