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July 12, 2011

Long View Study No. 18 (The Invisible Universe I)


At the bottom of the Earth, the 10-meter South Pole Telescope (SPT) is mapping the
farthest edges of the visible Universe. In the process, cosmologists have come to real-
ize that what we can see makes up only 5% of the mass and energy of our Universe.
The invisible remainder consists of 23% dark matter, an exotic form of matter that has
never been directly detected, and 72% dark energy, a mysterious substance fueling an
accelerated expansion of space itself.

Researchers are attempting to understand these phenomena in order to unlock some
of the deepest mysteries in cosmology; namely, where we came from and where we
are headed. They hope to ‘see’ warped space and warped time by novel means such
as harnessing dimples in space-time (described by Einstein in his theory of General Rel-
ativity) as giant “cosmic lenses.” Combining gravitational lensing observations, cosmic
background radiation studies, and simulations using supercomputers may one day
explain this strange form of mass-energy and the big-bang singularity from which it,
and we, were born.

My latest artwork imagines a slice of the invisible Universe, referencing the telescopic
shape associated with light beams, ultrasound imaging, and radar sweeps. Visualizing
the ‘unknown’ and ‘unseen’ intrigues me and I’ll be exploring the theme further in up-
coming studies. This piece was created with found printed matter, cut paper and graphite.

Filed under: Studies — mbartalos @ 11:20 pm

June 30, 2011

Long View Study No. 17 (South Pole Greenhouse)


My latest piece takes the Food Growth Chamber at the Amundsen-Scott Station for its subject. I touched on this curious greenhouse in a South Pole blog post a while ago, and thought it worth elaborating on a bit more.

The Growth Chamber is a semi-automated, computer-controlled, self-contained environment in operation since 2004, growing a variety of edible plants for research base residents and providing the only source of fresh fruit and vegetables for the winter crews’ 8-month stretches of isolation. Crops that thrive in this bright, humid space include lettuces, Asian greens, kale, chard, spinach, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, strawberries, cantaloupes, and melon vines, among many others.

Built by the National Science Foundation and developed under a NASA grant, the 70-cubic-yard space grows plants hydroponically using nutrient-rich water without soil or natural daylight. The technology of hydroponics allows the tailoring of temperature, humidity, lighting, airflow and nutrient conditions to get the best productivity out of plants year round anywhere in the world. And in worlds beyond as well, as the system serves as a prototype for future plant growth systems — and oxygen generators — for human colonies in outer space.

The chamber can also be seen as a model for growing crops in vertical farms in densely populated cities. With an estimated world population increase of 3 billion people by 2050, of which 80% are projected to live in urban areas, scientists see many benefits to hydroponic vertical farming. Examples include the reduction of transport and carbon emissions with local food production; reduction of pesticide use through controlled growing environments; protection of crops from weather-related problems; increased crop production through year-round farming; and conservation of natural resources by reducing the need for new farmland.


The South Pole greenhouse is operated remotely by the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. Manager Lane Patterson refers to the chamber as a ‘growbot’ — a robot that grow things. He accesses it via computer and camera, assisting an on-site operator electronically. According to Patterson, the growbot requires about 140 liters (37 gallons) of water, sequesters about one kilogram of carbon dioxide and uses about 281 kilowatt hours of energy (equivalent to eight gallons of gasoline) per day. In turn, it yields about half a kilogram of oxygen and six kilograms of biomass (raw plant matter) daily. That translates to a little more than a half-pound per person per week, providing fresh organic salads to ‘Polies’ on a regular basis.

My collage features tomatoes from a vintage produce label pasted on letterpress makeready with cut paper and graphite. Presiding over the hydroponic harvest is a likeness of Annapurna, Hindu goddess of plenty and nourishment. The wood frame alludes to planter boxes, produce crates, and of course plants themselves.

The assemblage appears in Scott Massey‘s RRR Project featuring art inspired by recycling, sustainability, and environment themes. The latest issue, RRR.003, is viewable in free downloadable ezine format here.

Filed under: Studies — mbartalos @ 11:50 pm

May 31, 2011

Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ in Color, 1915

Frank Hurley was an Australian photographer and adventurer, most famous for his series
of artful photographs documenting Shackleton’s epic ‘Endurance’ expedition of 1914-17.
While the black-and-white images are well-known, a less familiar but equally stunning set
of his color pictures was recently put online by the State Library of New South Wales
in Sydney. I thought I’d share some of them here.


The color photographs were taken in 1915, the year the Endurance was crushed
by Antarctic ice in the Weddell Sea. They are among 120 glass plates in total that
Shackleton and Hurley chose to retrieve from the sinking ship. The captain and
photographer then smashed the remaining 400 plates to eliminate any temptation
of taking them along, recognizing that the party’s survival depended on meeting
space and weight limitations. The crew did endure their perilous 500-day ordeal,
as did the 120 photographic plates which they hauled by sledge and lifeboat, now
allowing us a glimpse into one of polar history’s most dramatic voyages.


Frank Hurley considered his color photos “amongst the most valuable records of the expedition.” He used an early polychrome process called Paget, which was patented
in 1912 in England and remained in use until the 1920s.

Paget used two plates, one a traditional black-and-white negative, the other a red,
green, and blue screen scored with a pattern of dots and lines. The negative was
contact-printed to made a transparency positive which was combined with the
matching color screen to achieve the final image. The process was eventually
eclipsed by the truer, richer colors captured by autochrome and later by Koda-


The Endurance was the second of Hurley’s three voyages to Antarctica. His first was
as official photographer to Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of
1911-14 which brought him to Shackleton’s attention. In 1914, Hurley was signed
on to the Endurance venture where he continued raising exploration photography to
new levels through unique compositions and storytelling with both still and movie

His achievements are all the more impressive for the extreme conditions he braved.
He climbed masts, traversed splitting ice floes, and trekked in subfreezing temperatures
— often at night — to take his innovative photos. Lionel Greenstreet, the Endurance’s
First Officer, wrote of him: “Hurley is a warrior with his camera & would go anywhere
or do anything to get a picture.”


Getting the pictures was only part of the challenge; developing them on the ice-trapped
ship was another. The temperature in Hurley’s darkroom hovered around freezing, and
water for washing his plates was obtained by melting blocks of ice. He described the
difficulty in his diary: “Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank
must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block… Development
is a source of annoyance to the fingers which split & crack around the nails in a painful


In 1917, Hurley returned to South Georgia (pictured in the four photos above) for his
final Antarctic filming expedition, culminating in the 1919 motion picture “In the Grip
of the Polar Pack” featuring his footage of the Endurance expedition. The movie quickly
became a critical and popular success, and his still photography also gained a wide
audience as Shackleton featured it in his lecture tours.

Hurley’s original photography and footage more recently appeared in NOVA’s giant-screen
film Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure as well as Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance first
broadcast on NOVA in 2002. The Royal Geographical Society in London currently curates
Hurley’s original glass plate negatives and his original prints are held by the Scott Polar
Research Institute in Cambridge and the Macklin Collection in Aberdeen, Scotland.

A comprehensive selection of Hurley’s Paget color glass transparencies from the
Endurance expedition is showcased by the State Library of New South Wales online.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 11:43 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

March 8, 2011

Long View Study No. 14 (Bdelloid Rotifers 1-5)


The subject of this assemblage is bdelloid rotifers, tiny transparent animals found in
moist environments worldwide, including Antarctica. These fascinating invertebrates
were described in a chapter of Aurora Australis, the book printed by Shackleton’s
Nimrod crew in the cold, dark Antarctic winter of 1908.

The chapter’s author, the expedition’s biologist James Murray, titles his essay “Life
Under Difficulties” which refers not to the hardships endured by the men as he points
out, but “…rather to some of our very humble fellow-creatures, animals quite micro-
scopic in size, which are able to live under conditions which seem to us extremely

Murray goes on to describe the bdelloids’ resistance to damage (because of their size), endurance of drought (by entering a state of dormancy), and their tolerance to extreme heat and cold “…which promises to shed much light on the limits of temperature at
which life is possible on the earth.”

Indeed it did. But there was more to come. A hundred years on, scientists learned that these creatures are the planet’s most radiation-resistant animals—more so even than
the hardy tardigrades (a.k.a. ‘water bears.’) They also know now that bdelloid rotifers reproduce asexually, challenging the assumption that sex is necessary for the diversification of species (over 450 species in this case).

Most intriguing is that these animals have evolved and thrived over millions of years through the special ability to pick foreign DNA up from the environment and incorporate
it into their genomes. The new material comes from sources such as as bacteria, fungi, plants, even semi-digested food, and gets into the cells that will become eggs.

Murray wrote about bdelloid eggs but he never knew they were products of ‘horizontal gene transfer.’ He surely would have marveled that this process — common to bacteria — should also apply to his beloved Bdelloidea. Their ability to evolve this way is believed to
be unique in the animal kingdom.

Somewhat along the lines of finding foreign genes to build with, I used scavenged
material to create the specimens here. Wood, hardware, thread, paper, and graphite combine to depict Claria, a parasitic (fam. Clariaidae); Collotheca (fam. Collothecidae); Abrochta (fam. Philodinavidae); Balatro (fam. Dicranophoridae); and Keratella (fam. Brachionidae); a set of bdelloids chosen for its array of physical features.

Filed under: Studies — mbartalos @ 10:02 pm

February 28, 2011

Antarctic Item 074


Like the smoke grenade posted yesterday, this one was retrieved from Antarctica’s
Dry Valleys where it was probably used for signaling purposes. Unlike the burning-type
grenade however, this bursting-type model used white phosphorus (WP) filler, spread
by explosive action. WP is a highly efficient smoke-producing agent, burning quickly
at 5000°F upon exposure to air, producing an instant bank of dense white smoke.
The intense heat generated by this process causes the smoke to rise rapidly in cold environments, ideal for ground-to-air signaling in Antarctica.

Big thanks to Chris Gardner who found and donated both grenades to the Long View Project in the course of his McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER field work. His Antarctic photos are great favorites of mine; I particularly like this Abstract McMurdo set.

Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 11:35 pm

February 27, 2011

Antarctic Item 073


This used colored-smoke grenade was originally housed in the type of container posted yesterday. Indeed, the two may have been a couple as both were found in the Dry Valleys, albeit by different individuals at different times. Ironically, the paper container’s label survived to tell us of its contents while the steel grenade relinquished all its identifying marks to the elements, including the top surface hue that originally indicated its smoke color.

The Army/Navy Model 18 Colored Smoke Grenade, as the M18 is officially known, has various uses both in training and combat. In pacific settings such as Antarctica, it can function to signal aircraft and/or to mark a target landing zone. Having experienced the Dry Valleys fog, I’ll guess that this device dutifully served to guide a helicopter safely to base back in the relatively nascent days of GPS technology.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Some technical details for the curious: The M18 is a burning-type grenade which burns oxygen. A pull-ring igniter activates the fuze which detonates the filler, creating pressure
to force the smoke out through the emission hole at the bottom. Weighing 19 ounces, the device can typically be thrown 115 feet (35 meters) and its 11.5 ounces of filler generates
a cloud of colored smoke for a duration of 50 to 90 seconds.

Some history on its early manufacture from the Redstone Arsenal Chronology:

16 November 1943: The first M-18 colored smoke grenade (violet) was produced at Huntsville Arsenal on this date. Production continued until 8 May 1945. Persons working in colored smoke were paid one grade higher to offset the danger involved in the manufacture of these munitions; to compensate for the dusty conditions under which they worked; and to make up for the staining of the employees’ skin. The higher wage scale applied to all of the different colored smoke operations.

Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 11:41 pm

February 26, 2011

Antarctic Item 010

This week I’m cataloging three more discards that I retrieved from Antarctica to include
in my artwork. All three items are of a military nature, which may seem odd in light of
the Antarctic Treaty‘s banning of military activity on land or ice shelves below 60°S.
But while the Treaty prohibits military bases, maneuvers, and weapons-testing on
the continent, it does permit the use of military personnel and equipment for scientific research and other peaceful purposes. It’s an essential arrangement for the National Science Foundation which relies greatly on the military’s ability to provide logistical
support in extremely harsh environments.

I first clued into this in Christchurch where the New York Air National Guard’s 109th
Airlift Wing is tasked with flying to Antarctica under tricky and unpredictable conditions.
(And recently, earthquakes. Word is that the Christchurch-based airmen are all safe.)

Over at McMurdo Station, the U.S. military coordinates strategic and tactical airlift, emergency response, aeromedical evacuation, deep-field support, sealift duties, and
the handling of seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo and a host of other trans-portation needs.

This ongoing support mission, called Operation Deep Freeze, began as a Navy-led undertaking in the mid-1950s which eventually aligned with scientific objectives intro-
duced under the Antarctic Treaty. Today ODF is carried out through the Joint Task Force – Support Forces Antarctica by the 13th Air Force and the U.S. Pacific Command.
Military personnel currently comprise about 10 percent of the 1,200 people working
out of McMurdo Station.


The cylindrical paperboard container above was found in the Dry Valleys by Marble Point camp manager Randall “Crunch” Noring. The container was empty but its label tells us
that it once held an M18 colored smoke grenade. Oddly enough, I acquired just such
a grenade elsewhere in the Dry Valleys to create a snug match. I’ll post the second half of the happy union tomorrow along with thoughts on what it might have been used for.

Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 11:45 pm

February 10, 2011

Long View Study No. 13 (Nimrod Shore Party)


The figures in this piece represent Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic crew from the 1907-09 ‘Nimrod’ Expedition who produced the letterpress-printed Aurora Australis
book, fashioning its wooden covers from recycled provision cases.

Each page of the triptych is 11.75″ high x 10.25″ wide, created in graphite and cut
paper. The set is currently on exhibit in Cutters/Cork, the latest in the Cutters series of international contemporary collage exhibitions curated by James Gallagher. The show is
up through March 12 at West Cork Arts Centre in County Cork, Ireland.

Filed under: Aurora Australis Book,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:55 pm
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