Monday, December 10, 2012

Out of the fog - a trip to Double Curtain Glacier

One of our most interesting sampling sites is situated at the base of Double Curtain Glacier in the Ferrar Valley. The sea ice there is usually very thick (7 meters or more), and the transition region is littered with many hundreds of scallop shells and the freeze-dried remains of other benthic critters lifted to the surface.

The seafloor at this site is stark, dominated by anchor ice as well as large boulders that gather Antarctic moss while they roll down the steep slope of the adjacent hill. A lens of supercooled fresh water from the nearby Ferrar Glacier freezes instantly when a drill bit makes contact, confounding efforts to fashion a dive hole. It's a magnificent place to lay down tools, open eyes, flare nostrils, and taste the cold air. 

When sea fog rolls in, I'm struck by the solitude of working in Antarctica. Isolation triggers shivers more often than the temperature does.

Sea fog rolls into the Ferrar Valley, obscuring our dive site near Double Curtain Glacier

A few sparks of light on Double Curtain Glacier as the sun sets

Looking back toward the Ferrar Valley, wondering where my coworkers are ...

Tense moments later, their Skidoo light appears from the fog ...

Why does this particular trip stay close to mind? There are times when Antarctica stabs the heart in very fundamental ways, and begs you to ask if your companions are safe.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Perfect Hole Followup

For many years now, I have included at least one artist on our Antarctic research team. The argument for this practice was recently presented at the SCAR meeting in Portland, Oregon (see: Scientists should consider an artist when selecting field team members).

Sometimes these artists have a lot of prior experience  (e.g., Steve Alexander - scientist, diver, and photographer; Shawn Harper - diver, photographer; Henry Kaiser - diver, musician, and videographer), but in other cases they have less (e.g., visual artists Claire Beynon and Laura Von Rosk). Regardless of their level of lab or field training, artists always prove to be excellent team members who remain faithful advocates of the continent.

Nevertheless, I'm often a bit nervous taking visual artists to Antarctica. Their "style" (forgive my ignorance of art terminology) is celebrated by their audience, and I'm concerned that Antarctica will change them in ways that might "ruin them." Will their followers be turned off by their Antarctic-inspired work? Maybe this is a silly concern ...

Laura Von Rosk has spent the last six months producing a new series of paintings. I'm biting nails, hoping that her images are well received. Maybe I shouldn't have asked her to melt so many perfect dive holes ???

Saturday, February 4, 2012

More about a perfect dive hole

The BEST dive hole in 2011 was the last one fashioned, just days before we pulled out of Explorers Cove. Named "the Stockton site" in honor of Dr. Bill Stockton, fellow Antarctic researcher, this hole was made overnight using two Hotsies operating simultaneously.

Laura serves as a scale marker next to the Stockton hole

Bill mapped the density of the Antarctic scallop Adamussium colbecki on the seafloor back in the late 70's/early 80's, and we repeated his survey to see if there have been any changes since that time. This hole exposed an area where Bill reported as many as 80 scallops per square meter -- a huge density.

Adamussium colbecki

I'll report back with the findings once they're published. (Hint: yup, there were changes ...)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Everything ... in its right place

Making uniformly wide (= safe) dive holes through the sea ice in Antarctica has always been a major challenge. For example, at our research sites at Explorers Cove, the sea ice is usually 8-21 feet (roughly 3-7 meters) thick, and layered with wind-blown sediment from the Taylor Valley - factors that create a host of problems. Blasting holes with dynamite worked well in the past, but in this post-9/11 world it is a logistical nightmare to use explosives. The only reasonable option is to slowly melt a dive hole using a Hotsie. Unfortunately, the Hotsie is a gizmo that wasn't designed for this purpose: it's a glorified carpet steam cleaner!

Keeping a Hotsie functional for the 2-3 days needed to melt a hole requires vigilance (and a toolkit). Recently, we've resorted to belief in "order" in order to keep it working.

To wit:

Now that we align its components in orderly ways, with expression of great love and devotion to the Hotsie, we are cranking out perfect dive holes. (Well, almost 50% of the time.)

I'm thinking of starting a new religion ...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Touching the Sublime - like, in 2012?


YOU are, like, THE most AWESOME lifeform in the known universe

Like, if I was standing on the edge of the galaxy, looking in?
there would be this most AWESOME sight:

YOU - with, like, this awesome glow of energy?
streaming from you,
lighting up all the stars
Not just the nearby ones
but, like, ALL of them?

And you'd be, like, dancing with joy?
as you swirl and twirl around
planting smiles on all the creatures you encounter?

It would be REALLY awesome

And because I'd be on the EDGE of the galaxy
soooo, like, ready to drop off into nothingness?

It would be the most awesomely sublime thing

Know what I mean???

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Seeing Red

One of the tents we use in Antarctica, called a "Polarhaven," is large enough to serve as a dive locker for about four aquanauts.

The Polarhaven at Cape Bernacchi

Because it is heated by a catalytic propane unit, it's also a comfy refuge for sleeping and eating in subzero temperatures. There's only one problem: the walls are red, so the interior is also red.

Laura Von Rosk cinching down the Polarhaven blanket to its wooden floor. The propane heater is seen behind her.

While setting up the Polarhaven at Cape Bernacchi, Laura and I had a brief opportunity to discuss "color" and "composition" (she is a master of both). I've never understood how to use color effectively, and my compositions always feel like run-of-the-mill, "rule of thirds," ho-hum. What could Laura teach me about this during our breaks from work?
A sketch of Astrammina triangularis using watercolor pencils. My drawings seem "cartoon-like" and not very realistic. I always follow the "rules," too. For example, light comes from the upper right, shadow to the lower left. The result just doesn't "feel" interesting to me :-(
Detail of an Astrammina triangularis "arm" that I sketched in normal daylight. I try to do a lot of "deep looking" when studying a subject, but that doesn't always translate into an appealing composition.

Drawing an agglutinated foram inside the tent was an interesting experience. Seeing everything in red light is not too alien, since I spent decades in a darkroom back when photography meant working under a safelight. I never tried to manipulate color in a monochrome setting, though, and wondered if that would be instructive?

Drawing of an agglutinated foram, with notes on objects in the tent, as I remember seeing things in the Polarhaven. (Actually, I placed a red mask over the drawing below, so this is really just a simulation.)

How the drawing looked when viewed outside the Polarhaven - surprisingly ... ugly?

Looking deeply, working hard, trying something new, failing ... but having fun. Art and science share a lot in common.