LV Sketchbook Page 022 (McMurdo Skua)

January 31, 2018

Skuas are a well-known bird at Antarctic research bases. They’re scavengers with a sharp eye for detritus and a knack for swooping in to claim it. Fittingly, Skua Central is the name of McMurdo Station’s free thrift shop, available to the base’s denizens to claim discarded clothing, gear, books, electronics, and all manner of other goods.

Housed in a 300-square-foot shack on the edge of McMurdo, Skua Central is an integral part of the waste management program which handles over a dozen different categories of waste. It facilitates the flow of materials by taking them in as it gives them away, breathing multiple lives into items that might otherwise be thrown away.

My artwork, created with cut paper and acrylic on scavenged newsprint, aims to convey the plethora of stuff that passes through Skua Central, particularly between the summer and winter seasons as people arrive and depart the base. These include commonplace small appliances, glassware, home decor, food stuff, cosmetics, as well as the odd papier-mâché bust and Eiffel Tower replica.

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LV Sketchbook Page 019 (Space Dust)

December 31, 2017

High up at the South Pole’s 9,301 ft. elevation, a structure known as the “Cosmic Dust Sucker” pulls air in through a 3-micron filter at five meters per second, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. The project, formally called “Sampling Interplanetary Dust from Antarctic Air,” is conducted by a research team led by Susan Taylor of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory with the aim of capturing tiny dust grains from outer space that make their way through our atmosphere and onto the Earth’s surface. Many of these micrometeorites are remnants from billions of years ago when our solar system was still in its infancy. By studying the basic chemical and physical makeup of the particles, scientists can glean valuable information about the planetary system and how it formed.

My artwork is an abstraction of the Cosmic Dust Sucker and its inner workings. The actual structure resembles a vertically-placed box with an aluminum pipe extending six meters above the surface of the snow. It sits at the edge of the South Pole Station’s clean air sector (represented by the red line in my piece) with its intake pointing towards the ever-present winds arriving from the vast and pristine polar plateau.

Cosmic dust is not confined to Antarctica of course. It falls continuously all over the globe, from oceans and deserts to forests and mountaintops. It was first found in the abyssal seabed by the Challenger expedition of the 19th century, and there’s been recent success in detecting it among the millions of terrestrial dust particles in urban environments. But at the South Pole’s high elevation, scientists need only sort through Earth’s purest air, free of pollution, to find cosmic dust. By running the Cosmic Dust Sucker non-stop throughout the year, they hope to collect much greater quantities of these particles than previously possible.

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LV Sketchbook Page 018 (Ozone)

November 30, 2017

In the midst of distressing environmental reports, NASA revealed some positive news this month: The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank to its smallest size since 1988. 

Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement that stormy conditions in the upper atmosphere warmed the air and kept chemicals like chlorine and bromine from depleting much ozone. Although this year’s drop is mostly natural, it is also consistent with a trend of small steady improvements likely resulting from a 1987 international treaty banning ozone-eating chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans. The ozone hole hit its highest point in 2000 at 29.86 million square kilometers (11.5 million square miles).

Ozone is generated in the stratosphere by the interaction of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation with molecular oxygen. Most ozone lies in the lower stratosphere between 15 and 30 km in altitude where it absorbs the harmful radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage, and other problems. United Nations scientists determined that without the 1987 treaty, ozone depletion would have contributed an extra 2 million skin cancer cases by 2030.

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LV Sketchbook Page 017 (Invisible Universe)

October 31, 2017

The South Pole may rank among the most inhospitable places on Earth, but for cosmologists, it’s literally heaven on Earth. “The South Pole is the closest you can get to space and still be on the ground,” says John Kovac, leader of the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) project. “It’s one of the driest and clearest locations on Earth, perfect for observing the faint microwaves from the Big Bang.”

Thanks to these favorable conditions and instruments such as the South Pole Telescope, scientists are mapping the distant reaches of the visible cosmos. In the process, they’ve learned that what they see makes up only 5% of the mass and energy of our Universe. The invisible remainder consists of dark matter, a mysterious ingredient that is yet to be directly detected — and to a greater extent dark energy, an unknown force that accelerates the expansion of the universe.

This sketchbook page visualizes the visible Universe as a telescopic shape associated with light beams, scans, and radar sweeps. The collage is a companion piece to Long View Study No. 18 which explores the same concept and motif with different visual elements. Both were created with cut paper and graphite.

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LV Sketchbook Page 015 (Palmer Station)

September 30, 2017

Palmer Station is one of three scientific research stations in Antarctica operated by the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program. Of the three, it’s the only one located north of the Antarctic Circle and accessed routinely during the winter. Situated on Anvers Island on the Antarctic Peninsula, the facility supports up to 46 personnel in the austral summer and 10-20 in winter.

The base is named for Nathaniel B. Palmer, a Connecticut sealer who is credited with being the first to lay human eyes on the Antarctic continent. His sighting happened on November 17, 1820 during an exploratory voyage southward from the South Shetland Islands, at which time British and Russian vessels also roamed the area.

Palmer Station’s scientific research focuses on biological studies of birds, seals, and other components of the polar marine ecosystem. Oceanography, climate systems, marine geology, aeronomy, astrophysics, heliophysics, and glaciology are also pursued at and around the station.

In 1990 Palmer was designated as a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site by the NSF. This particular region — the marine ecosystems along the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula — is experiencing the most rapid climate warming on the planet, causing significant reductions in sea ice with unfavorable consequences at all levels of the food chain.

In the course of their research, Palmer scientists have observed significant warming-related effects on many species including penguins, krill and phytoplankton. Since 1974, for example, an 85 percent reduction in Adélie penguin populations was documented and attributed to altered cloud cover, winds, snowfall, sea ice cover, and other climate changes.

Palmer is one of thirty LTER research sites spread throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, French Polynesia, and Antarctica; each focused on a specific ecosystem that together constitute the LTER Network.

Long View Sketchbook Page 015 offers an abstract representation of Palmer Station as seen from the Gerlache Strait, based loosely on my visit to the base. Those familiar with the site may recognize the rocky shore (bottom left), bio lab (pointed roof), the Earth Station with satellite link (far right), and a drop of precipitation signifying the 13 feet (4 meters) of average annual snowfall and 30 inches (76 cm) of rain.

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LV Sketchbook Page 021 (Zhongshan Station)

August 31, 2017

Zhongshan Station is a Chinese research base on the East Antarctic coast. Established in 1989 by the Polar Research Institute of China, it was China’s second scientific outpost in Antarctica. Zhongshan accommodates up to 60 personnel in summer and 25 in winter, focusing on geological, glaciological, atmospheric, and marine sciences. It is also facilitates expeditions to China’s Kunlun Station inland at Dome A.

In my collage, Zhongshan appears as a circle in shades of green towards the bottom of the composition. Why green? Because the base prominently employs the color in their architecture. Zhongshan’s atmospheric physics building features pastel green on its exterior while its spherical water pump is a more vibrant hue, and the winter living compound‘s interior has verdant accents throughout. The motive for using green is easy to guess: the color is a welcome sight on a continent largely devoid of vegetation.

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Long View Study No. 29 (Hut Shelves)

July 31, 2017

Long View Study No. 29 is inspired by the shelves in Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica. The hut has changed very little since it was occupied from 1907 to 1909 by the Nimrod Expedition crew. Tins, bottles, newspapers, clothing, and containers with personal belongings still lay about where they were left over a century ago. 

The hut and site are maintained by Antarctic Heritage Trust of New Zealand which, from 2004 to 2008, oversaw the structure’s restoration to the condition that Shackleton’s team left it in. Under the AHT’s auspices, the hut was listed in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 World Monuments Watch, providing attention and financial support for the site.

The artwork was created with cut paper, acrylic, and graphite.

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LV Sketchbook Page 014 (Event Horizon Telescope)

June 30, 2017

Antarctica’s South Pole Telescope (SPT) is one of eight observatories worldwide that have been networked together to snap the first-ever picture of a black hole. Known as the Event Horizon Telescope, the network completed their observations in April 2017 with hopes of processing the data into a composite image in the coming months.

If successful, scientists will have a portrait of an event horizon, the boundary surrounding the black hole beyond which nothing — including light — escapes the sinkhole’s gravitational force. “Even if the first images are still crappy and washed out, we can already test for the first time some basic predictions of Einstein’s theory of gravity in the extreme environment of a black hole,” notes radio astronomer Heino Falcke of Radboud University in The Netherlands. This in turn will help researchers gain greater insight into the composition of the universe and its origins.

The telescope observed two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A* which weighs in at four million Suns and lies at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, and another one yet 1,500 times heavier at the core of nearby galaxy Messier 87. The Event Horizon Telescope has probed both these areas before, but this is the first time the network has included the South Pole Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a group of 66 radio dishes in Chile.

The South Pole Telescope is well-suited to the group, having investigated cosmic conundrums ranging from dark energy to inflation, the exponential expansion of the universe as it first exploded into existence. “The SPT occupies a unique spot on the globe, and this is especially true for looking at the center of the galaxy,” explained Daniel Marrone at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory who facilitated SPT’s joining the EHT network. “If you imagine looking at the Earth from the direction of Sgr A*, you’d see that Arizona and California are near one edge, Chile is right in the middle, and the South Pole is at the opposite edge. Adding the SPT to the EHT allows us to see details almost twice as fine as we could otherwise, it really does give us a telescope the size of the whole Earth.”

This virtual telescope — about 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) in diameter — produces more data than scientists can efficiently transmit electronically. As a result, the information from the network (some 500 terabytes per station) was recorded on to 1,024 hard drives to be mailed to the project’s centers at MIT Haystack Observatory and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany to be processed by supercomputers. The South Pole’s hard drives will be the last to ship as they must wait until Antarctic flights resume at winter’s end in October.

Long View Sketchbook Page 014 is a cut-paper collage with line work in pencil. The composition’s large black circular shapes represent three things simultaneously: the round telescope dishes, disk storage holding the data, and the black holes under observation.

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LV Sketchbook Page 013 (Polar Nights and Midnight Suns)

May 31, 2017

In the summer at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, from late October until late February, the sun stays above the horizon 24 hours a day — a phenomenon known as the Midnight Sun. Conversely, the Antarctic winter — or Polar Night — delivers four months of complete darkness save for the light of the aurora and stars. Further inland at the South Pole, the seasonal effect increases, with more continuous light over summer and more continuous darkness over winter.

The seasons are a result of the Earth’s tilt in relation to the sun. While the tilt’s direction never changes, different parts of Earth are exposed to direct sunlight as we orbit the sun. In the summer, Antarctica is on the side of our planet that is tilted toward the sun, therefore receiving continual sunlight. During winter, Antarctica is on the side tilted away from the sun, depriving it of the sun’s rays.

For Antarctic residents, months of continuous sunlight can be disorienting. During my summer visit, my circadian rhythm shifted markedly without the cue of evening darkness. Becoming increasingly sleep-deprived, I strove to sleep by the clock rather than light in an effort to get back on schedule. A month later, it still felt odd to head to the bunk in broad daylight for a “full night’s” rest.

A greater challenge is wintering over in darkness. This is undertaken annually by about 150 personnel at McMurdo and another 50 at the Pole. They commit to stay the entire 4-5 month duration since flights don’t operate in Antarctica during the winter. (Temperatures dip below -50 degrees Fahrenheit, freezing gasoline and aircraft hydraulics.)

The most prominent winter health concern is depression, well-known in parts of the globe that experience extended periods without sunlight. As a result, prospective Antarctic workers are screened for seasonal affective disorder. Past that, much pivots on the composition of the crew from year to year and the chemistry between them.

Under most circumstances, a healthy, supportive community flourishes amidst a season of shared experience and camaraderie. For a hardy few, activities such as the 300 Club offer the opportunity to bask in a 200-degree sauna, followed by running outside in nothing but shoes when the outdoor temperature falls below -100 degrees. The immediate objective: to endure a temperature swing of 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The larger objective: To collectively celebrate and embrace the continent’s natural offerings.

Antarctica’s celestial show ranks high among these. Katy Jensen, a South Pole overwinterer, recalls for the Atlantic: “After sunset in March, there’s about a month of gradually darkening twilight, so every day you can walk outside and see more stars than you saw the day before. The moon is up above the horizon for two weeks at a time, so you swear you can watch it change phases.”

In the same article, we learn that if a full day is the time between two sunrises, a full day in the South Pole lasts approximately 8,760 hours (24 hours multiplied by 365). This is because at the Pole, the sun rises just once a year and sets many months later.

So, is it a new day when you wake at the Pole? In your mind, yes. But in reality, only once a year.

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LV Sketchbook Page 039 (Carbon Dioxide)

April 30, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide in Antarctica has reached its highest levels in four million years. The South Pole Observatory CO2 observing station has recorded a reading of 400 parts per million, indicating that the planet as a whole has likely crossed that threshold permanently (at least in our lifetimes).

Carbon dioxide emissions — the primary driver of global warming — have been steadily increasing since the start of the Industrial Revolution, setting new highs each year. Most carbon pollution is concentrated in the northern hemisphere due to population and industrial density, but emissions have steadily spread south. Until last year, the South Pole station was the last observatory on Earth without a 400 ppm reading. It attained it on May 23, 2016.

“The far southern hemisphere was the last place on earth where CO2 had not yet reached this mark,” Pieter Tans, the lead scientist of NOAA‘s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, said in a statement. “Global CO2 levels will not return to values below 400 ppm in our lifetimes, and almost certainly for much longer.

“The increase of carbon dioxide is everywhere, even as far away as you can get from civilization. If you emit carbon dioxide in New York, some fraction of it will be in the South Pole next year.”

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