Monday, April 28, 2014

Going to Sea

Since I leave Saturday I should probably try to explain what the plan is here….

I've been given the amazing opportunity to go as a resident artist on a scientific research cruise to the Pacific Arctic with Bob Pickart, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution! I’ll be going as part of Bob’s outreach team to help get people who don’t necessarily follow science excited about oceanography through art, writing, videos, etc.  The outreach team includes Ben Harden, the outreach coordinator who will also be producing audio/video content for the website; Dallas Murphy, a writer; Amanda Kowalski, a photographer and videographer; Jody Spurling, a modern dancer who will be dancing on the sea ice and documenting it; and me as a visual artist. A historic multimedia outreach effort!

The ship we’re going on is the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a CG icebreaker dedicated to ocean science in the arctic. The crew will be CG and the science/civilian party will include groups from Woods Hole, Stanford University, New Hampshire, and Canada. There will be somewhere around 140 people onboard total! I’ve never been to sea before so I’m very curious about life onboard a ship, especially a Coast Guard ship. Here is what I’ve learned about the Healy so far based on a highly scientific poll of Coffee O customers wearing Healy sweatshirts:

It’s huge
There’s a store where you can buy official Healy sweatshirts and travel mugs
The food is mediocre
They may or may not inspect your bed every morning
There is a decent chance of seeing polar bears!

To get on the Healy I fly to Anchorage first and get to spend a week on vacation visiting Libby and Finn Dog in Girdwood and playing in the Chugach mountains! Then I fly on a small plane to Dutch Harbor, a CG base and fishing port on the Aleutian Islands where the Healy will be waiting for us. I’ll be in Dutch Harbor for about 24 hours at each end of the cruise so that should be pretty interesting to spend a little time in an Aleutian fishing port.

I’ll explain more about the science itself once I get out there, but very briefly the scientists are studying plankton colonies under the sea ice and how they are being impacted by climate change. Since phytoplankton form the foundation of the arctic food chain anything that happens to them has major effects all the way up the food chain to whales and polar bears, so this research could have serious implications for the whole arctic ecosystem. We’ll be at sea for six weeks total, heading north through the Bering Sea, through the Bering Strait (I’ll be able to see Russia!), and into the Chukchi Sea just above the Bering Strait, and then the reverse to get back to Dutch Harbor.

My role is to use art to humanize the science and make it more accessible and appealing. While onboard the Healy I will be making daily drawings for the official outreach website (which I'll post the link for as soon as I have it) and also working on imagery for a larger body of prints/drawings/fiber art about plankton and their role in the arctic ecosystem that will be finished back on land after the cruise. After the project is over there will be an exhibit of work from the whole outreach team which will hopefully be able to generate some emotional appeal for plankton, marine biology, and arctic conservation in a way that dry science writing can’t. 
So...HUGE thank you to Bob Pickart for making this happen! And also to Ben for organizing, which is not an easy task, especially when I'm involved.

Thanks for all the support I've been getting from everyone! Wish me luck and I'll see you in July!