Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The End (for now)

I know there has been a big delay with this, but things got crazy at the end there and I'm just now getting caught up on a lot of things….

After a three day transit through the Bering Sea filled with perfect weather, views of Aleutian volcanoes, fishing stops, and lots of lounging in the sun on the flight deck we got into Dutch Harbor on June 23rd. We all went out for sushi and I was the happiest I have ever been to eat seaweed salad and other fresh green things and a real fried egg on top of my rice bowl. After that we went to the bar to celebrate the end of the cruise with our first drinks in six weeks, and then to a bonfire on the beach where it actually got fairly dark out, another novelty.

The next morning I was on the first of three planned flights out of Dutch Harbor. It was a little turbo prop plane and the weather was getting bad and it was quite the takeoff. That was the first time I’ve ever felt like I really needed the seatbelt on an airplane! We made it to Anchorage fine, but I found out later that no more flights left Dutch Harbor for two days and most of the rest of the science party was stuck there.

From Anchorage I spent another ten days travelling and playing in Alaska including a visit to Talkeetna, lots of hiking, and the Girdwood forest fair. It was a lot of fun and a nice way to ease the transition back to real life, but a little overwhelming. It was a big contrast to go from a life where I didn’t have to make any decisions, not even what to eat for breakfast, to traveling around with very little plan, bouncing between different friends in different towns, having to constantly figure out where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, and how to adapt to all the unforeseen changes in a plan that barely existed in the first place. It was well worth it though and Girdwood was really at its best with perfect summer weather, lush plants and wildflowers everywhere, and lots going on.

Now I’m back on the Cape working on finishing the artwork and finding ways to get it out into the world and use it to make more connections between art, science, people, and plankton. This is probably it for the blog for the time being, but maybe I’ll come back to it when there is a show of the work or some other big development. Or maybe my next expedition?? Thanks so much to everyone for all the great feedback and support I’ve gotten, to the SUBICE science party and the Healy crew for all the help and for letting me be so involved in so many aspects of the cruise, and especially to Bob Pickart for making it happen! 

How we spent the transit

Dutch Harbor coming into view on the last morning

Tugboats coming to meet us and bring us into the harbor

Science Recap

In the end we never did actually find an under ice plankton bloom like the ones that were accidentally discovered in 2010 and 2011, and the melt ponds that we were looking for only just started to appear in the last few days of the cruise. Research cruises have to be planned far in advance and there’s just no way to predict exactly when melt ponds will form or blooms will start in any given year. At the beginning of this cruise the scientists were worried that we might have come too late and wouldn’t be able to get far enough north fast enough to get ahead of the blooms, but in the end it turned out that we were a little too early and once we got into the ice the snow melt and melt pond formation we were waiting for didn’t happen in time for us to see them. That’s how it goes though and we did get one of the first and most thorough looks ever at the Chukchi Sea in pre-bloom winter conditions, so it’s not as if it was a wasted effort. 

Bob’s CTD work on this cruise was the most comprehensive CTD survey of the Chukchi Sea ever done, and the first to go so far north so early in the season. His water profile data about temperature, salinity, nutrients, and currents is all new and gives the scientists a much better idea of how the currents change seasonally in the Chukchi Sea. Chris and Ken learned a lot about light transmission through sea ice, light absorption by ice algae within the ice, and what kind of light and ice conditions are not enough to start a plankton bloom. For example it turns out that the ice has to stop freezing and start melting before a bloom can start, even if there is enough light, and that is what didn’t happen for us. They also made some new discoveries about ice permeability to salt vs fresh water and how fresh water melt ponds are able to sit on top of the ice without soaking through. Kevin never got to see the plankton blooms he was hoping for, but at least now they all have a much better idea of the under ice conditions before the blooms start and also a better idea of what it might take to actually start one. And a reason to go back again another year!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Art Recap

I wrote this about a week ago, but didn't get a chance to post it until now....

Things are winding down here, we're still transiting back, and the outreach team gave a presentation today to show the science party and crew what we’ve done. I gave a short slide talk at the presentation, but this is my written version of what I’ve done and the current state of the artwork.

I came into this trip with some basic ideas about plankton, the Arctic food chain, and the kind of work I wanted to do, but I also wanted to allow myself the flexibility to be inspired by the experience and let the work evolve based on what I learned. There is a long tradition of artists accompanying expeditions to document new discoveries and I wanted to stay open to whatever happened. 

At first I was so distracted by the ice and the wildlife that I couldn’t focus on the science at all. I did several drawings of the ice from bridge where I toned the whole paper gray and then erased out the ice floes as they went past through the window. I also did a few walrus drawings and a series of small drawings of the snow buntings that landed on the ship for a while.

After a couple of weeks I finally got over my amazement at the Arctic enough to start focusing on the science. I spent a lot of time talking to scientists and asking questions and started drawing plankton. Everyone was incredibly patient and generous with their time, answering question after question, letting me look through microscopes, trusting me enough to let me help with field work, and giving technical feedback on my drawings. I also learned a lot about ice and ocean currents, and I enjoyed that too, but it has always been the living world that has captivated me the most so that’s the direction I took. So far I have done about fifteen plankton drawings of different species. These drawings aren’t my final pieces from the cruise though; I am using them as a way to build up an image bank of plankton to use in more elaborate future projects.

One of my ideas is to create an installation of a plankton bloom on a wall using small fiber studies framed in round wooden hoops. I’m using the plankton drawings as a way to study the different types of plankton and figure out compelling ways to make their invisible world visible. My plan is to fill a wall with individual plankton studies starting with sparsely spaced ice algae species at one end and building up to a solid bloom of as many of the different species we saw on the cruise as possible at the other end.

The other idea I’m working on is using the plankton forms to design patterns that I will use as layers in large woodblock prints. I want to make prints with silhouettes of the larger arctic wildlife combined with patterns made of tiny plankton to show that even the top predators such as polar bears and orcas are built of tiny phytoplankton, but I’m still working out the patterns themselves right now.

Basically I’d like to spend the next few months building off of these drawings and this experience and making a body of work of prints and fiber pieces that can be shown together to embody some of what I’ve learned on the cruise about plankton and the Arctic. In a way I’m disappointed that I didn’t get more finished work done during the cruise, but I don’t think it was really possible. I learned and took in so much that I never could have otherwise and now I have this huge stockpile of notes, drawings, ideas, and resources to work from and a clear direction to go in, so I am content with that.









Barnacle nauplii larvae

Copepod patterns

Barnacle nauplii and Polychaete patterns