Posted in biology

Coral Sculptures bring awareness to reef bleaching

It’s hard to get passionate or take action on things you can’t see. This is why projects like this or the Crocheted Coral Reef are so crucial to bring awareness to the devastation of our oceans and broader environment.

With the Great Barrier Reef suffering the worst mass bleaching event in history, climate change could kill off the world’s coral reefs for good by the end of the century. When that happens, Courtney Mattison’s coral reef art might be the closest thing to the reefs we have left.


Called Our Changing Seas, Mattison’s series of massive, intricately detailed ceramic sculptures were created by hand to represent coral reefs in the midst of being bleached. Bleaching is what happens to reefs when their sensitive zooxanthellae—a symbiotic algae that gives coral its pigmentation—die, usually due to environmental factors like pollution or temperature. And when the zooxanthellae die, so do the reefs.

To recreate these reefs in ceramic, Mattison pokes thousands of holes into the clay with her fingers to mimic the sponge-like cavities of a coral colony, while sculpting coral’s more tubular polyps with the aid of simple tools like paintbrushes and chopsticks. Each of her sculptures takes between seven and ten months to create in her Denver studio. There, they are sculpted and fired in as many as 100 separate pieces, which combined will make up the finished reefs, weighing 900 to 1,500 pounds each.

Read more…

Posted in biology

Baby Coral Dance to find home

From Treehugger:

The larvae look like tiny eggs, covered in yet smaller hairs, and belong to the Cnidaria phylum, which also includes anemones.

By using a “choice chamber”—which offers invertebrates two contrasting environments and allows them to choose between them—a research team led by Steve Simpson at the University of Bristol found that the larvae preferred an environment in which recorded reef sounds were played over a silent one.

Read full article

Posted in chemistry, design and architecture, museum

Playing with plastic art for a scientific cause

From The Scientist, discussing an art installation bringing attention the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

Early last year, Anna Hepler, a Portland, Maine installation artist, filled a gallery with undulating layers of woven plastic. The rich, latticed structure hung from the walls in the shape of a ship’s hull…the structure — so large that visitors of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, where the exhibit was on display, had to crouch to pass underneath it — was more than just a new exhibit from the acclaimed visual artist. It was created entirely with recycled plastics in response to scientists’ exploration of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The garbage patch swirls 1000 miles from the California coast in a convergence of currents known as the North Pacific Gyre. As trash floats towards the gyre, it gets sucked into the calm center of the vortex and accumulates there. Decades of non-biodegradable plastics washed into the ocean from Asia and North America are pulled into the huge eddy, forming a floating landfill about the size of Texas. Other ocean gyres scattered across the globe have similar marine wastelands at their centers.

In the past few years, scientists have traveled to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to study the chemical interactions between marine life and the debris and to test methods of collecting the trash.

Intrigued by the artistic potential of plastic for years, Hepler knew she wanted to experiment with the material, and agreed to do a room-sized installation using plastic for the Rockport, Maine gallery. Her first stop was Home Depot, for sheets of plastic she could rip up. But as she worked on the project she started hearing about the floating landfill in the Pacific Ocean. “It was insane to think about buying virgin sheet plastic and adding to the problem,” she said. “So, I headed to my local salvage yard instead and managed to get more than half of my materials in one run.”

Since creating the structure, named “Gyre” and measuring approximately 45 feet long by 15 feet wide, Hepler has continued to work with recycled plastics. “Plastic’s color and translucency had always fascinated me,” she said. “And once I embark on work with certain materials, I like to see where it takes me.”

Read full article and see images from exhibit (free registration required to read full story).

Posted in biology, chemistry, communication and networking, design and architecture, education, electronic imaging and displays

The Art of Destruction

As disturbing as some of these images are (I think the one I posted below is the worst one, so now you’ve been prepared), it’s important to know the ecological, environmental, and chemical impacts that are taking place on planet Earth, even if most of us never see them first-hand. I think this also demonstrates just how powerful art can be in promoting scientific awareness and hopefully educating people.

SEED Magazine spoke with photographer Chris Jordan, who recently traveled to a remote part of the Pacific Ocean to document effects of the world’s largest known mass of garbage trapped in a broad ocean current, known as a gyre, in the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean, in what has been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Near the center of this giant swarm of pollution are the Midway Islands, a series of small atolls in a remote area of the Pacific, about a third of the way to Tokyo from the Hawaiian Islands. Here, some of the effects of the patch are just now becoming apparent. A full third of the resident Albatross chicks die due to feeding on the ubiquitous plastic, mistaking the ingestible bits as baitfish. The phenomenon threatens more than the biodiversity of marine wildlife at Midway. Many researchers view what’s happening at Midway as a bellwether for ecosystems across the globe, with the Albatross as proverbial canaries in the coal mine, alerting the world to an environmental toxicity that could ultimately impact us all in ways we’re just beginning to understand.

Chris Jordan, a photographer whose work on visualizing impossibly large numbers SEED Magazine featured last week, traveled to the Midway Islands last year to document the Garbage Patch. What he returned with is visually shocking: a series of ghastly images of Albatross carcasses bursting with wholly undigested bits of plastic waste.

Continue reading the story…

I also wrote an Art of Science post last week about the Crocheted Coral Reef Project, which is working to bring awareness to this issue.

*EDIT* It turns out there is also an Atlantic Garbage Patch. Who knows what else is out there?

Posted in biology, electronic imaging and displays

Unusual deep sea species

More scientific art.

I’m a sucker for pretty pictures and photographs of bizarre animals. Compiled by Scientific American:

More than 340 scientists from around the world have been working over the past nine years to complete the Census of Marine Life, a project that has sent out dozens of expeditions to document ocean life at all levels of the sea. Final results from the survey will be announced next October, but preliminary results about the deep-sea findings are being released early.

With some 17,650 creatures found living below 200 meters, where photosynthesis stops, (and another 5,722 living below 1,000 meters), the researchers compare the surprising amount of marine diversity with that found in tropical rainforests. Of course, in a rainforest, “it’s visually overwhelming,” says Robert Carney of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and co-leader of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s Census project, Continental Margin Ecosystems (COMARGE). Even a mere scoop of mud from the ocean floor can contain a wealth of animals that are just millimeters long.

View the Slideshow

Don't you just looove that this guy's real, actual, common name is the Dumbo Octopus?
Posted in biology, communication and networking, electronic imaging and displays, Optics

Underwater photography … in 3D!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This post has nothing to do with the holiday, but I figured I’d give a hearty Erin Go Bragh to all Irish-Americans out there.

Today’s post is about the new IMAX film “Under the Sea 3D” (catchy title, huh?), and all the technology that went into capturing such true-to-life images of sea critters.

This gallery by Discover Magazine has great details on the animals and behind-the-scenes knowledge with each picture.

I am always impressed with the dedication of these photographers and technical guys and gals, people who will spend 110 days at sea for projects like this.