Friday, April 24, 2020

Virtual BioArt exhibit

It's been almost a year since our last group of students traveled to the Arctic for the BioArt course. Things were very busy when we got home, with students finishing their work. The work was exhibited in August & September 2019 at the Fletcher Library at ASU. This spring, the work was set up for display at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center, to be enjoyed by visitors to South Mountain Park. Unfortunately, that display was cut very short. It was up for only one weekend before the visitor center was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic! Since it's no longer able to be enjoyed in person, I thought I could perhaps publish it here, for people to enjoy remotely all over the world.

New to the concept of BioArt? Read this post for an explanation of why we created this project.

So, without further ado, I present to you the most recent class's BioArt projects from the Arctic!

Each project displayed consists of a scientific research poster, which communicates the project in the traditional scientific format that explains the rationale, hypothesis, methods, and results. Those posters get displayed next to their art  that communicates the research in a more creative way. As viewers travel around the hall, they would see exhibits that look like this:
For example, Elisabeth and Alex explored whether diatom communities differed across types of aquatic habitats. You can learn more in their research poster. Their artwork is a composite of 36 sketch papers, serving as small "slides" that make up the overall landscape of Saana.
For each project, you can open their research poster to read about the science, and the photo of their art project shows how they also communicated that science in a very engaging way. (Click the photo for a larger version to see better detail of the artwork.)

Ana and Kristian studied the impacts of increased temperature and water availability on soil microbes in the Arctic. They used miniature greenhouses to simulate future climate change, and measured the activity of soil microbes as respiration. Read more in their research poster.
They created a short video piece, which is a sonic and visual interpretation of climate change induced glacial melt in the Arctic. All of the visuals, as well as some of the audio, were captured throughout the mountainous regions near Kilpisjärvi, Finland, and is accompanied with an original music score featuring a continuous flute solo by a local Phoenix musician. This immersive art piece follows the journey of water as it travels from mountain tops to marshy lands, and provides a creative perspective for the feedback loop by which this ecosystem is affected. You can see their awesome video here:


Deauna and Jeremy studied how trampling by hikers' feet changes the soil on the trails, and whether that matters for the microscopic organisms living in the soil. Read more in their research poster.
Their creative work is a 3-D environmental model that uses a combination of natural products and artificial foliage to allow viewers to touch and feel a representation of natural Kilpisjarvi soil.  It simulates Mt. Saana Reserve, allowing the viewer to witness the effects of trampling versus staying on the trail. The flooring simulates the spongy, buoyant vegetation that was preserved outside the trails. The samples taken from the spongy areas were more difficult to obtain because of the plant roots that intertwined throughout reserve. The plant matter on the fabric is a visual representation of the different kinds of plants that were observed over the entire reserve. Many of the plants were layered over one another, and that layered effect was captured by bleeding the leaves on to the fabric. The green vegetation was the most abundant, so it was the first color to be hammered into the fabric. On top of the green color were plants that ranged in colors from red to yellow to purple. Finally, the last piece to simulate the environment is a visual and audio recording of trampling and hammering. The trampling was important to capture because of how it affects the land that we did research on. Each recording was taken on the different areas affected by trampling. Upon viewing this installation, your environment is meant to be transformed into the serene landscape where we had the privilege of working. You may choose to follow the trail to view the scientific poster or walk your own path.

Jose and Xavier investigated how pollen of Arctic plants could be used as crime scene evidence. Learn more about their project in their research poster.
They communicated this research through a two-part installation. They recreated a police bulletin board (kind of like ones we see in movies getting used to track evidence in a crime). Showcased on the bulletin board are pictures taken at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Research Station. They show where several pieces of clothing evidence at the crime scene simulation contained various pollen spores.  Red string is used to convey the possible connections between the photos. In the upper right corner, a newspaper speculating about the crime scene simulation is on display. They also created an audio-video display depicting the process of examining slides under a microscope. The camera captures the movement of several slides under the lens as an examiner searches for pollen spores. The video is accompanied by the recorded sounds of the environment in which evidence from clothing at the crime scene was discovered. Curious about their video? You can watch it here:

Robin used his interest in the social sciences to explore how habitat fragmentation is impacting reindeer, and therefore Sami culture. Historically, reindeer would migrate across areas of northern Scandinavia with the seasons, followed by the Sami reindeer herders. But the Arctic is changing, not just in terms of climate and species phenology, but also geography. As countries have erected fences along their borders, reindeer are not able to move according to natural migration patterns, which impacts the reindeer and therefore the Sami who rely on them for their livelihood.
He expressed these relationships in his artwork using materials representative of traditional Sami costume, with rocks and antlers representing the natural aspects of the Arctic landscape. You can see the presence of the fence, and the difference in reindeer numbers and movement to the left of the fence as compared to the right of the fence.

Alex, Karla, and Mariam did not travel to the Arctic with our group. They took a non-traveling version of the course, where they studied the Arctic from afar, by simulating the Arctic Ocean in their back yards. They studied how UV radiation from the sun breaks down plastic that gets created and released at mid-latitudes but can make it all the way to the Arctic through ocean currents. Learn more in their research poster.
Their 3D art piece represents the plastic that lies within the Arctic Ocean as well as the species/marine life being affected by plastic pollution. The two poster boards themselves are fundamentally colored with watercolor to correlate the artwork with the real life ocean water. Plastic caps accumulated by the artists were painted different shades of blue, representing the deeper parts of the ocean, a deeper blue, as well as the more shallow parts of the ocean, the color being a lighter shade of blue. The caps are specifically snaking throughout the art piece to represent the general widespread of plastic throughout the entire ocean, not just in one particular place. On the lower half of the piece, there are species drawn and painted, representing the marine life that is being impacted and disturbed by the ongoing plastic pollution within the Arctic Ocean. Our ultimate achievement is to present a more accessible visual representation of the effects of plastic as well as how much plastic pollution is found within the Arctic Ocean. Even though the Arctic is far away from us in Phoenix, the plastic waste that we generate can reach that distant ecosystem.

(Like BioArt and want to see a few examples from the Sonoran Desert, as well? See our sister Desert Soils blog.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Research wrap-up

We are at the end of our stay at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. Students have been collecting their last bits of data. Yesterday, they presented drafts of their projects. They of course still have work to do once we get back to the US, but they were able to report on their rationale, hypotheses, methods, results so far, and clips and drafts of their art projects.

For example, here’s Alex and Elisabeth presenting their project on diatoms. They collected water from a variety of different bodies of water around the station, from lakes to ponds to streams to snow. Using a powerful microscope, they’re looking at the diatom community to see if the different types of water bodies house distinct diatom communities. They want to know whether you can tell if something came from a particular type of water source based on the diatom community you find on it. Since their water bodies focus around Saana and Kilpisjärvi, their art project will be a drawing of the Saana landscape, with certain areas expanded to show the diatoms that are unique to those areas.
Here is one of my photos of Saana (the mountain fell in the background).
Now we are almost all packed up. In a few moments, we’ll be getting on our bus to drive to Tromsø, Norway. We will spend the rest of the day there visiting science and art museums to cap our trip the way it began in Helsinki.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Student projects

We have been at the research station for over a week now, and we only have a couple more days left before it's time for us to leave. The students have been making good progress on their research projects, and here's a bit about what some of the teams are working on:

Deauna and Jeremy are studying the impacts of human foot traffic on soil water and therefore the organisms that live in the soil. There has been increasing tourism in this area, which means more hikers and more traffic on trails (and new trails being created by people going off-trail). All of those human feet can compress soil and squeeze out the air spaces, which can make it harder for the soil to let water in, provide habitat for organisms, and support plant life. Even after the foot traffic goes away, the soil will not immediately recover. Jeremy and Deauna are comparing high, medium, and low traffic areas to see how much damage is too much damage.
Jeremy puts our make-shift "infiltrometer" into a medium-traffic path to test how quickly water trickles into the soil. Deauna is ready to run the timer and record the data.
Their art project to communicate the results is very neat. They have collected various plants and soil, and are using a hammer to pound them into cloth to create colors and textures on textile that represent human feet trampling the plants and soil.
Jeremy hammering his textiles on the left, and some in-the-works plant smashing on the right.
Xavier and Jose are studying pollen, and whether it could be used to solve crimes. They have placed a bunch of their clothes around the station, both inside the buildings and outside scattered in the birch forest and fields. Their clothes are simulating a human who may have committed a crime, or been a victim of one. They are then identifying any pollen that may have collected on the clothes to determine whether they can match the "crime" to nearby plants. If they are able to collect pollen from the clothes that is tied to nearby plants, they can suggest that pollen evidence can be used to tie a person to a particular location in the Arctic. However, if pollen on the clothes is not able to be associated with nearby plants, that would suggest that it's not a good source of evidence.
Jose and Xavier use tape to collect pollen off of their test clothing.
Once they collect the pollen, they look at it under a microscope to identify it. They have spent a lot of time collecting pollen from all of the flowering plants around the station to create a pollen bank of what each plant's pollen looks like. That way, as they look at their clothing samples, they can identify the plants on the clothes. The microscope has a camera attached, so one of them can operate the microscope while the other watches from the laptop. Here, Jose is on the laptop capturing still images and video to use in their artwork.
Jose and Xavier viewing their pollen from mock crime scene underwear.
Ana and Kristian have been simulating a warmer Arctic climate to see how that impacts the activity of soil microbes. Soil microbes perform a LOT of important functions in ecosystems, so knowing how they respond to climate is important. Kristian and Ana collected soil and placed it into incubation vessels. Half of their vessels are outside in normal temperatures, and half are inside a little greenhouse that they made out of parts they could find at the station and market. In each of those temperatures, half of the vessels received extra water to simulate ice melting under a warmer climate. They've incubated their vessels for over a week with the extra water and/or warmer temperature, and every couple of days they collect gas samples to see how much the soil microbes are respiring.
More CO2 produced from respiration means more active microbes.
Ana collecting a gas sample from one of her sample vials, next to their home-made greenhouse.
They have also been recording a lot of video and sound of water and wind to represent the melt and the respiration. It will become part of a musical composition with accompanying video. Anywhere we go for a hike, Kristian ends up dropping onto the ground and sticking his camera and sound recorder just above the water to collect the clips for their work.
You can juuust make out the tiny Kristian in the lower right, collecting sound clips from the base of the waterfall at Leenanlampi last week.

I'll tell you about the other projects another day, because the weather has been beautiful and now I'd like to go outside and enjoy some sunshine!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Station tour

Want to see where we've been living and working for the past week? Here's a short video tour of the main station building where we have our classes, eat our meals, sleep, and work in the lab:


Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Beautiful Day to be in Norway

We took a break today from working on research projects to go for a hike just over the border in Norway. We stopped for a quick photo op at the border. The group is split between Norway and Finland:

Antero, the research station director, was our guide for this hike since it’s a spot he found and knows well. Most of the trip involved walking along a road built during WWII by Russian prisoners of war. (Because Finland had at that time only recently declared independence from Russian rule, they initially allied with the Germans after Russia invaded at the start of WWII to defend their own independence. So it was German soldiers that made the POWs build the road, though later Finland and Russia would work together to remove the Germans before the war ended.) Here we are stopped on the road hearing an ecology lesson from Antero:

Once we got to Antero’s favorite spot, we rested on the banks of the pond, ate the lunches we packed, and enjoyed ourselves exploring and observing. It was a warm day, so we saw a lot of birds, bees, even some frogs at their northernmost range limit! Unfortunately we also saw some mosquitoes, but they’re not too bad, especially compared to most places in the Arctic.

Tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone working on research projects. I also think there will be a lot of sound and film editing, because students captured a lot of footage for their art/communication projects on the past couple of hikes we’ve done.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The science begins

Yesterday was a good Arctic summer day. It snowed! It's a big difference from our home in Phoenix, AZ where it was over 100 degrees Farenheit. We woke up in the morning to a dusting of snow on the ground, which made Saana (the mountain fell in the background) very pretty. We will be hiking on Saana this afternoon.
The class poses for a photo in the snow, with a snow-covered Saana in the background.
Since the weather wasn't great for outside field work, we have been making good use of our time indoors. Yesterday the station director, Antero, talked to us about the history of the station and some of the local ecology. Antero has worked here for more than 40 years, so he has a lot of knowledge he can share with us!
 
Students have also put their research plans into action! Some students have spent the morning out in the birch forest around the station collecting their first samples. Others have spent time in the lab setting up their experiments and processing their samples.
Ana, Kristian, Jeremy, and Deauna working on their soil samples in the lab.
This afternoon we will have a nice hike. It's not snowing, but still fairly cold, though I'm sure the exercise will keep us warm as we go uphill!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Welcome to Kilpisjärvi

Yesterday, we traveled from Helsinki up to Kilpisjärvi to the research station where we'll be living and working for the rest of the trip. First, we fly from Helsinki to a very small airport in the town of Kittilä.
Helsinki to Kittilä by plane. Kittilä to Kilpisjärvi by bus.
Kittilä is a small town north of the Arctic Circle with a population of about 6,000 people. That is very different compared to Phoenix where we're from, which has a population of almost two million people! It's also very different from Phoenix because this is the entire airport in Kittilä:
Kittilä airport, as seen from the plane when we landed
 Here's what the low-Arctic of northern Finland looks like as we are about to land in Kittilä:
Of course, relative to where we are at the station, Kittilä is a bustling metropolis, because we are three hours away to the northwest. It was still pretty warm in Kittilä (like Helsinki), and it was a hot 3-hour bus ride up to the station. But here, it is much cooler, because the hot snap is over. Today, it's been about 7°C (that's 44°F). From Kittilä, we got in a minibus and drove about 3 hours northwest to Kilpisjärvi. In Finnish, "järvi" means "lake", so we are at a research station on Lake Kilpis. It is very close to the border with Norway and Sweden.

The wonderful cook at the station had a late dinner waiting for us when we arrived, and afterwards we had a lecture from our friend Leena, a local artist, about Sami art and insights from reindeer herding and their relationship with the environment. Her husband is a relative of the famous Sami artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. It was great for students to be able to see a bit from his perspective, now that they are in the place where he is from.

Today, we spent the morning finalizing students' research and art plans, then in the afternoon took our first excursion out into the local ecosystem. We hiked at Pikku Malla, a "strict nature reserve" (meaning, it is managed with the strictest of regulations). We saw a lot of reindeer while we were hiking, and even a bit of snow!
Xavier, Alex, Jose, me, Robin, and Elisabeth on the trail next to Siiläsjarvi
The Arizonan students ask "What is this white stuff?"
We had a nice time exploring the ecosystem with binoculars and field microscopes, but tomorrow it's back to the grindstone with getting students' research projects up and running!