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Friday, August 31, 2018

STEAM with Kirsten Carlson

Kirsten Carlson really explores the S and the A in STEAM with her combination of science and art.  I was fortunate to discuss her recent trip to Antarctica with her recently. 






Hi Kirsten! Thanks for chatting today. I know that you visited Antarctica many years ago. For most, that is a once-in-a-lifetime destination.  Why did you return? 

Thanks for having me. Last year, I returned to Antarctica on a mission to seek out ways to connect people to the beauty and wonder of Antarctica, through science and art. During my initial visit to Antarctica in 1992, I spent 2.5 months living and diving in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. As a marine biologist, I focused on exploring sea life impacted by icebergs and human pollution. The trip inspired me to become a scientific illustrator and eventually a children’s book author-illustrator because I want to share both my enthusiasm for exploration and discovery and my passion and love of nature.

Most people would look at that trip as daunting.  Let’s just say that this isn’t a trip you book on Expedia, pack a bag, and go. What preparations were involved?

The logistics of visiting the seventh continent are incredibly complex, and it’s 100% handled by the National Science Foundation(NSF) and the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). They gave me the opportunity to go down as a scientist 25 years ago and they provided the chance to go last year, as an artist. In 2016, I submitted a proposal to the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program (AAWP) because I decided it was time to return to the place that inspired my career. The program provides opportunities for artists, photographers, writers, and historians to visit Antarctica. I was specifically interested in exploring the undersea world of marine science and sea life in the Ross Sea. It took over a year of waiting, but in June of 2017, I received the exciting news that I was going! The most daunting part of the journey was the paperwork needed to get PQd (Physically Qualified). Because Antarctica is so remote and medical and dental services are literally a continent away, everyone that goes must be in good health.

There was a bit of extra preparation involved in going scuba diving under the ice, but I’ve been a certified diver since I was 17, and I’ve been drawing underwater since 2006. About 100 people supported me through a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost of diving equipment which included a dry suit and underwater camera. In October, I flew from Hawaii to New Zealand and then jumped aboard a military plane to fly the last leg across the Southern Ocean. We landed on a runway built on the Ross Ice Shelf. For seven weeks, I dove and drew sea life underwater, interviewed scientists working in the field and lived at McMurdo Station, located on Ross Island in Antarctica.





That is all so amazing. Before we move on, can you share with me the difference between a wet suit and a dry suit? 

Since we don’t have a layer of blubber like most marine mammals, we have to use man-made insulation to stay warm underwater. Depending on the temperature of the sea, one can choose a wetsuit or a dry suit. A wetsuit is made out of a rubber-like material called neoprene and it traps a layer of water next to your skin. That water warms up to body temperature and slows down the amazing ability water has to rob you of body heat. A wetsuit works well down to water temperatures of 50°F, below that and it’s time to switch to a dry suit. It literally keeps you dry underwater and uses a layer of air (trapped in fleece-like undergarments) to keep your body warm. Another major difference is: you can pee in your wetsuit, but you should never, ever pee in your dry suit.




WOW, that is a fact kids will love to hear, Kirsten! But getting back to your more serious craft, can you discuss a little bit of how you make this extraordinary connection with your work, combining art and science? As a science writer and photographer, it is one of the facets of my work that I love the most. Tell us more. 

I believe that all scientists and artists share a particular skill—the art of observation. Observation at the mode of discovery, it’s about being present in the moment, asking questions, using all your senses to understand your surroundings. For me exploring nature through the lens of science, fathoming what I’m observing while capturing the process in a sketch or photograph is the ultimate in a connection between science and art. I find my analytical skills while I draw shoot thru the roof. It’s not about how good the drawing on the page is, but what it looks like and the process of recording observations that shifts my perception of reality, and that is where all my creativity stems from.








Can you tell us all a little bit of what you found beneath the ice? 

The water is so clear it felt like I was floating in outer space, but with sound. There are two things heard on every dive—the Darth Vader-like sound of the regulator releasing bubbles on every exhale and the eerie sounds of Weddell seals vocalizing underwater. I took an underwater flashlight on every dive, even though it was daylight 24 hours a day above water, below it’s similar to doing a night dive. The sea ice formed a glowing ceiling, punctuated by bright circles that created imaginary dot-to-dots overhead. They are created by air bubbles that hit the under-ice surface and displaced some of the microscopic algae. Sea stars, sponges, soft corals and sea slugs come in all hues of pastels, pinks, and pale yellows and some are all white as if they are trying to disguise themselves as ice and snow.








What an amazing trip, Kirsten. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.
And now for the special treat of sharing your actual art. 




Photos and art courtesy of Rob Robbins, Brenda Konar, Steve Rupp, Mike Cloutier, Derrel Young, Kirsten Carlson ©2017





You can read more about Kirsten and her trip by following these links:


Read more about the AAWP award, Under the Ice, here: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1645127&HistoricalAwards=false).  
The online journal while in Antarctica: www.hookandfathom.com
Instagram: @artsyfishy

Twitter: @kirstencarlson

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