“Photography is a tool to negotiate our idea of reality. Thus it is the responsibility of photographers to not contribute …
There is a considerable distance between Guildford, where Dr Simon Park in the University of Surrey is based, and my studio on the Lake District fringes. A factor that impacts on my collaborative project with the microbiologist, Immortal Worlds?, and the development of my scientific understanding of methanongens. To assist in addressing this distance I decided to create my own Winogradsky columns last weekend.
A Winogradsky column is a device for culturing a diverse miniature ecosystem – a process developed in 1880 by Sergei Winogradsky. Basically, a column of extracted mud, plus added nutrients, creates am aerobic/anaerobic gradient plus a sulphide gradient over a period of months. The two gradients vary depending on the added ingredients but all promote the growth of different organisms: Clostridium, Desulfovibrio, Chlorobium, Chromatium, Rhodomicrobium, and Beggiatoa, as well as many other species of bacteria, cyanobacteria, and algae.
As child fond of making mud pies in the middle of our unmade, puddled lane the silent infant within was excited at the prospect of revisiting that joy. And the process didn’t disappoint – mixing 0.25% egg yolks (calcium sulphate), 0.5% ground eggshells (calcium carbonate), shredded newspaper (carbon) and mud together was gloriously messy. Clearing up took longer than mixing the recipe.
The mixture was paddled into the base of a clear glass demijohn filling it to a third, then adding another third of mud on its own from the same site, adding 1/6 site water and leaving 1/6 as space. The containers were tightly sealed with a rubber bungs to prevent evaporation and then placed in the large windows of my studio, as light is key to the development of the ecosystems. Demijohns are great for sturdiness but the entrance hole being so narrow proved a challenge – a homemade funnel made out of an old drinks bottle proved the answer.
The mud was sampled from two sites – one freshwater, the other seawater – the differences will enhance the study over the next three to six weeks as the ecosystems become established.
Unlike the Winogradsky columns I created last December in Norfolk with Dr Park, these will not be kept in the heat cabinets. The columns are not part of our trial to monitor the impact of climate change on methanogens, but rather a way for me to reduce the distance between my artist’s understanding and the science, whilst being inspired by the wondrous process happening live in my studio.
Images below show the mud on day 2 – left freshwater mud from Subberthwaite Common, near Ulverston Cumbria https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Subberthwaite+Commonemail@example.com,-3.124666,1711m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x6b70d063a5334d7a and right demijohn has mud from Morecambe Bay https://www.google.co.uk/maps/search/Sea+Wood,+Aldingham,+South+Lakeland+Districtfirstname.lastname@example.org,-3.0881751,1716m/data=!3m1!1e3
Below the Below
Our habit is to gaze in our frontal plane, turning occasionally east and west, above and below – but what of the world below the below – the disconnected landscape of Archaea? Archaea are microorganisms with an ancient evolutionary lineage that traces back to the very origins of life on Earth, and yet which will still play a vital role in our future.
I have started a new series of projects interweaving art and science with microbiologist/molecular biologist Dr Simon Park of University of Surrey. The focus of the Immortal Worlds? series of projects, is on mapping this unseen world of methanogens and how climate change will impact on these major producers of methane. This gas is a significant greenhouse gas, and per unit, far more so than carbon dioxide, and the Archaea form a domain of single-celled microorganisms that is responsible for 70% of methane in the atmosphere, thereby making them a potent force on the Earth.
Immortal Worlds? aims to create provocative and innovative collaborative studies, that will not only experimentally and critically engage art and science, but will also spark debate about our rapidly changing world.
What will happen to this parallel world, hidden from our view, as the planet warms up?
What impact will this change have on the Earth and ourselves?
We started the investigation last Sunday by extracting mud samples of saltwater wetland in Norfolk.
The four columns of mud are now being monitored under laboratory-controlled conditions – to study the nature of the changes when the methanogens are subjected to a sustained rise in temperature of 20 degrees and 30 degrees centigrade. After seven weeks the new ecosystems will have established themselves in the glass vessels and the results will be documented.
Birds nests are generally amazing structures, (regular readers will know of my fascination with this particular shelter as a symbol of home – see other ‘Home’ posts) but all are eclipsed by those made by Philetairus socius – the sociable weaver bird who builds gigantic communal nests from sticks and grass. If there are no trees around, as demonstrated in this shot of the Kalahari Desert, then telegraph poles will make adequate substitutes for this little feathered creature. The structures can last for decades with generations of weaver birds, often around a hundred pairs in a nest, harmoniously living together including sharing the raising of young. The avian shelters are designed to adapt to the extremes of desert temperatures by having a thick thatched roof to screen out the scorching sun, whilst able to retain heat through the cold nights.
This wonderful photograph is by Dillon Marsh – please follow the link to see an insightful record of life in southern Africa by this interesting photographer.
Digital photomontage created from a photograph of flotex carpet magnified 100 times using a scanning electron microscope at uclan, images of real bees and actual gas masks.
The work above was created this winter in response to the research I have been doing over the last few years investigating the decline in bee population and its possible causes. The alarming news that bee decline has reached 30% in the western world has made the issue become mainstream news. The value of this insect to us is difficult to estimate, in 2005 the figure £130 billion was made, as it is vital for pollinating our crops. 90% of the world’s food focuses on a hundred crop species and over 70 of these rely on bees to pollinate them.
Scientists have shown that the grave reduction in bee numbers is due to air pollution, intensive farming, over-cropping, loss of flowering plants, decline in beekeepers, a lethal pinhead-sized parasite that has been wiping out colonies in the last 30 years (Varroa destructor) and most importantly the increased use of pesticides and herbicides.
The insecticide neonicotinoid has negative affects on the bee colonies – it has been shown to scramble their navigation systems so they get lost. Sold since 1994 the insecticide forms a coat on the seeds which is then absorbed into the growing plant where some is ingested by the bees. The latest thinking is to ban these chemicals but some scientists and bee keepers are still unconvinced that the replacements will fair better with the insect.
I can not be alone in thinking that the problems endless artificial fertilisers cause should make us re-evaluate our farming methods and return to safer and more sustainable production. We can all aim to value food more, eat less, expect less, share more and generally take better care of the creatures who buzzzzz past us.
A haunting and beautiful film that captures the devastating impact our habit of dumping rubbish in the sea has on seabirds.
One cannot fail to be moved by such a poetic film.
Please watch, comment and share.
Extract below from Wikipedia
Anthropogenic biomes, also known as anthromes or human biomes, describe the terrestrial biosphere in its contemporary, human-altered form using global ecosystem units defined by global patterns of sustained direct human interaction with ecosystems.
For more than a century, the biosphere has been described in terms of global ecosystem units called biomes, which are vegetation types like tropical rainforests and grasslands that are identified in relation to global climate patterns. Taking into account the fact that human populations and their use of land have fundamentally altered global patterns of ecosystem form, process, and biodiversity, anthropogenic biomes provide a framework for integrating human systems with the biosphere in the Anthropocene.
Lately, there has been much publicity about the concern over the killing of exotic wildlife for animal parts that fetch higher values than gold or heroin. In The Guardian on Saturday John Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), spoke of the need to have harsher penalties for criminals involved in this lucrative trade.
The latest CITES summit, the last was three years ago, is now on till 14 March 2013, with delegates from around 170 countries discussing issues such as rhino trophy hunting, elephant ivory trade, over-fishing, the trade in turtles and animal skins and the felling of precious tropical hardwoods. Visit the CITES website here to learn more http://www.cites.org/
The consequences are devastating for both the wildlife and people.
In 1979 1.3 million elephants roamed the planet, now that number has been slashed to about 400,000 as the demand for ivory, mainly from the Chinese, continues. The ban on ivory trading was enforced in 1990 but with little impact as crime syndicates and rebel militia moved in to ‘organise’ the slaughter.
Paradoxically, the USA is joined by China at the summit in asking for the trade in turtles to be restricted to contain the decimation of the turtle population. In Asia turtles are popular as pets or as food, particularly vulnerable are eight soft shell species and thirty freshwater species. Other critical issues are the hunting of polar bears for pelts – only 20,000 bears are estimated to be left, primarily in Canada, which is also the only country that permits the slaughter, and the killing of rhinos in Africa for trophies. 745 rhinos were shot for their horns in 2012 – the horns fetch high black-market prices in Vietnam. CITES officials have surprisingly said, that if managed legally the culling of rhinos could offer a sustainable option for conservation of the species.
Here’s the link to find out more about the ground breaking ban agreed at CITES on 3 March where Thailand said it would ban its ivory trade. WWF sent out a petition and 1.4 million of us signed it and it actually made a difference.
Albert Einstein expressed it well when he said “ Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Let’s all look deeper and maybe we could recover the relationship of mutualism.
Mutualism is the way two organisms of different species biologically interact in a relationship in which each individual derives a fitnessbenefit (i.e., increased or improved reproductive output). Similar interactions within a species are known as co-operation. Mutualism can be contrasted with interspecific competition, in which each species experiences reduced fitness, and exploitation, or parasitism, in which one species benefits at the expense of the other. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis. Symbiosis is a broad category, defined to include relationships that are mutualistic, parasitic, or commensal. Mutualism is only one type. (Extract from Wikipedia)
On Saturday I joined 270 divers on Lake Windermere for a special salvage dive to remove detritus from the lake bed. The wonderful spring day meant excellent conditions for extracting rubbish from the silt. The charity organisation ‘Friends of the Lake District’ had organised the dive to highlight the problem that waste causes to aquatic ecosystems.