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Exploring Antarctica through Art

Originally appears in the Winter 2017 issue

LAST YEAR one of us was staring out at the dark ocean—horizontal snow stinging the face—from the back deck of an Antarctic research vessel. In the dead of night, with the ship rolling from side to side, Morét was hauling up a scientific net from the sea floor that contained something she didn’t expect to see in Antarctica: a veritable rainbow of sea creatures. Meanwhile, Crouse was teaching in her warm art classroom in Denver, Colorado pondering new techniques for engaging art with science. What follows is the result of our chance meeting and the art-science activities sparked from our dialogue, all classroom-ready for learners aged 8–16.

How can students explore new and creative ways of portraying diverse ecosystems, particularly regarding places that most people will never see? Antarctica is the most geographically and socially isolated continent on the planet, and knowledge about the variety of its living organisms is poorly publicized and thus difficult to teach. In this article, we offer teachers a figurative dive beneath the coastal waters of Antarctica. We explain new visual and tactile tools that allow students to experience—using color and contrast—the diversity of life above and below the sea surface.

Teaching about the Antarctic ecosystem is challenging because it is difficult to conceptualize. Sure, we know about penguins—we see them at aquariums and in popular movies—and we can imagine the stark white, gray, and blue landscape that makes up their ecosystem. When we think of Antarctica (or even do a Google image search of it), these monochromatic scenes come to mind. But can we imagine the colorful undersea realm that dominates Antarctic bio-mass? Using art as a medium to explore this harsh and unfamiliar habitat, teachers can upend this chromatic paradigm by exploring another side of Antarctica that includes different creatures and colors.

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Madeline Crouse is an art educator at a private school in Colorado. Over the past nine years of her teaching practice she has expanded art integration into multiple subject areas. She has increasingly focused on the relationship between art and science, specifically as it relates to environmental protection and activism. Skye Morét is an Information Designer in Portland Oregon who believes in the power of visualization and meaningful engagement in bridging the gap between two traditionally polar disciplines: design and science. She has worked nine seagoing trips with the U.S. Antarctic program and enjoys sharing her experiences via data-driven design and visual storytelling.

Additional Resources

Australia Antarctic Division video gallery online: http://www.

Census of Marine Life, “The census of marine life and the arts,” 2010. Online: census2010/PDF/ArtOfCensus.pdf

PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Col- laborating) Learning Resources: https://www.polartrec. com/resources

U.S. Antarctic Program Photo Library online:


1. Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP). “Main Antarctic Facilities operated by National Antarctic Programs in the Antarctic Treaty Area (South of 60° latitude South),” updated February 2014. Worksheet online: SitePages/Home/Antarctic_Facilities_List_13Feb2014.xls

2. British Antarctic Survey (BAS), “Discovering Antarctica: the world’s last great wilderness.” Online:

Morét, S., “Frozen Dinners,” Roads & Kingdoms, 2015. Online:

Morét, S., “In living color: Antarctica’s vibrant wildlife under the sea,” Medium, 2015. Online: antarctica-s-vibrant-wildlife-under-the-sea-54ee6f09d662#.6frssq50b.

3. Ossola, A., “Below the surface, Antarctic seas dazzle,” Popular Science 288 no. 2, 2016, p. 71. Online: dazzle. Additional details at: Paradox.