In The News

Symposium brings Antarctica to campus, region

This article originally appeared in the Saluki Times.

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Antarctica might seem like a barren, foreboding continent that has little impact on Southern Illinois.

A multi-disciplinary symposium that starts next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will bring scholars, scientists, artists and educators to the University to share insight on topics that include climate change, the roles and challenges in science reporting, and international treaty issues. The seven-week series of lectures, workshops, exhibits and film screenings will also focus on the literature and the arts associated with the fifth-largest continent in the world. Antarctica is slightly less than one-and-one-half times the size of the United States.

“Antarctica: Imagined Geographies,” beings Monday, March 19, and continues through May 4 at various locations on campus, in Carbondale, Marion and Harrisburg. The extended symposium builds upon an adaptation of a media arts installation first exhibited two years ago by Gary Kolb, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts (MCMA), and Jay Needham, an associate professor in radio-television. Imagery and sound from Kolb and Needham’s 2008 journey to Antarctica is the centerpiece of the upcoming series and will be in the Morris Library rotunda.

“This symposium brings together experts from our University and from around the country who will help us understand the importance of a distant continent in terms of climate change and other topics,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “This is a valuable educational and outreach opportunity, and I appreciate the efforts of the symposium organizers and participants.”

All of the events are free and open to the public. A complete listing of events, along with updates and any information changes, are available at the symposium website: There is also Facebook page, “Antarctica Imagined.” The Illinois Humanities Council is among the project’s sponsors.

Peter Lemish, a visiting assistant professor in MCMA, said while very few people have contact with Antarctica, the extended symposium will offer “enormous potential” for people to relate to, understand aesthetically, and learn more about current issues there that can impact the region. The series also has something for everyone, including children, as the films “Ice People,” which highlights polar exploration, and “March of the Penguins,” will air in late April.

Off-campus events are also set for the Carbondale Public Library, Marion Carnegie Library, and Harrisburg Public Library in mid-April.

The vast array of guest presenters will include Clare Parkinson, a climatologist with NASA who does research on polar ice caps; educator Louise Huffman, an SIU Carbondale alumnus who works with the multinational ANDRILL Antarctic Geological Drilling Project; audio artist Andrea Polli, an associate professor in fine arts and engineering at the University of New Mexico; composer and sound designer Douglas Quin, an associate professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications; David H. Stam, librarian emeritus at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University; librarian Deirdre Stam, an associate professor at Long Island University; Antarctica author Lucy Bledsoe, and Robert Koening, a science journalist with the St. Louis Beacon.

The exhibition opens March 19 in the Morris Library rotunda and features about 20 large-scale photographs that range up to just over 3×5 feet. The images will concentrate on Antarctic landscapes and the region’s most beloved animals, the penguins, Kolb said. The sound sculpture will use rotunda windows as resonators so that the windows become acoustic lenses, Needham said.

“You will be able to hear the mixture of these soundscapes not only within the rotunda itself, but also partially outside the windows,” he said. “I like the idea of having sound be transparent, much like the window.”

The opening reception on March 23 at Morris Library includes a discussion, “Antarctica — Views from Southern Illinois.” An all-SIU Carbondale faculty panel will discuss their individual research efforts and why Antarctica is important to the region. Panelists will include Laurie Achenbach, a professor in microbiology; Michael Madigan, an emeritus professor in microbiology; Scott Ishman, a professor in geology; Kolb and Needham. Ishman’s presentation is prerecorded; he along graduate student Ilona Matulaitis will be in Antarctica during a majority of the symposium. Ishman and approximately 30 international scientists and students will be collecting samples to look at the impact of climate change on the Antarctic continent and adjacent off-shore sea floor.

Ishman is making his 12th trip to Antarctica. The symposium offers a great chance for the region to better understand a remote part of the world that “not too many people get to experience,” he said.

“There are some world-renowned people coming in to talk about different aspects of climate change science, and the humanities,” Ishman said. Huffman, who is the education and outreach coordinator for ANDRILL, earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education from SIU Carbondale. Huffman’s workshops for teachers will allow them to “take the message of climate change into the classroom,” Ishman said.

“She is an incredible educator and the opportunity to reach out to the surrounding educational community is going to be one of the highlights, and a true way of getting the community involved,” Ishman said.

Kolb concedes some might simply view the Antarctic continent as a “big chunk of ice.” But that is exactly why people need to care, he said. Issues that surround climate charge are a “hot and sensitive topic with many different views,” but unusual weather even locally with nearly twice the annual rainfall in the region in 2011 and warmer-than-expected winter weather has consequences, he said.

“For whatever reason climate change is occurring and this is directly impacting people’s lives,” Kolb said. “Whether it’s human activities or there are natural forces at work, there is no doubt that climate change is occurring and there is also no doubt the polar ice caps are melting and receding.”

Melting Antarctic ice caps could have “an immense effect” on sea levels around the world, Kolb said. The melted ice also winds up in the atmosphere as water vapor, which leads to more rain and record flooding.

Needham and Kolb point to Antarctica serving as a modern laboratory for many of the inventions associated with atmospheric science and modern earth sciences, along with research on ozone and the upper atmosphere.

“There is a fascination and curiosity about that place, and there has been for more than a century even before we began exploring the interior of the continent,” Kolb said. “It’s played mythological role; that’s one of the reasons films like ‘March of the Penguins,’ and ‘Happy Feet,’ are interesting and become hits. This is the place that is foreboding, difficult to get to, and has all sorts of images of exploration, survival, and adventure attached to it.”

Similar to the barren stretches of ice — in some instances more than two miles thick — across the continent, the project knows no bounds. Kolb said it wasn’t soon after discussions of a library exhibition began that organizers realized opportunities for extended educational opportunities and outreach.

“We started to realize how many people on campus and in the community had a recent and ongoing connection to Antarctica,” Needham said.

Megan Lotts, an assistant professor and fine arts librarian at Morris Library, said she is excited about the interdisciplinary project that involves faculty from across the campus.

“It’s not often that students get to step outside their own discipline to see perhaps how other colleagues and scholars might research a topic,” she said. “In particular with the ‘Antarctica: Imagined Geographies’ project, it’s a way for many disciplines to come together and also an opportunity to talk about a place where most likely many of us will never be able to visit.”

Many of the symposium events will be in Morris Library, a setting that Lotts, the curator of the library’s rotunda art space, believes is very appropriate. The library “is the central nervous system of the SIU Carbondale campus and really one of the few places where I think the principles of democracy can be seen in practice,” she said.

“I think Morris Library serves as an amazing space, think tank, or catalyst of sorts where scholars can come to research, discuss, and share viewpoints from different disciplines,” Lotts said.

Lemish said he is aware of six people on campus who have been to Antarctica. There are others, meanwhile, who have ties to the continent through family members who spent time there. Chancellor Cheng’s uncle by marriage, the late Ned Ostenso, was a geophysicist who served as assistant administrator of the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His research on the continent helped determine the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet, and an Antarctic mountain is named for him. Ostenso was a traverse seismologist at Byrd Station in 1957 and a member of the Marie Byrd Land Traverse Party.

James A. Ray, the father of Judi Ray, the director of development for the SIU School of Law, was in the U.S. Navy and stationed at Ellsworth Station, Edith Ronne Land, Antarctica, during Operation Deep Freeze II in 1956-57. Ray has a nunatak, which is an exposed ridge, mountain or peak not covered with ice or snow, named in his honor. Ray worked with Norwegian Antarctic explorer Finn Ronne while there.

The website will also offer people a chance to share their own experiences of Antarctica, Lemish said.

“We are really interested in learning about people’s connections to Antarctica,” he said.

Organizers also believe this extended multi-disciplinary event can serve as a unique model for similar topics in the future.

“Our colleagues from around the country recognize how unique this event is, which is the reason many of them have agreed to participate, and why some even contacted us asking if they can participate,” Kolb said.