The lake under the ice in Antarctica

There may not be many wild places left on Earth, but Antarctica certainly is one. Winters are extremely hostile to life – certainly to human life – with extremely cold temperatures and months without sunlight. Even summers are cold, and the weather is dangerously moody. The sheer size of this ice-covered continent is breathtaking. It is much larger than Europe 14,200,000 km2) and essentially unpopulated except for a few researchers in a couple of stations and some tourists who reach the Antarctic peninsula on cruise ships during the few weeks this is possible to cross the treacherous Drake passage between Patagonia and Antarctica each summer.

Antarctica also represents an interesting political experiment: it doesn’t belong to anyone, but the many countries that are members of the Antarctic treaty– a set of agreed on rules and codes of conduct aimed at protecting the continent from new exploitation. But scientific research is both welcome and needed.  It may not be the easiest choice for a research area, but we know so little about Antarctica that scientists working there are incredibly important. Despite its remoteness Antarctica is influenced by human activities and has been identified as one of the key places for potential tipping points in climate change: if the Antarctic ice shield, which holds 70% of the world’s freshwater melted completely, sea levels would rise by about 60 meters.

This is the backdrop for an exciting project funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). One of the big questions is: what is underneath the ice? The source of science fiction fantasies (such as Austral by Paul McAuley), this is actually a very relevant question and potentially provides us with a glimpse of the history of the Antarctic continent. In 2016, a team of scientists set out to explore just this. Following up on the discovery of a freshwater lake hidden under ice they proposed to drill a hole in the ice to get samples of the lake and its sediments. The team formed under the acronym SALSA (for Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access). Their project would have been daring almost anywhere, but pulling this off in Antarctica required years of meticulous planning and training. After all, Antarctica is difficult to get to, hard to work in, and if something happens to you, hard to get away from.

Kathy Kasic

And what would be more exciting than having a movie made about the drilling experiment in Antarctica? The perfect person for this was Kathy Kasic, a biologist turned filmmaker from California State University in Sacramento, with many years of experience in making nature documentaries with some of the top stars in the field. Her effort to document what happened during the campaign would immortalize the research project. She used a modified version of cinéma verité to document what went on in the camp and during the actual drilling. She was the fly on the wall, as everybody else worked on the drilling project. What she produced is a fascinating blend of art and science. Her feature length movie “The lake at the bottom of the world” (click for trailer; view on Amazon, Apple TV) not only tells the fascinating story of a unique expedition in sometimes very personal and emotional pictures, but also lets us see the stunning beauty of the icy continent.

Dennis Duling, lead ice driller

We also catch a few glimpses of the dangers that loom and had the potential to derail the research efforts at any time. Strong winds made the tents used as sleeping quarters for the team look particularly puny and inadequate. The movie, however, goes well beyond just documenting this one campaign. It shows science in the making, as teamwork that only works if everyone is willing to cooperate across disciplinary boundaries, and to pitch in for mutual success. It shows scientists as real people, with emotions and flaws, but also shows their unbridled happiness and excitement for the research they conduct together. And one realizes that the team includes many more people than the scientists: the many technicians without whom the scientists would be stranded, but who rarely have much visibility and often get little recognition. The secret stars of the movie are the ice drillers, lead by Dennis Duling,  who were among the very few people on the planet to make this project a success or even possible.

In that spirit of collaboration and transdisciplinary curiosity, Kasic’s visit to the University of Oklahoma in early March was sponsored by three different units: the Environmental Studies Program, the Department of Film and Media Studies, and the Department of Biology. Students and faculty of all three units had time and opportunity to interact with the filmmaker and ask her about her movie and the adventure of working in Antarctica.

If anything, the movie and the stories told in it, show how research can contribute to our understanding of science as process, maybe especially under rough circumstances, and how it is done by real humans.

Ingo Schlupp (ORCID: is a Professor of Biology at the University of Oklahoma.

Water for All: Community, Property, and Revolution in Modern Bolivia

Banner reading “¡El agua es nuestra, carajo!” (“The water is ours, damn it!”) hangs from the balcony of the Central Obrera Departamental building in Cochabamba’s 14 de Septiembre Plaza during the final mobilizations of the Water War, April 2000. Photo by Tom Kruse.
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Exploring the intersection of biology and environment through art

Patrick Nagatani, 'Fin de Siècle, Bat Flight Amphitheater, Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, 1989
Patrick Nagatani, U.S. 1945-2017, ‘Fin de Siècle, Bat Flight Amphitheater, Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, 1989. Chromogenic Print, Gift of The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art Association, 2021.

This post was co-authored by

Mariëlle Hoefnagels, University of Oklahoma, Dep’t of Microbiology and Plant Biology
and Amanda Boehm-Garcia, University of Oklahoma, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

Art can highlight environmental issues and be a vehicle for change. While the role of art is as varied as the artists who create it, there are those whose practices intentionally challenge our perspectives, raise awareness, and pose difficult questions to give shape to the world around us. This approach is akin to the impetus that drives the sciences. Many artists, such as American photographer Patrick Nagatani (1945-2017), have melded the methodologies of visual language with detailed scientific study to raise public consciousness about environmental distress.

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Soiling the World

compost bin
On a cold morning after a winter storm, I start my day by putting a green bin at the top of my snowy driveway. Walking the dogs a few minutes later, I observe the pattern of brightly-colored containers in front of houses as if they were signs, green symbols of allegiance to compost, an ancient and Continue reading

World Soil Day 2021 – Sustainable land and water management to halt soil salinization

Salt affect soils poster from FAO
Figure 1: World Soil Day infographic from


Every December 5 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recognizes World Soil Day. Through this celebration, the FAO acknowledges the importance of soil as a resource – in other words critical infrastructure – and sets a theme of soil science education for the subsequent year. This year the said theme is “Halt Soil Salinization, Boost Soil Productivity.”

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The Critical Zone as Critical Infrastructure

Soil profile

Soil profile (northern France). Notice the distinct horizons— darkest at top, where it’s most organic rich and—below that— various shades of brown that reflect leaching and accumulation of minerals over the millennia of formation of this soil. All photos by author.

Infrastructure— “the set of fundamental facilities and systems that support the sustainable functionality of households and firms. Serving a country, city, or other area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.” [Wikipedia] Continue reading

Moving: Rethinking Knowledge Production in the Anthropocene

This video embedded above is a trailer for Moving, an audiovisual presentation intended to be presented as a multichannel installation. Here, composite imagery and multi-tracked sound simulate the presence in exhibition of several video and audio sources.

Academics are a leading source of knowledge about ecosystems and about societies. They are also highly unified advocates for societal change to confront ecological crisis. However, academics rarely turn to their own practices with the same transformational demands. Why shouldn’t biologists, sociologists, or, to take up my own case, art historians fundamentally alter how they work to do better with respect to what their own inquiries tell them about humanity and the planet?

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Solve Climate By 2030

image for blog

In honor of Earth Day 2021, we are posting the video of a webinar Lynn Soreghan and I organized at OU two weeks ago as part of an international initiative led by Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. At over 100 universities around the US and across the world local experts presented steps individuals can take to address the climate crisis.

Our own Oklahoma Climate Dialog was moderated by Lynn, and featured four speakers talking about what each of us can do to make a difference when it comes to climate.

  • Edith Wilson, a Tulsa-based consultant on renewable energy and climate mitigation, spoke about the energy transition generally, but then focused on the carbon implications of our dietary choices.
  • Dirk Spiers, owner of Spiers New Technology, a leader in recycling batteries for electric vehicles, spoke about the benefits of electric vehicles–for climate and other aspects of life.
  • Sharina Perry, founder of Utopia Plastix, and inventor of the plant-based plastic it manufactures and distributes, spoke about being an intentional consumer.
  • Lindsey Pever, an attorney specializing in renewable energy clients, spoke about how to be an effective participant in the political process.

(For more information about the speakers, see the event website. The webinar was sponsored by OU’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, and the Environmental Studies Program in OU’s College of Arts and Sciences.)

An aspiration for the Solve Climate By 2030 project is that educators will devote class time to discussing climate change–under the rubric #MakeClimateAClass. To help with this effort the organizers at Bard have assembled a rich set of educational resources, including discussion templates for classes in a wide range of subjects. Other videos from this year’s series are being added to the Solve Climate By 2030 YouTube channel (you can also view videos from 2020’s dialogs). If you teach, our or another video might help get a discussion going in your class–and you might find one from your own state or country.

Our dialog did a great job of bringing into focus the question of how individual action bears on collective problems like climate change. Lynn and I will be back next week with some thoughts on that issue.

The End of Incrementalism

Step by Step Watercolor SketchVincent Desplanche, Sketches for a ‘Sentier Randocroquis’ at, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[We welcome Robert Lifset to the blog, to comment on the talk by Dr. Joe Nation posted here last week. This post completes our series on Environmental Justice and Environmental Health.]

This is a tale of two bills. Continue reading

The Human Harms and Many Meanings of “Rough on Rats”

[This post completes a set of three on pesticides, part of our current series on Environmental Justice and Environmental Health. The others, by Jennifer Ross, include an overview of insecticides, and a talk on the impacts of insecticides in south Texas.] Continue reading

Jennifer A. Ross on Pesticides and People

This spring we are offering a series of posts on the topic of Environmental Justice and Environmental Health. The series is organized in conjunction with Continue reading

Pesticides and People

DDT advertisement

[We welcome Jennifer A. Ross to the blog, to continue our series on Environmental Justice and Environmental Health. The video of her talk in the associated speaker series will available next week.]

People have a long and complicated relationship with pesticides. It starts with us defining what a pest is, and then seeking Continue reading

“Toxic Masculinuty: California’s Salton Sea and the Environmental Consequences of Manliness”

Traci Brynne Voyles. 2020.  Environmental History 26, no. 1, pp. 127–141.
In 2018, two military aircraft flew over the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland body of water occupying the desert area of Imperial and Riverside Counties. Midair, the pilots decided to pull a prank: they used their planes to draw Continue reading