The artworks in this exhibition are an interpretation of the patterns made by currents that flow off the east coast of Australia.
They are inspired by an exploration into the effects that climate change is having on ocean waters and their inhabitants. Earlier in the year of 2020, I was alerted to the fact that the changing temperatures in our oceans are causing its currents to redirect, and this is having major implications for phytoplankton at the base of our aquatic food webs.
Microscopic coccolithophore skeletons are composed of calcium carbonate plates or scales called coccoliths. Coccolithophores are single- celled phytoplankton plankton or protists that bloom prolifically in oceans across the globe. Their massive blooms help regulate the atmosphere in crucial ways: they produce oxygen through photosynthesis; their coccoliths skeletons scatter lighter than they absorb and creating an albedo effect lightening the water they bloom. This in in turn creates cloud cover and cools the surface temperature of our planet. Their calcite skeletons also absorb carbon dioxide or greenhouse emissions. At the end of the coccolithophore life cycle, these coccolith skeletons sink to the bottom of the sea floor and become a carbon sink, thus effectively taking harmful emissions out of the atmosphere. Phytoplankton act as one of our planets most significant carbon sinks.
With so many concerning issues about our oceans, acidification, melting ice caps, rising seas, micro plastic saturation and over-fishing, we are led to the point where our oceans are in dire straits. However, nothing struck me more than learning that phytoplankton through the process of photosynthesis, are responsible for over 50% of the air we breathe.
While the world became inundated with the Corona virus, of which the most significant effect is on the lungs of humans, it’s ironic that the effect of warming oceans on phytoplankton is going largely unnoticed.