Trying to communicate the sheer scale of the Antarctic and what the landscape actually looks like can be a tough job… The continent is more than fifty times the size of the UK and there are ice sheets, mountain ranges, crevasses, active volcanoes and lakes – lava lakes, meltwater lakes and huge lakes under the ice. We frequently use paper maps in our education and outreach sessions, but have been wanting to get our hands on something far more exciting and interactive. For some time, we’ve been wanting a tactile map which could be used as a multi-sensory resource for a range of people, and we’ve finally been able to commission local artist Jenny Langley to make us a textile map!
Keen to be as accurate as possible, we roped in a host of friendly academics from SPRI and beyond to advise. Dr Gareth Rees provided us with scale maps (winter and summer), and worked with us to look at lichen, the structure of ice and the colour of penguin guano (poo). Professor Julian Dowdeswell shared his knowledge about the Transantarctic Mountains, ice shelves and crevasses. Professor Clive Oppenheimer talked us through photos of strange lava tunnels, rock formations and vivid mineral colourings of Mount Erebus. It’s illegal to buy rocks and fossils from the Antarctic continent so Dr Peter Clarkson helped us source some plausibly Antarctic specimens. And we spent a lovely day at the British Antarctic Survey talking to Dr Katrin Linse and Dr Huw Griffiths about some of their exciting deep sea finds. All of this information will be added to the map.
Word spread and soon a number of interested people were asking about progress and sharing ideas, which led to a fun Friday evening with Jenny and a group of staff and volunteers. Fuelled by a glass or two of wine, we stitched krill, starfish, rocks, ice, lichen, penguin guano and sea – all of which will be added to the mat.
The map will be delivered at the end of August. We know there’ll be three-dimensional mountains; we know there’ll be pockets in which to hide treasures such as rocks and fossils; we know there’ll be flaps which will lift up to reveal deep sea creatures and hidden parts of the continent; and we know there’ll be a secret lake. But what we don’t know is just what the final result will be – and we can’t to see it! We do know that it will be extremely beautiful and we will definitely be sharing the finished map so that everyone can begin to marvel at the sheer size and incredible geography of the Antarctic!