Yesterday the weather warnings map looked like this …
… but still almost 40 folk gathered at MacArts in Galashiels to watch a film narrated by Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything. This was to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in Paris. The discussion after flagged up several local sustainable initiatives – many of which are in The Little Green List.
Introduced by Mark Timmins, the event was initiated by Inge Panneels, (below).
You are welcome to join us for a second event next week:
Inge Panneels, Kate Foster and Jason Baxter are organising a walk into the Heart of the Borders on Saturday 12th December starting at the Focus Community Centre in Galashiels to form a heart shape made up of people in the beautiful Borders landscape to be part of events taking place all over the world. If you can make it, wear something red.
This is a free event. You can sign up for the walk here
The Stove in Dumfries had a craftivism session last weekend for the forthcoming Stop Climate Chaos March in Edinburgh. This was a heartening session of ‘slow-activism’ – helping me decide what I care to wear as a heart on my sleeve. This was the moment to declare a growing love for mosses, and Sphagnum in particular.
Living with water is important around the Solway, and I’m learning that Sphagnum is a kind of aqueous super-hero. An individual Sphagnum moss is a strand of water-holding cells that can collectively create raised bogs many metres deep, over thousands of years.
Complete raised bogs are now rare. Dogden Moss in the Eastern Borders and Kirkconnel Flow west of Dumfries give hints of what the landscape in Southern Scotland was like before bogs were drained and dug. Beginning a tour of mosses, I have discovered the equivalent of mountain-top removal has been inflicted on them. My eye is getting tuned to tawny strips on the low horizon.
Dogden’s gravelly kaims make a curving ridge between two moors, debris of rivers that flowed under ice sheets. Woodcock sheltered in the heather and the moor houses shooting butts.
I did not dare leave the footway across Kirkconnel Flow.
Sphagnum in autumn colours, with frost later in the month.
Close up, you see different shapes and colours of different sphagnum species, which in 3D stretch in watery suspension metres down to the underlying rock. A natural environmental archive of eight thousand years of watery life is underfoot.
This human-made drainage ditch has been dammed, a recent reversal of policy. Peatland Action is a restoration programme co-ordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage: the reasons to conserve peatbogs are beautifully laid out in the National Peatland Plan. Importantly, peatbogs sequester carbon and are sinks for atmospheric carbon. This process is starting in the blocked ditch at Kirkconnel, as Sphagnum strands start a slow and steady occupation.
The Southern Upland Partnership has engineered a “bringing together of minds” connecting those looking after trees, soils, and water quality (Peatland Action, the Forestry Commission, Galloway Fisheries Trust).
Today, in preparation for a Flux Chamber event at EAFS (29th August – Thornhill in Dumfrieshire), I’ve dug out my brushes and used brand new earth colour watercolour pans. Not something I feel expert in, or have tackled for a while, but there is a logic to this.
The colour of riverwater is an indicator of how much carbon dioxide the river is shedding into the atmosphere. So looking at riverwater colour is one of the ways that you can see carbon landscapes. We’ll be talking about this on riverbank walks at the foot of the Lowther Hills. The idea is that walkers will get a leaflet which is a guide to seeing Carbon Riverscapes.
Last month, I took a geographers’ Munsell’s guide to Soil Colours (courtesy of the University of Glasgow) to Wolf Glen. Crayons proved a slow way of rendering stilled movement of water. Another problem with this method of staring deeply into water is that the reflections on the water are not what is important to a biogeochemist – what matters most to her is the sediment that the water is carrying.
The next step was to obtain watercolour pigment jars from Cornelissen’s Fine Art shop in London – and see how they looked. I’ll give these to the Flux Chamber biogeochemist (Susan Waldron) for her collection of samples of dissolved inorganic carbon (said to look quite like whisky).
The ambition of doing daily watercolour readings fizzled out in the face of other jobs, but here are some initial impressions from video clips of the Ale water in fast flow.
For the Guide to Carbon Riverscapes, the logic of the medium of water colour pigment was irrefutable – it is a suspension in water and comes in a range of earth colours (ochre, sienna, umber etc). And so I am dashing off a few paintings which hopefully will dry in time for Saturday week when we meet on the riverbank of Cample Burn.
EAFS is taking place over the weekend of 29 and 30 August. If you are able to join Flux Chamber on Saturday 29th (and are prepared for a walk on slippy muddy ground) there will be two riverbank walks along Cample Cleuch, starting out on a minibus from the EAFS basecamp at Morton Castle (book the morning walk online, or the afternoon walk at Morton Castle ‘Post Office’). We will explore Carbon Landscapes by walking along wooded sheep-paths in the company of a biogeochemist (Professor Susan Waldron), and an environmental writer (Dr David Borthwick). We will think about ways to sense and see carbon cycling, especially carbon’s movement from river-water to air, and see a demonstration of how carbon release is measured with a Flux Chamber. You are also invited to join in further exchanges (on paper and in conversation) over Saturday evening, information will available on site from the festival organisers – but do BOOK into the festival as a whole first).
This pecha kucha was given at July Green Tease run by Creative Carbon in Glasgow School of Art.
Flux Chamber is a multidisciplinary project which is finding ways to see Carbon Landscapes. We are preparing an event for the Environmental Art Festival of Scotland on Saturday August 29th. I am working on this with biogeochemist (Professor Susan Waldron) and a teacher of environmental literature (Dr David Borthwick) from the University of Glasgow.
A Flux Chamber is also the name of a biogeochemist’s tool that shows exchanges of gas and energy as a river flows. Susan assesses scientifically how much carbon dioxide a river releases in different conditions. We will put a Flux Chamber to work to look at Carbon Landscapes in rural Dumfrieshire.
In April, I joined a field trip where Susan Waldron taught undergraduates how to use a Flux Chamber, in a river flowing out of carbon rich limestone at Malham Tarn. This is a classic Carbon Landscape where the carbon-loaded river degasses into the atmosphere.
Despite the enjoyment of paddling in a river on a sunny day, I was taken aback to find that the atmospheric baseline reading was up to 400 ppm. The students interpreted what they found in relation to river velocity and Ph readings, and found the CO2 levels on the surface of the river near the cliffs were much higher than the atmosphere – the river was shedding carbon.
Below, you see the spot we have chosen as a Demonstration Site on our riverside walk (Cample Cleuch, near Thornhill). We will take measurements – and as you see, the scene will be documented by a plein air artist. I plan to graph the Flux Chamber readings (I will need to take an easel and an umbrella). An artist of carbon landscapes, I learn, must become interested in river meanders and armoured banks.
It seems that you have to think about Carbon Landscapes before you see them. There is nothing new about these processes, but if people are to protect naturally stored carbon, we need to develop sensibility to see how carbon is gained, lost and recycled.
I use drawing to think through flows of carbon between different reservoirs – marine, terrestrial, atmospheric. I begin to understand Susan’s fascination with the influences on the release of carbon into the atmosphere – which has daily and seasonal patterns as well as human impacts.
The way that humans use land influences how much carbon the river carries, or how much is sequestered. To a biogeochemist, this landscape at Morton Castle is a register of seasonal tree growth, biomass of silage, and the transformation of carbon between different kinds of life-forms.
We did a preparatory walk on site last week. As a visual artist, I am focussing on how carbon landscapes can be seen, and David Borthwick is applying expertise about how poets work with such themes, and Claire Pençak – a choreographer – joined us in thinking how to move along a riverbank and sense how carbon moves through water.
A catchment map of Morton shows Cample Cleuch running from the reservoir (in the centre of the image). The blue lines on the map are places where, we learned, efflux of carbon into the atmosphere is constantly taking place. In other part of the map, there might be carbon gain as well as loss.
On site, we learned that the more sound a river makes, the more carbon it is losing. In other words, turbulent waters release carbon dioxide much more readily than smooth waters. This gives an additional meaning to the cascades of a waterfall.
These additional meanings (which are available via our senses) are what Susan considers to be ‘auras’ of carbon landscapes. Another ‘aura’ is conveyed by water colour, indicating the amount of organic carbon within river water. (These samples are in pigment jars from Cornellissen Fine Art Supplies).
Soil erosion is something our new Carbon Landscape school must bear in mind! Not just a source of pigment and vivid coloration – think of the carbon leaching from this exposed site, the activity of microorganisms, and the prevention of sequestration.
Within the grand sweep of global carbon cycling, microclimates can be studied such as how moss favours wetter sites, and how trees bend in relation to soil composition.
Different meanings of the idea of ‘scores’ came up on our preparatory walk. Claire, a choreographer, suggested a score as a possibility of shaping movement along the riverbank. Meantime to Susan, a biogeochemist, this idea of ‘scores’ evoked possibilities of rating and measuring carbon flow.
For me, other creatures are a proxy to understand why the details of gas exchange are important (see earlier post). On a walk near Selkirk I found caddisflies, entomological indicators of pure water. I watched them in their larval cases move slowly across the river stones. My photo sits next to a textbook illustration of varied larval cases.
Each insect stage and species has a different means of wresting oxygen from the air. Aquatic insects depend on a variety of elaborately evolved body parts to breathe, and conditions can be unfavourable, such as heat, stagnation, poor aeration.
I learned that inside their larval cases, this species of caddisfly waft water over their several tufts of finger like gills. The cases use found materials – wood in this instance – bound with silk.
As well as global reservoirs of carbon, I am trying to envisage carbon landscapes in the small-scale activity of different species within microclimates. Of course carbon landscapes can be seen in urban settings too. We depend on scientific research to be clear about the ‘anthropogenic signal’ in carbon landscapes . To indicate that, here is an invasive and destructive signal crayfish…
This artist-led project is also about finding ways to work across disciplines on what could be categorised as public engagement, but at heart is an exchange of ideas, values, and impressions to create a multi-layered perception of processes occurring around us.
The stream in Wolf Glen joins Glenkinnon Burn, a small piece of ancient woodland protected by Borders Forest Trust. For a while, I watched small scraps of wood move slowly across stones in a sunlit pool – sometimes turning upstream or pausing.
Back in the studio I consulted a textbook about what I had been seeing.
Different species of case-building caddisfly each have their own style of larval case, and these were carefully drawn out.
Caddisfly larvae spend their time underwater, and those in fast flowing upland rivers must prevent themselves being swept downstream. A further text on Aquatic Entomology taught me that larval cases have been investigated to find out how their shape influences the velocity of water passing over them. I should have looked more carefully, to think how fusiform larval cases might influence isovels (lines connecting points of equal velocity).
But what do the larva themselves look like, inside the case?
Looking at the textbook illustration, I realised I needed to include the insect’s gills on its abdomen. Such intricacy! Every stage of insect life has its own respiratory system, and this varies between species.
Gas Exchange is the concern of a whole chapter in Aquatic Entomology. I find this complicated. Oxygen diffuses very slowly in water, unlike in air where it diffuses fast. Insects living underwater have to extract this oxygen somehow – and cope with different conditions, such as temperature and aeration of the water, which has daily and seasonal cycles. I must get some basic facts sorted: what is the difference between a pupa and a larva? What meanings can the word plastron have? After some head scratching, I deduce that Trichoptera (caddisflies) may have closed tracheal systems, and their gills may form finger-like structures, often in tufts.
I still do not know what kind of caddisflies I was looking at, but I have a better sense of what happens inside the larval cases. I imagine water being wafted through finger-like tufts as they draw breath in Wolf Burn, grazing algae from the stones and growing.
This blogpost shows research drawings by Kate Foster for a new project ‘Flux Chamber’, which encourages exchange between biogeochemistry, environmental literature and art at the Environmental Art Festival for Scotland 2015 (29th and 30th August , Morton Castle, Dumfriesshire). More details will follow.
In the school of Fine Art (between the printing and sculpture workshops) some empty paint pots and used paint trays are heaped next to a rubbish bin.
Inside I notice an invitation by the City Council to ‘put our rubbish to work’.
The Mixed Recycling takes Paper, Card, Plastic, Cans and Glass.
But not, I learn, paint pots.
Nor are paint pots allowable in General Waste.
The paint pots lying on the ground must be locked up in the Flammable Gas shelter in the courtyard. Their disposal is problematic, the pile grows inside the shed.
I take a few to the Project Space, considering possibilities of Re-Use.
Download this pdf for an Ivy Proposal for the Caldewgate campus garden, re-using and recycling found materials:
The following was first posted on Working the Tweed as part of activities for Year of Natural Scotland 2013.
Ecologists have taken four species to act as indicators of the ecological health of the Tweed catchment: Salmon, Lamprey, Water Crowfoot and Otter. Conversations with specialists at Riverside Meetings prompted me to make a series of drawings. These were ink on perspex, and were shown in the project space at Harestanes last October. Combined with field visits, making these drawings let me develop knowledge and become more observant. I now also understand these species better within my own life – as indications of time of year, of place, of change.
In summer Water Crowfoot (various species of Ranunculus – the buttercup family) can grow into great mats that include other plants. I learnt these are called ranunculion – assemblages that can alter river flow and sedimentation pattern, sheltering the locality downstream. How had I never noticed them up till now?
I learnt the five species found in the Tweed Catchment have underwater leaves with varied branching patterns, examples below.
These species show great plasticity – their form is very variable according to environmental conditions. Water Crowfoot readily hybridises, so its precise identification is complicated. I need to look closer to see patterns in ranunculion.
Photograph by Kate Foster 2013
Three types of Lamprey spawn in the rivers of the Tweed Catchment: Brook, River and Sea. The photo below shows electrofishing at a fish rescue by The Tweed Foundation and Tweed Forum at Eddleston Water in July 2013, where mature lamprey were found.
Photograph by Kate Foster 2013
Primitive jawless fish, that I had never before seen. Through google I learnt they sift microscopic organisms from silt in the riverbed in the larval form.
The larger two species (River and Sea Lamprey) mature and migrate to the estuary. They are parasitic and attach to fish to suck their flesh.
Spawning time is when lamprey are most visible – look out for birds gathering to feast at the river’s edge in spring.
Photograph by Kate Foster 2013 with acknowledgements to The Tweed Foundation
Scientists at The Tweed Foundation explained to us what a fish-scale can reveal – you can see more here about how the scales of Atlantic Salmon show how they move to cold northern waters to feed and grow.
The drawing above is taken from a prediction of expanding scope for navigability, opening the arctic up for human commerce. I have learnt that the Tweed is one of the best salmon rivers anywhere – and also that researchers are speculating about future patterns of Salmon migration in a warming Arctic.