As humans we occupy a certain scale of space. We walk through forests and notice the trees and birds; we live in houses and interact with people, pets, objects. We also inhabit a specific timescale–one that rarely exceeds 100 years, and one that we live from one day to the next. Beyond our familiar parameters of space and time, we struggle to comprehend the micro and the macro; timescales that extend into thousands or millions of years, or ones that exist for fleeting moments. On the macro scale there are Earth’s physical systems–the churning circulation of oceans and air that carries oxygen and warmth around the globe and the slow grind of plate tectonics–where whole continents shift at the rate of a growing fingernail. On the smaller scale there are universes that exist around us hiding in plain sight. One of these tiny worlds exists on the seafloor.
Recently I saw Claire Beynon speak at the Otago Museum in New Zealand about her artistic exploration and research in Antarctica. Beynon is an artist and writer from Dunedin, New Zealand, who has traveled south with polar scientists for multiple seasons to investigate the microscopic marine life of the Antarctic. The team of scientists that Beynon accompanied study foraminifera—a group of unicellular plankton with calcified cocoon-like shells that live on the ocean floor. These organisms’ outer shells differ in morphology based on the sediment they live in and can tell us about past marine environments and weather conditions.