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UWF exhibit shows beauty and fragility of the Antarctic

“Antarctica: Seasons of Water and Ice” is an exhibit of photographs by University of West Florida Oceanographer, Dr. Wade Jeffrey. After a 2020 run at the Pensacola Museum of Art, the images are now on display at UWF’s John C. Pace Library, with a reception and gallery talk to be held Nov. 29.

“Well these are photographs that were taken during two research expeditions, oceanographic expeditions, in 2019 along the western Antarctic Peninsula,” said Jeffrey, a Distinguished University Professor at UWF, where he is director of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics & Bioremediation, as well as the Reuben Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies.

Additionally, he’s the photographer/artist for the exhibit.

He says those two trips in 2019 gave him the unique opportunity to go to the same place — at very different times of the year — for a good look at the contrast in seasonality on the world’s coldest, southernmost continent.

“So, for the first cruise, which we did in late fall or early winter, daylight was as short as six hours a day by the time we finished. And, contrast that with a cruise that we did in late spring/early summer, where there was daylight 24-hours-a day, but sunrise and sunset might have been four hours apart,” he said of the different seasons.

“So, there’s very strong contrast in the amount of light, the type of light that we see, the way it reflects off the water, and the way it reflects off the ice.”

Dr. Jeffrey has been to Antarctica many times dating back to 1981, noting that the scientific objective of his latest expeditions was to gain a better understanding of a unique group of single-cell plankton called mixotrophs that can live and grow like both plants and animals.

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Sandra Averhart
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WUWF Public Media
Dr. Wade Jeffrey's exhibit, "Antarctica: Seasons of Water and Ice," is on display at UWF's John C. Pace Library.

He says the photo exhibit was built into his research grant proposal to the National Science Foundation, fulfilling the requirement for an education and outreach component.

Such an exhibit, he proclaims, wasn’t much of a stretch, because of early career advice to invest in a good camera and always take it along.

“That first trip was about 4 months long, so it was pretty long, longer than what we do now,” he began.

“But, I think I shot 80 rolls of film during that trip, to give you an idea of how fascinated I was of the scenery and what we could take photographs of.”

Fortunately, according to Dr. Jeffrey, everywhere they went on his most recent trips to the Antarctic featured a variety of picturesque vistas. Particularly, he points to the imagery within the narrow passageways of the Neumayer and Lemaire channels.

“If you had the opportunity where there was no wind disturbing the water, it was pretty common that we’d get these amazing mirror reflections on the surface of the water, with whatever was in the background, usually mountains, ice, and snow,” he said.

“But, the difference is, depending on the kind of light, sometimes it was very gray. The water would come off as black. The sky would be very gray and very low, sometimes hiding the tops of the mountains, for instance. Contrast that with days when the sun was really bright and the sky was crystal, amazingly blue and it reflects off the water the same way.”

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Dr. Wade Jeffrey

For individuals who visit the exhibit, the scientist/artist hopes they’ll be able to not only appreciate the beauty of the western Antarctic Peninsula but also the fragility of the environment there, due to climate change.

“The changes are pretty dramatic,” he declared. “You know things that used to be covered by ice are not anymore. It’s really affected the penguins in the area, for instance. As ice cover changes, all the organisms that rely on ice cover, in one fashion or another, have been impacted pretty significantly.”

For another visual, Jeffrey points to the geography surrounding Palmer Station, the U.S. research facility in Antarctica. Twenty years ago, he said there was a large glacier right behind the facility. Now, that glacier is about a half-mile away.

“Antarctica: Seasons of Water and Ice” initially went on display at the Pensacola Museum of Art early last year as the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold. Now, thanks to The Art Gallery (TAG) at UWF, there's a second opportunity to view the exhibit at UWF’s John C. Pace Library.

“You know, I hope people can come to the show and enjoy and appreciate the magnificence of the Antarctic images,” said Jeffrey, extending an invitation.

“It’s my way of trying to bring Antarctica home to the people who won’t ever get a chance to go there.”

“Antarctica: Seasons of Water and Ice” will be on exhibit on the second floor of the Library, through December 12. A public reception and gallery talk will be held in the exhibit space on Monday, Nov. 29 from 5-7 p.m.