OCEANS OF TIME

Marcy Sharon Cohen:

The connective thread in my photographic work is the collision of past, present and future. It is the way I see and experience the world and results in layered images that explore what it is like to be alive at this moment in time and where we might be going. Sujata Murty is an oceanographer who studies corals, silent sentinels of the deep, to understand past and future ocean conditions and climate. We both focus our work on time, which is the reason Surjata and I instantly connected and were drawn to collaborate on this artist-scientist collaboration.

The photographs in this series, Oceans of Time, are composites that include elements from Sujata’s dives in the Indonesian Seas and Pacific Ocean, layered in a colorful, dreamlike melody with other images of time and the underwater world.

Corals are known for longevity. An individual coral can in certain cases grow continuously for hundreds of years at a time, yet corals are extremely sensitive to changes in climate. Corals are affected by ocean warming (sometimes bleaching when temperatures rise or fall), by pollution and runoff, and by changes in the pH of seawater, which decreases as carbon dioxide enters the ocean—a process known as ocean acidification.

As corals grow, they form calcium carbonate skeletons from the chemicals within ocean waters. The density of these calcium carbonate skeletons changes as the water temperature, light, and nutrient conditions change, giving coral skeletons formed in the summer a different density than those formed in the winter. These seasonal variations in density produce growth bands similar to those in trees that allow her to date coral samples to an exact year and season. As the corals grow and produce these bands, they also incorporate chemicals from the seawater that surrounds them into their skeleton. The concentration of these chemicals in the coral skeleton changes in relation to climate and environmental conditions, allowing Sujata to determine the climatic conditions during the seasons to centuries over which the coral grew. By better understanding past climate variability, she hopes to improve our ability to predict future changes in a warming world.

 

To gather data and information about coral growth bands, oceanographers jump into scuba gear and dive down among the reefs. They take cores from the corals in a manner that does no harm to the corals or ocean life.

Art and science generally operate in separate silos. We believe creating more synergy between art and science will instill greater understanding allowing scientists to reach broader audiences and instill wide ranging intellectual and emotional connections to their work. Our intent is to create work that displays an optimistic and positive future for our weary and burdened world realized through a constructive collaboration between science and the forces of nature.