Artist Cornelia Kubler Kavanagh is passionate about exploring the ocean’s great unknowns.
Via her latest work, she has found a kindred spirit in Gareth Lawson, a biological oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Their unique collaboration, “The Pteropod Project: charismatic microfauna,” features a series of Kavanagh’s aluminum and bronze sculptures of mostly microscopic sea snails that float freely in ocean currents.
Because pteropods also swim by flapping two wing-like lobes called parapodia, they are often called sea butterflies. The exhibit opens in Manhattan’s Blue Mountain Gallery in May.
Kavanagh and Lawson’s partnership began about a year into the project, as the artist tried to figure out how to express the plight of pteropods through sculpture.
When she showed him photographs of the scale models she had carved, Lawson instantly recognized them as pteropods.
He offered to collaborate, believing that art exhibitions grounded in science provide an interesting form of scientific outreach.
Pteropods are widely distributed in the world’s oceans and in many regions are a key food source for higher level predators, including commercial fishes such as salmon.
Lawson is studying the distribution, movements, and ecological role of pteropods. In particular, he is investigating the impacts on pteropods from changing seawater chemistry associated with continued increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
The continuing buildup causes more of the gas to dissolve into the ocean, making seawater more acidic than it currently is.
Pteropods’ ability to make shells may be highly sensitive to changing seawater conditions.
The shells are made of aragonite (calcium carbonate), and as more CO2 is dissolved in the ocean, less carbonate is available for making shells.