Chris Linder communicates science in the field from the Congo to Siberia using photography and multimedia. He earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in oceanography. Since 2002, he has photographed two dozen science expeditions, including 14 to the Polar Regions. His images have appeared in museums, books, and magazines, including Geo, Nature’s Best, Outdoor Photographer, and Wired.
He recently published a book about four of his adventures to the Arctic and Antarctic in a book called Science on Ice (University of Chicago Press 2011), as part of an outreach project originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The four chapters of the book focus on a particular expedition, each written by a different science journalist. The first chapter features researcher David Ainley, who studies Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea region. Linder and science writer Hugh Powell visited Ainley in November-December 2007, capturing images from McMurdo Station, Cape Royds and Cape Crozier.
“I chose those four particular expeditions to showcase the broad diversity of environments (Ross Island with Hugh Powell, the Greenland Ice Sheet with Amy Nevala, Bering Sea with Helen Fields, the Arctic Ocean with Lonny Lippsett) and disciplines (biology, engineering, glaciology, geology, chemistry, physics) that encompass polar science”, explains Linder. On their trip to McMurdo Station, they chose to highlight David Ainley’s penguin science research because Adélie penguins are iconic and directly associated with Antarctica. In terms of the science, Dr. Ainley is also an Antarctic icon (Ainley Peak, on Ross Island, is named after him).
He appreciate his science background because it gives him a distinct advantage when photographing fieldwork: “I understand how long it takes to get a grant funded and how precious every second of field time is on an expedition. I carefully research each expedition’s logistics and science goals so that I know exactly what is going to happen, when, and why. I make sure that I am always ready for the action, even if that means working all night or waiting hours to document a unique science event”.
He admires the scientists he photographs, not only because of their determination and drive, but their creativity; researchers always come up with creative solutions to unexpected problems in the field.
Linder received a grant from the NSF in 2010 under its Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. His subject was the South Polar skua, which took him to the Ross Sea region.
The Skuas are characteristic birds of Antarctica, where there are two species: the brown skua (Catharacta lonnbergii) and polar skua (Catharacta maccormicki). They can weigh between 980 and 1900 grams. They are like seagulls, about 55 to 60 cm. long, with wings which reach 45 to 50 cm. Its beak is curved at the apex and has very strong fingers with nails.
Both species are most active predators among birds, and chicks that not only hunt and consume the eggs from the nests to plunder (particularly penguins), but also attack other adult birds. They also eat fresh dead birds, even freshly dead marine mammals.
On his first visit to Cape Royds and Cape Crozier, he was amazed by the teamwork and intelligence the skuas displayed as they robbed Adélie penguins of their eggs and chicks. After he returned home, he picked up a copy of Euan Young’s book Skua and Penguin: Predator and Prey, which explains in detail the research done on this topic.
“Surprisingly (to me), their observations revealed that the skuas acted more like scavengers than predators — essentially, they were eating the eggs and chicks that wouldn’t have survived anyway”, so he decided to write an Artists and Writers proposal to photograph the life history and behavior of the skuas at Cape Crozier, Ross Island where he spent six weeks.
Photographing these expeditions, with all of the stress, sleepless nights, and cold fingers, has been the hardest but most exhilarating job of his life, he says. But is the people who make his job extraordinary: “The scientists who kindly invited me to join their expeditions, the crews of the ships and field camps who kept me alive and happy, and the readers of the Polar Discovery website who sent in insightful questions and comments all reminded me why I was out there: to tell the stories of science on ice”.
Credit: The Antarctic Sun