John Birks, Haflidi Haflidason, Cecilia Jonsson, Per Vikse

Traces of us in the depths – a seminar on the Bergen sea bed and its environmental toxins

Bergen Public Library
Strømgaten 6, Bergen Map

At 13:00–16:00

The seminar is free and open to the public.

The seminar is followed by the opening of the exhibition Mareograph II by Cecilia Jonsson in the Local History section of Bergen Public Library at 16:00.
The exhibition runs till 9 May 2018.

Cecilia Jonsson’s art project Mareograph is based on the Bergen City Council’s risk assessment of the much-polluted marine environment in Puddefjorden and the lake Store Lungegårdsvann in Bergen. This risk assessment shows that the sea bed has a very high content of heavy metals and organic contaminants, and forms the basis for the City Council’s major focus on and clearance work with the fjord bed.

The seminar at the Bergen Public Library provides insight into the art project, into what sediments are, and how one can interpret sediment specimens from the sea bed to form a picture of – among other things – pollen, plant remains and the types and quantities of environmental toxins deposited there. It also throws light on the work that is being done to get a cleaner harbour in Bergen.

Human beings have changed the earth over the past 8000 years in multiple ways, such as agriculture, erosion and the management of water resources. The seminar presents the research project HOPE at the University of Bergen, which investigates whether, even further back, mankind has influenced the major ecological processes. Through analyses of pollen data from as far back in time as 12,000 years, the project is looking at whether human beings left ecological traces even then.

Sediments are loose masses on lake bottoms or on the sea bed consisting of sand, clay or gravel as well as large or small quantities of organic material from dead animals and plants. Environmental toxins that are released into the sea, or on land and then gradually leak out into the fjord, often end up in these sediments. Emissions of environmental toxins may come from a wide range of different sources, such as industry, paint, construction materials, the bottom of boats, settlements, roads, worn tires, drains and rainwater.

Calculations have shown that there are several hundred thousand tons of contaminated sediment in Puddefjorden, Vågen and Store Lungegårdsvann. The measurements show that they include large quantities of mercury, lead, arsenic and banned industrial chemicals. The risk assessment of the City Council shows that the agitation and whirling-up of sediments as a result of shipping traffic and tides is the predominant diffusion mechanism for environmental toxins in the city fjord. The environmental toxins then spread to cleaner areas of the fjord and are ingested by organisms. To stop this spread of environmental toxins from the sea bed, the public authorities in Bergen have decided to have the polluted sea bed covered with quantities of stones, among other things.

In the project Mareograph the artist Cecilia Jonsson has used sediment samples from the sea bed in Puddefjorden and Store Lungegårdsvann, and applied it as a coating to clay formed into cylinders. These were placed one by one in her self-made analogue tidal gauge, which stood on the Årstad quay at the passage between Puddefjorden and Store Lungegårdsvann for a few days in January this year.

The tidal water was registered in the analogue gauge by the movements of a needle in the sediment cylinders, which were replaced when the water was at its lowest, once each night and once each afternoon. The six cylinders with sediments have subsequently been dried and fired ceramically, and will be shown in a display case in the Local History section of the Bergen Public Library. The colour spectra in the incised cylinders come from various types of heavy metals, minerals and organic contaminants deposited in the sediments and the ways in which they have reacted to the high temperatures of the ceramic firing.

John Birks

John Birks is a professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences and a researcher at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research at the University of Bergen, one of Europe’s largest climate science research centres. Birks’ field of research is palaeo-ecology, which by studying pollen and other plant remains preserved in lake or bog sediments tries to reconstruct the climate and ecological systems of the past. Birks graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1969 and has worked at the University of Bergen since 1984. He was elected to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 1987 and was awarded the Fridtjof Nansen Award for outstanding research in 1998. He heads the project Humans On Planet Earth – Long-term impacts on biosphere dynamics (HOPE), which looks at the extent to which prehistoric humans may have affected the earth. HOPE is supported by the European Research Council and the University of Bergen (2018-2022). It is a global-scale project and the HOPE team will consist of 12 researchers in Bergen and 5 in the USA, Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland.

Haflidi Haflidason

Haflidi Haflidason is a professor at the Department of Earth Science at the University of Bergen. He is the deputy head of the Earth Surface Sediment Laboratory (EARTHLAB), which opened in 2016. EARTHLAB is a national sediment laboratory funded by the Research Council of Norway. The main aim of the laboratory is to serve the geoscience community in Bergen, including palaeoclimate research at the Bjerknes Centre with its ultramodern infrastructure for sediment analysis. Haflidason is associated with the Bjerknes Centre.

Cecilia Jonsson

Cecilia Jonsson is an artist and works with research-based projects ranging from installation and sculpture to kinetic works. Her works are often site-specific artistic interpretations of phenomena and processes of nature. She has an MA in Art from the Bergen Academy of Art and Design and the Nordic Sound Art Programme. In 2014 Jonsson was awarded a VIDA 16.0 Art and Artificial Life International Award for her project The Iron Ring. She conducted the 170 m deep core drilling project for Dark Ecology 2016 and won the Dutch Bio Art and Design Award the same year. In 2017 Jonsson achieved a distinction in the Prix Ars Electronica, Hybrid Art.

Per Vikse

Per Vikse is a senior consultant in the Climate Section under the Department for Climate, Culture and Business Development of the Bergen City Council and is the project manager of “Cleaner Harbour Bergen”, a collaborative project of the Bergen City Council, the Norwegian Environment Agency and the Bergen and Port of Bergen. The focus areas of Cleaner Harbour Bergen are Vågen, Puddefjorden and Store Lungegårdsvann.

The seminar is in collaboration with Bergen Public Library and is the second part of Mareograph, a new art project by Cecilia Jonsson, commissioned by Volt and developed in a dialogue with the Department of Geoscience and EARTHLAB at the University of Bergen and Cowi AS. Volt’s programme in 2018 is funded by the City of Bergen and the Arts Council Norway.

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