The Arctic is melting. In 2012 the summer sea ice levels reached their lowest point since records began. The Greenpeace campaign, Save the Arctic, is a ground- breaking collaboration between scientists, architects and environmentalists. This summer the Greenpeace ship, The Arctic Sunrise, took a research team headed by leading scientist Peter Wadhams and London-based designers ScanLAB to remote Arctic waters in order to deepen our understanding of the threats faced by this unique and fragile region. During this expedition to the Fram Strait, northwest of Svalbard in Norway, ScanLAB were able to capture a huge amount of data, documenting a series of ice floes using millimetre-perfect 3D scanning technology, capturing a total of 26 floes in forensic detail, mapping their surfaces precisely.
The exhibition, Frozen Relic: Arctic Works, recreates this landscape in its natural material – frozen saltwater. Each piece is a digitally fabricated scale replica of the original ice floe which was 3D scanned from above and documented using underwater sonar from below. The completed digital model is used to guide a CNC machine which carves the moulds in which each replica is cast.
Visitors entering the gallery found themselves in a darkened room; the suspended ice floes glowing in an icy archipelago. Like the fragile environment they are born from, these exhibits are disappearing. Every day they completely melt into the drip trays below, being refrozen and rehung for the following day. As the installation melts, it left only the supporting structure which itself accurately represents the scientific data that remains of this captured ice floe. Left with only their forensic records, ScanLAB speculate on this disappearing landscape for which architects may only ever design theoretically.
One of the ice floes captured was an extremely rare and infrequently studied piece of sea ice – a Stamukha, the name for a colossal floe that becomes beached in a shallow Siberian river estuary during the summer months. When the river waters flow over the floe, they sculpt its surface and freeze in sediments, giving it an uncharacteristic brown hue. This makes Stamukhi appear strangely terrestrial once they rejoin the Arctic ice pack and drift amongst the pure blue-white landscape of frozen sea ice.
Another individual floe, named after the ship’s ice pilot, was documented at exactly 17:01:07hrs on 16 September as it drifted at 79 22.558 N, 003 04.611 W on the edge of the Arctic ice pack. This tiny piece of ice, approximately the size of a netball court, was captured in a single scan. Arne’s Floe no longer exists. Shortly after Arne left the floe by helicopter, this tiny piece of ice cracked in two. Located close to the southern edge of the ice pack, this area is subject to a battering from surrounding floes, melt from the warm Atlantic waters and the comparatively warm summer temperatures at 79 degrees north. Like all of the Arctic ice floes, Arne’s Floe is part of a dynamic and turbulent landscape, broken, reformed, merged, melted, moved and ultimately disappearing.
Frozen Relics: Arctic Works is part of a collaborative project between ScanLAB Projects, Cambridge University, Greenpeace and the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. ScanLAB would like to thank all those who have enabled the recent Arctic expeditions and have supported and encouraged the early years of our practice.