Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Snapshot: Katrin Kleemann Takes First Prize in Photo Competition

Katrin Kleemann has been awarded the jury’s first prize in the LMU GraduateCenter’s “Mein Forschungsgegenstand/My Research Object” photography competition for her photo of the Laki fissure in Iceland. Katrin is a doctoral candidate in the Rachel Carson Center’s Doctoral Program Environment and Society and a research associate of the Environment & Society Portal. Her research project studies the impacts of the Icelandic Laki fissure eruption of 1783 on the northern hemisphere.

The GraduateCenterLMU has been organizing this photo competition every year since 2009. The winning photographs will be displayed in the offices of the LMU Graduate Center and used by the LMU Munich to promote doctoral candidates’ diverse research. All the submissions to the competition can be viewed here.

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Snapshot: Where Geology Meets Early Modern History

A Millstone Quarry in Upper Bavaria

By Katrin Kleemann

 

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Photographs by Katrin Kleemann, CC BY 4.0. 

The Mühlsteinbruch Hinterhör in Altenbeuren, Upper Bavaria—this millstone quarry was the first stop on a recent LMU geology field trip to the Northern Limestone Alps. The site is an official geotope of Bavaria (geotope means “Earth place” and refers to a spot in nature where the Earth’s history becomes visible). At this unique spot you can learn about the area’s early modern history as well as its geology; this is one of very few geotopes that was formed by humans.

Between 1572 and 1860, the quarry was used to produce millstones for the surrounding mills (which were transported on the nearby river Inn), explaining the characteristic round shapes that can be seen at this outcrop. But without the perks of modern technology, how did the quarry workers extract the circular millstones? Using a chisel and hammer to create the outlines of the round shape, they would drive wooden wedges into these circular borders and water the wedges regularly causing the wood to expand and fracture the rock, freeing the millstone from the wall.

Yet it is not just these insights into the innovative techniques used by people in the past that are revealed; this spot is also particularly interesting from a geological perspective. The 28-meter-thick layer is mainly made up of sandstone and marlstone, and belongs to the Helvetic Nappes; sheet-like bodies of rock that were once located in the shallow waters of the southern margin of the European continental shelf, created before the Alps were formed. During the formation of the Alpine mountains, the Helvetic Nappes (layers) were thrust northward and upward, deformed by the continued folding during the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, explaining why a once-seabed is now found more than 500 meters above sea level. Fossilized oysters with thick shells can be found there, indicating that this spot must have once been located either in shallow water or perhaps at a river delta. The oyster shells had to be thick survive the pressure of strong tidal currents in the coastal waters.

 


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Snapshot: Celebrating Urban Green

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On European Day of Parks, the RCC is celebrating working right next door to one of Munich’s generous, wooded city parks—the Leopoldpark. Staff and students of the University can make the most of the view from the LMU’s canteen and cafeteria, which look directly out onto the park. It is home to many birds, mammals, insects, plants, and fungi, and it takes only a minute or two of patient observation to discover this. Complete with university kindergarten and a tischtennis table, the park also offers a green respite in the middle of the city to those living, studying, or working nearby, or just passing through.


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Snapshot: Plastic Beach

Guest post by Judith Selby and Richard Lang

Judith Selby and Richard Lang are artists who collaborate in an ongoing project to collect plastic along Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. They also recount their adventures in Plastic Forever, the blog they jointly manage. Stay tuned for the follow-up post on their work on Seeing the Woods.

A casual diversion—an amusement—turns into an enthusiasm, turns into a life’s work.

Why create art out of the tons of plastic we’ve found? Why make these objects and show them in an art context? And since we want our art to engage the polity, to inspire action, are we simply making more propaganda?

At first glance, our project is about evidence gathered to address the consequences of marine born plastic garbage in our oceans. The evidence, in this case, has been gleaned from just one beach: Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California. But it is about more than that. It is the story of being witness to how a creative life is lived. It’s not about creative arts, per se. That yes, but it’s also about the implications creative energy has for any endeavor.

Sometimes, beauty can be a call to action. Here the call to action is to follow some simple rules of planetary housekeeping; but in a larger sense, the call to action is to follow those strange voices of inspiration each of us possesses, if we dare to listen. We know after years on the beach and in the studio, the real opposite of beauty is indifference.


This is part one of a two-part post about Judith and Richard’s ongoing work collecting and transforming waste into art. For related content about the journey and transformation of waste, take a look at our RCC Perspectives volumes: Out of Sight, Out of Mind and A Future without Waste?


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Snapshot: Do You Speak Envhist?

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Should professional historians maintain their independence and objectivity as researchers, or should they address the social use of their field? Are there fundamental conflicts between the two? Do environmental or ecological historians need to become more useful and practical in addressing such global problems as climate change, intensified food production, and biodiversity loss? If so, how and to what extent? What significant insights can our study of the past offer?

These questions formed the foundation of a roundtable forum published in the first issue of the new Journal for Ecological History, edited by Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History. Our new blog series on “The Uses of Environmental History,” which launches later this week, has been adapted from the pieces presented there. Together, these contributions demarcate the evolution of environmental history over the last four decades and project a broader outlook for its future.

Stay tuned!

 


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Snapshot: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 3

Last year, students of the RCC Environmental Studies Certificate Program had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop with Jochen Koller, Diploma Permaculture-Designer and Director of the Forschungsinstitut für Permakultur und Transition (FIPT). Students gained an insight into the ethics and design principles of permaculture, the diverse spheres of activity, and the practical possibilities. In this short series of posts, students reflect on their experiences at the workshop and on permaculture as an interdisciplinary approach to thinking, planning, and designing.


“A Winter Home for Bats”

By Luna Benítez Requena

The Hummelhof (German for “bumblebee farm”) is already home to cows, sheep, bumblebees, chickens, and cats—not to mention a herbary and several fruit trees. It’s newest residents? Bats, of course.

Bats, the only mammals able to fly, are an important component of ecosystems, performing crucial roles that include pollination and seed dispersal, as well as consuming pests. Nonetheless, despite conservation efforts, many bat species have become endangered because of slow reproduction rates and loss of habitat due to increasing anthropogenic activity. For example, our building practices have had a severe impact on the spaces bats typically inhabit for shelter, and their food has become scarce as a result of human activities like monoculturing and crop spraying to tackle pests.

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The Hummel family, which runs the Hummelhof, recently decided to build a bat tunnel, a sort of winter residence, on their premises. Students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program spent half a day there last year learning about life at the farm and assisting in their various projects, including sustainable farming, planting specific tree species to cultivate habitats for bees, and the bat tunnel, which was almost ready when we arrived.

The tunnel consists of a deep trench, inlaid with concrete blocks, and topped with a compost film and a layer of sand. The bricks lining the trench will ensure that water can be collected to maintain cool temperatures of 2–8°C—ideal conditions for bats. It is the work of citizens like those at the Hummelhof  whose work has seen certain bat species removed from the endangered list—proof that small steps can make a big difference.


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Snapshot: Start with a Bang

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For many, a New Year celebration would not be the same without fireworks. But have you ever noticed what happens to all that leftover packaging wrapped around the rockets and bangers? It seems that an awful lot falls to the floor and gets swept up along with the broken bottles and spilt food that litter the city streets on New Year’s Day. This is just one pile yet to be collected in Munich, where this year 140 employees have already helped gather 50 tonnes of post-party rubbish, an increase from last year’s figures. That’s a lot of waste for a couple of hours of wonder and dazzling lights…