University of Cambridge Museums

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Sewing Antarctica

Trying to communicate the sheer scale and landscape of the Antarctic can be a tough job! The continent is more than fifty times the size of the UK. There are ice sheets, mountain ranges, crevasses, active volcanoes with lava lakes, meltwater lakes and huge lakes under the ice.


At The Polar Museum we have frequently used a paper map but wanted something far more exciting and interactive. For some time we have wanted a tactile map that could be a multi-sensory resource for a range of people. Careful budgeting and planning meant that we could eventually commission local artist Jenny Langley to make us a textile map!

Keen to be as accurate as possible, we roped in a host of friendly academics to advise. Dr Gareth Rees provided us with scaled maps (winter and summer), worked with us to look at lichen, the structure of ice and the colour of penguin guano (poo). Professor Julian Dowdeswell shared his knowledge about the Transantarctic Mountains, ice shelves and crevasses. When it came to the volcanic Mount Erebus, Professor Clive Oppenheimer talked us through photos of strange lava tunnels, rock formations and vivid mineral colourings.  You cannot buy rocks and fossils from the continent so Dr Peter Clarkson helped us source some plausibly Antarctic specimens.  We spent a lovely day at the British Antarctic Survey talking to Dr Katrin Linse and Dr Huw Griffiths about some of their exciting deep sea finds.  All of this information will be added to the map.

Word spread and soon a number of interested people were asking about progress and sharing ideas. In a bid to showcase the work so far, Jenny spent a Friday evening with a group of interested staff and volunteers. Fuelled by a glass or two of wine, we stitched krill, starfish, rocks, ice, lichen, penguin guano and sea. All of which will be added to the mat.


The map will be delivered at the end of August. We know that there will be 3D mountains. There will be pockets in which to hide treasures such as rocks and fossils. Flaps will lift to reveal deep sea creatures and hidden parts of the continent. There will be a secret hidden lake. We know that it will be extremely beautiful and we will definitely be sharing the finished map so that everyone can begin to marvel at the sheer size and incredible geography of the Antarctic!

Naomi Chapman, Education and Outreach, The Polar Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute

2 comments on “Sewing Antarctica

  1. Pingback: Antarctica is All Stitched Up! | University of Cambridge Museums

  2. Pingback: Sewing Arctic Research | University of Cambridge Museums

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2015 by in Culture, Education, Goal 2, News and tagged , , .
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