Monday, October 19, 2009

Art and Science join to make Awareness of Louisiana's Coastal Wetlands

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) in Lafayette, Louisiana, is always looking for new ways to expand its education and outreach efforts in the community. So, when art-gallery director Roger Laurent called USGS outreach contractor Susan Horton (IAP World Services, Inc.) to ask NWRC to be part of an exhibit of paintings and photographs of Louisiana's barrier islands and coastal wetlands, the answer was "yes." Connecting the science and mapping to the art was easy.

The exhibit, shown at Gallery 912 from late July through August, was titled "Hell and High Water" and featured 45 pieces of artwork from Southeastern Louisiana University's chairman of visual arts, Dennis Sipiorski, and professor of graphic design Karin Eberhardt. A Wisconsin native, Sipiorski showed acrylic paintings inspired by his trips to the barrier islands in the 27 years that he's lived in Louisiana. Since 2004, Eberhardt has been visiting and photographing the barrier islands and using a computer to digitally manipulate her images and present them as collages.

While the artists were documenting and recording their impressions of these fragile habitats along the Gulf Coast, USGS scientists and geographers were interpreting and mapping changes in Louisiana wetland habitats—including barrier islands, such as the Chandeleur Islands, Isles Dernieres, and Timbalier Islands—using aerial photography and satellite imagery.

USGS maps displayed at Gallery 912 to complement the art exhibit included a map of Raccoon Island (in the Isles Dernieres chain) and another map showing 50 years of changes in Louisiana's coastal zone, including changes in the land/water ratio caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Even more striking changes were visible on a historical map of the Louisiana coast, surveyed by George Gauld in 1778. This map, "A Plan of the Coast of Part of West Florida & Louisiana," which was found on the Web site of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress (URL, was contributed by NWRC photo interpreter Jason Dugas (IAP World Services contractor).

The exhibit opened July 27 with an artists' reception attended by Horton and Joy Merino, a coastal ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, who shared information about efforts to restore some of the barrier islands through the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA; URL

Several hundred visitors to the "Hell and High Water" exhibit now have a new perspective on the importance of Louisiana's coastal wetlands and what's happening to them as seen through the eyes of an artist, a photographer, and those scientists and geographers at NWRC who study and map these disappearing habitats.

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