Sounds of The Sea: Ocean Acoustics


 "Circular Sounds:Passive Acoustics"

"35" x 35"

Embroidery, beading, collage on silk

Project Statement:

We are visual creatures. But underwater, visibility falls off dramatically and the kinds of visual observations that biologists use to study terrestrial ecosystems are not practical. Studying what is happening under the ocean requires a different approach. Ocean Acoustics uses sound to listen in to what’s happening and collect data that illuminates life in the ocean. Land ecologists study landscape, geology and weather.  Ocean acousticians study soundscapes. This project makes visible the invisible world of sound in the sea. I created densely embroidered silk panels that help describe what researchers are discovering. The work illustrates the largest daily migration of zooplankton, the sound-enhancing SOFAR channel, phytoplankton, the dramatic vocalizations of marine life gathered by hydrophones.  I drew inspiration from the work of the Swiss embroidery artist Lissy Funk and the elite artists of Mayan classical period with their profound, symbolic connection to water.

Passive Acoustics:

Because of limited visibility, marine mammals and fish are highly adapted to producing and perceiving sound in the ocean. Animals rely on sound for many purposes such as navigation, maintaining social interactions, establishing dominance, attracting a mate, avoiding predators and finding food. Passive acoustics uses underwater microphones called hydrophones to collect data.   The hydrophones are collecting information in all directions and record data from marine life, human sounds, and the sounds of wind, ice and waves.

In this piece, I've included references to ocean acidification, the sound enhancing SOFAR channel, representations of data from marine mammals, fish, seismic and shipping sounds. I've also included a reference to the hydrophone equipment in the center and the equation used to describe sound waves.



 "Rhythmic Seas:Active Acoustics"

Five panels each 8" x 38"

Embroidery, beading, collage on silk


Active acoustics uses sound to visualize what life forms inhabit the water column. A ping of sound is aimed down from the ship and those sound waves bump into whatever life forms are in the water column and bounce back sound waves to the ship. That acoustic signature helps define the life forms found in a particular layer.

I am using equations for both active acoustics and passive acoustics to help illustrate how scientists use sound to "see " into the water column. Processing yards and yards of bias tape, I'm embroidering equations that will be arranged on the work. For example, you can see the expression of a echo-sounder ping laid out in the second photo.

The top part of the panels show the twice-daily migration of zooplankton. The  center and side panels  express both the echo sounder ping of energy and  the van Crittert-Zernike theorem of optical coherency. Said a different way: How energy waves behave when they scatter off a target. Great visual example here.The bottom half of the panels express the relationship between phytoplankton and atmospheric oxygen (O2) .The very bottom expresses the marine "snow" that collects over millennia.

 Project Advisers

Dr. Jennifer Miksis-Olds - Research Professor, School of Marine Science and Engineering and Director of CARE , University of New Hampshire

Dr. Joseph D. Warren - Associate Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stonybrook University

Dr. Derek Olson - Assistant Professor, Naval Postgraduate School

Dr. Tim Moore - Assistant Research Professor, Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory, University of New Hampshire

Dr. Richard Kirby - Independent Researcher , Film Maker and Author "Ocean Drifters: A Secret World Beneath The Waves"

Dr. Sebastian Velez -International Law Enforcement Analyst, NOAA


Special thanks to the University of New Hampshire for their support, the ADEON project for sharing data, NASA for the use of satellite  images, and  the Art Institute of Chicago Textile Department.




 Detail Shots of Artwork


 Artistic Inspiration

    Magnificent book about the Mayan relationship to water, ritual and cosmology        Late Classic Maya
A.D 650/800
Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago used with permission
For the Maya, water was not just a life sustaining substance. Water provided the medium through which they connected with the cosmos, the earth, and their deities. Water shaped their entire world view. The potent symbolism and powerful visions of the elite artists of the Classical Period inspire and inform the work of this project. You can see the remarkable art of this culture  in the Art Institute of Chicago's Galleries of African Art and Indian Art of The Americas.

  Detail of "Like The Grass"      "Morning Song"
1975    Lissy Funk created numerous tiny samples to test her embroidery ideas. 

The work of Swiss textile artist and embroider, Lissy Funk provided inspiration for this project. Her tapestry sized embroideries were boldly modern and powerfully executed. For more information visit the Art Institute of Chicago Textile Departments' on line resource  for more information about this remarkable artist's work. 

 Science  At Sea

        Working on the aft deck in an approaching storm
 All photos courtesy of the ADEON project

Night crew hard at work   The R.V. Endeavor at dock   Safety drill

Charismatic mega fauna keeping us company          The wet lab         State room on the R.V. Endeavor

Here is a beautiful description of life and science at sea written by NOAA Journey Into Midnight crew member, Sonke Johnsen.