April 18 - 19, 2009
On Saturday April 18, 2009, I went to the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. It is a massive building, and lots of exhibits to match, but with only four hours to go through the museum I knew I wouldn’t see half of the building. First we went to a vertebrate paleontology hall, what the museum is most famous for. The hall was stuffed with skeletons free and pressed flat into dirt. More bones and life like replications hung from the ceiling, crowding our imaginations with different images of the living creatures. We walked into a movie room where we were split into two groups to receive two spiels on vertebrate evolution. Then let loose to the rest of the museum.
The first hall me and my partner encountered was the Gottsman Hall of Planet Earth. We found the Earthquakes and Mountains section to be the most interesting out of the hall. The first outcrop was themed: “Earthquakes happen where tectonic plates collide.” It had a giant fake piece of rock meant to look like a sample from the San Andres Fault zone that sat behind the rest of the outcrop, and it was dotted with dull samples of rock taken from areas where there had been past earthquakes. The change in the grain patterns in the rocks were very hard to see, but the change in the grain direction in the rock from Ontario Canada was easier to see than the one from Essex county, New York. The short paragraph to explain the geological principal was almost missed because there was so much else to look at. It briefly stated that earthquakes are caused when tectonic plates collide and rub against each other. The second outcrop, themed “Non-volcanic mountains are created when tectonic plates collide,” was very similar to the earthquakes outcrop except it had more eye catching samples. When tectonic plates collide and one pushes the other into the mantle, the crusts will also push against each other except they will push up instead of down. Here there was also a fake chunk of Alps providing a backdrop for the rest of the outcrop. The samples displayed in the outcrop were all metamorphic rocks taken from mountains. Sample 1 was four different rocks made of the same minerals that were each subjected to a higher pressure than the first. This is called a Barovian Sequence. Sample two was an ultra high pressure rock; it was a piece of crust pushed into the mantle then obviously pushed back out again or else the geologists would not have been able to attain it. The third sample was a hornblended garnet, water had seeped into the rock, interacted with the minerals in the rock, and deposited other minerals. After we had glanced around the Gottsman Hall of Planet Earth, we visited the Milsten Hall of Ocean Life.
The Dolphins and Yellow Fin Tuna Diorama was the first to catch our eyes as we peered around the giant blue whale dominating the air space in the room. It was almost as if they had cut a chunk of the ocean frozen it and placed it in the museum, it was stunning. Dolphins and Yellowfin tuna are often found swimming together in the salty, temperate eastern tropical pacific in the air water interface. These nutrient rich waters support a variety of fish for the yellowfin and dolphins to prey upon. Yellowfin tunas are prized for their flesh, but dolphins were often caught in the net used to catch the yellow fins, until in the 1980’s consumers boycotted tuna companies that did not use dolphin safe methods (Aguilar). The Second diorama we noted was about the polar bear (Ursimus Maritimus). The bright white figure had caught our eye in the dark room. Polar bears live in the arctic tundra above the ice. They spend their waking life hunting seals on melting ice. They can wait for hours to pounce upon a seal coming out to rest. However their way of life is threatened by Global Warming. Global Warming is melting the ice faster so that seal season for the polar bears is shorter, meaning they are starving for longer periods of time. After the polar bear diorama we left the Milstein Hall of Ocean life abruptly to catch our timed entry into a limited time only exhibit on Global Warming.
After making it through the entry way, the first display to catch our eyes was a spiel about the effects of Global Warming on global weather. Water poured out of machine like thick rain drops and simulated thunder added music to the show. A chart, a map of America, and a diagram was connected to the storm maker describing the effects of Global Warming on weather. Because the air is hotter more water is evaporated from the oceans causing more humidity in the air which also results in more water being evaporated. There is more water in the air available for storm clouds to form. The second display we noted was the effects of Global Warming on Wildfires. It caught our eyes because of the picture of fire. The display was really only a picture with words, but it was effective at catching our attention. The amount of wildfires have increased with the average temperature, because the higher average temperatures cause spring temperatures to come earlier and fall temperatures to come earlier lengthening wildfire season. Since 1987, the average temperature has increased by 0.87 C; compared to the previous 15 years before 1987, there have been 4 times as many wildfires between 1987 and 2003.
We read a few more displays until another display piqued our interest. It was a chart and graph that displayed a goal for lowering carbon emissions. If the world conserves more energy, uses renewable energy and materials, uses nuclear power, and only uses coal and natural gas with carbon capture, then this would stop the earth from gaining over 2.0 C since preindustrial temperatures. However the display did not discuss the costs, but none of the displays really discussed the financial costs of changing our energy and material usage to prevent more global warming. As we walked into the final room of the exhibit a large silvery container nearly blocked our way out. It turned out to be liquid carbon dioxide capsule that would be used after carbon capture to send the liquid carbon underground. Carbon capture derives energy from coal but catches carbon dioxide in a liquid which is basically bottled in a metal canister and sent underground. In small scale tests this seems to be safe, but there have not been any large scale tests. The entire display went around the room and discussed other means of alternative energy like nuclear power, geothermal power, wind power, hydropower, and solar power. Each one was briefly described with its pros and cons. Nuclear, geothermal, carbon capture, wind, and water power alone could not supply all of the power necessary to support the energy needs of America, however solar power could. Nuclear power is statistically safe, accidents still happen. Chernobyl, Pennsylvania had a nuclear accident and people still do not live there today. Nuclear power is still a threat to the areas where nuclear plants are placed. Geothermal power is relatively safe, but it is not practical for everywhere because it uses volcanic activity to generate power. Wind power is absolutely safe for humans, but dangerous for birds which are often pulled into the turbines and killed. Hydropower, which harnesses the power of rushing water, is very safe and could supply a significant amount of power. Finally solar power is absolutely safe, and could supply 100 % of America’s power needs. After we left the Climate Change Exhibit, we did not have a lot of time left in the museum we went back to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Though, tomorrow we would visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a beautiful building with great exhibits. One of best exhibits there is the hall of ancient Egypt. They have so many artifacts and things to observe you could spend half a day in that one section. The reason there are so many artifacts from Egypt is because \the climate there is so dry it does not allow for rotting, and it slows down the degradation of objects. Another reason why there are so many artifacts is that the Nile River naturally flooded every year, and replenished the soil around it. Egyptians never had to worry about constantly working for food. They only worked for two seasons out of the year for food, and lots of idle hands in a kingdom is never good because it leads to crime and plotting against the hierarchy. Thus, they were put to work creating art and creating monuments. After exploring the Egypt exhibit, we left and went back to Maryland with all the knowledge and experiences we had gained from our visit to New York.
Museums are an important part of public education. They provide a visual for what people learn in schools and colleges and a place where anyone can learn interactively about anything. They can motivate us to action, or reveal the truth that other media often miss. If I were a museum director, I wouldn’t make a gallery; I would make an entirely new museum on the history of food with an anthropologic perspective. I’m not sure if anyone would go to it besides myself, but it would be the only museum where eating would be encouraged. The themes would be based on the major changes in human eating patterns. It would start with pre Homo sapiens that made the herbivore to omnivore leap, and end in today’s human eating patterns. It would discuss everything from the impact of eating on global warming, factory farms, pre-industrialized eating patterns, veganism and vegetarianism, the birth of agriculture, to diet pills. In every exhibit, there should be small samples for the public of the food that humans or pre humans were eating at that time, for a low price. As for costs, I think it should be a giant wax museum with spiels on the walls describing the wax display, which doesn’t really require a lot of money, the artifacts could be fake, and the food samples should pay for themselves. I think everyone loves food, but no one really thinks of the impact it has on the world, because it is a fresh idea people would readily be interested in it.
Aguilar, Mario. 2003. "Tangled Nets."Economist. 369:36-38
"Tangled Nets" is a brief article about the changes in yellowfin tuna fishing to spare the lives of dolphins. It notes that the new methods used drastically reduce the number of dophin deaths, though some would disagree.