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Bay Nature magazineJuly-September 2018

New Academy of Sciences Exhibit Explores Coastal California’s Giants of Land and Sea

by Eric Simons on June 27, 2018


The Fog Room at the new California Academy of Sciences exhibit "Giants of Land and Sea." (Photo by Kathryn Whitney, California Academy of Sciences)

Several years ago, the California Academy of Sciences started to plan a long-term exhibit dedicated to exploring California. Immediately, of course, they faced the question: What is essential California? What makes this place what it is?

The answer forms the physical heart of the “Giants of Land and Sea” exhibit, which opened in mid-June on the west edge of the Academy’s main floor. A circular display in the center of the space connects the natural phenomena that define Northern California: ocean upwelling, fog and redwoods, and plate tectonics and carbon. Each section of the circle radiates out into immersive explorations, including a room where ultrasonic vibration generates a permanent fog set to an aural backdrop of marbeled murrelets, distant foghorns, dripping water, and wind.

Although the exhibit is built around iconic giants, there’s plenty of nuance for more seasoned California nature enthusiasts. Video displays explore the physics of fog formation. Light-up pinniped skeletons reveal secrets of comparative mammalian anatomy. Side-by-side photos illustrate the striking similarities between redwoods and giant kelp, from root and holdfast to canopy. An assemblage of living native plants from the redwood forest floor creates the understory beneath a towering wall photograph of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Which is maybe the other essential piece to loving nature and loving California. There is spectacular detail beyond and beneath the giants, subtlety to explore during a day trip or for a lifetime. California always rewards your attention.

“The details add richness whether you’re here for the first or fifth time,” Director of Exhibit Development and Strategic Planning Tamara Schwarz says. “Hopefully there’s something new to discover.”

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