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    Painted creatures of the deep, deep sea

    And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

    Texas A&M University Press

    There are places on Earth that almost no human will ever see, and one of the most mysterious is the extreme depths of the ocean. What is it like thousands of feet down, where life moves in complete darkness? One strange, fanciful answer comes from the late marine biologist Henry Compton, who died in 2005 in Corpus Christi, Texas, leaving behind a pair of boxes containing a series of paintings accompanied by whimsical captions and strange vignettes.

    Now the work has been collected in a book, “Fire in the Sea: Bioluminescence and Henry Compton’s Art of the Deep.” Compton had seen specimens of some deep-sea animals, dredged from the bottom during deep-sea explorations in the Gulf of Mexico in the 1960s. And what he wasn’t able to see first-hand, he invented. The painting of the frilled tiger shark shown here comes with an allegorical story about a barren woman named Liu, and a caption that reads: “The Frilled Shark and the Lighted Squid were old in the deep seas before ever Formosa surfaced the waves to sail solid.”

    The Venice of the South?

    Waggonner & Ball Architects.

    As the climate changes, some cities are more vulnerable than others—none more so than New Orleans, partially below sea level, between a lake and a river, at risk of flooding whenever it rains abnormally hard. For generations the city has counted on levees and pumps to stay dry, a system that failed catastrophically during Hurricane Katrina.


    A city like New Orleans needs a new relationship to water, and a short article in the online journal Yale Environment 360 offers a look at one potential future. City officials recently chose the architecture firm Waggonner & Ball to develop a Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, and in a series of striking, forward-looking illustrations, the firm envisions a cityscape redesigned around the principle of retaining rainwater where it falls, rather than trying to pump it away.

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    The water would be used to fill refurbished canals and to irrigate expansive “greenways”—stretches of lush vegetation that would absorb the rainwater before it flows into roads and living rooms. As in Venice and Amsterdam, the new vision for New Orleans turns water from a threat into a unique design feature.

    Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at