Explore the icy realms of the Arctic, Earth's northernmost region with this online exhibition

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Experience the exhibition with our online curator-led tour


About Elysium

In 2015 a team of explorers, photographers and scientists journeyed to the High Arctic of Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland to document the visible environmental changes caused by a warming climate. Together they created Elysium Arctic, a marriage of art and science capturing the threatened icons of the polar north – majestic icebergs and glaciers, playful wildlife and stunning views of land and sea. The Elysium team saw the devastating impact of climate change in the earth's northernmost region and are sharing the message of what they witnessed with the wider world.

Mixing artists and scientists with a common objective – exploring and celebrating the Arctic – has the magical effect of amplifying the power of both.

Dr Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer and Chief Scientist of Elysium Arctic

The Elysium projects are run by Michael AW, internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer, explorer and ocean advocate. Michael believes that art can inspire people to take action to mitigate climate change and save some of the most vulnerable places on earth. Braving sub-zero temperatures, sea ice and some very curious polar bears, the Elysium team has produced a breathtaking visual journey through the Arctic. 

Whatever you choose to do with your life, you can – and should – explore the world

Dr Sylvia Earle

Ocean pioneer Dr Sylvia Earle joined Michael AW as chief scientist on Elysium Arctic. Nicknamed ‘Her Deepness’ by The New Yorker, Sylvia’s love for the ocean has placed her at the forefront of marine science since the 1960s. She has led 70 expeditions, authored over 150 publications and logged more than 7,000 hours underwater – including as leader of the all-female team on submerged habitat, Tektite II.

Dr Sylvia Earle celebrated her 80th birthday by snorkelling in the Arctic Ocean. Image Michael Aw, Svalbard, 2015.Dr Sylvia Earle celebrated her 80th birthday by snorkelling in the Arctic Ocean. Image Michael Aw, Svalbard, 2015.
Dr Sylvia Earle celebrated her 80th birthday by snorkelling in the Arctic Ocean. Image Michael AW, Svalbard, 2015

Sylvia’s tenacity helped her overcome challenges and break world records. In 1968, Sylvia made history by becoming the first woman to pilot and ‘lock out’ (enter and leave the chamber) of a submersible – while she was four months pregnant with her third child! In 1979, she set the record for the deepest untethered seafloor walk in a metal ‘JIM’ suit, descending 381m underwater off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

Today, Sylvia is a respected scientist, educator and founder of ocean conservation program Mission Blue. She celebrated her 80th birthday on the Elysium Arctic expedition with cake and a snorkel in the world’s northernmost waters. 

Art will play an important role in bringing the message of conservation. Maybe one of the most important roles of all… 

Wyland, Expedition Artist

At 82°N, the northernmost point of the Elysium expedition, the team bravely stripped to their swimsuits to pose in an ‘Arctic Beach Party’ photo shoot. These photographs were a tongue-in-cheek take on the Arctic’s possible future, if sea ice continues to melt at its current rate.

This was the coldest day of the expedition, with temperatures down to -3ºC. Sipping cocktails in the icy Arctic wind, the beach party was very short-lived – but long enough to take some unforgettable photographs. Activism is never boring!


Icebergs are the perfect metaphor for our oceans because only a small fraction is visible to our naked eye.

David Doubilet, Principal Photographer


The Elysium expedition was all about teamwork, uniting science and art to capture a comprehensive snapshot of the High Arctic at a pivotal time in our history. Elysium Arctic’s science team collected data on Arctic plankton with a Video Plankton Recorder (VPR), a towfish-mounted camera system that acts as a high-resolution underwater microscope, capturing images of plankton without damaging the specimens. The CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) data also showed that Arctic water is much warmer than reported in previous years, which impacts planktonic life cycles. Plankton are the base of the Arctic marine food web, and any change in their distribution has significant consequences for the ecosystem. 

The gravest danger lies in inaction. Our narrow window of opportunity to avert unimaginable harm is rapidly shrinking, along with the Arctic sea ice. However, there are things you can do right now that can help slow these global climate changes.

Michael AW, Principal Photographer

Sometimes everyday tools are just as useful as expensive ones – the Elysium team found that one of their $300 cameras recorded plankton samples better than a $3,000 camera! Michael Aw believes that a group of committed citizens can change the world. With curiosity, ingenuity and determination, anyone can explore the ocean and contribute to the research that will save our planet.


We all have a responsibility to help the planet – it’s the only one we have. 

At the Australian National Maritime Museum, we’re working to save our oceans for future generations with new programs on marine environmental sustainability and ocean science (SOS). Two direct actions we’ve taken to reduce our impact are phasing out single-use plastics throughout the museum and installing the second largest set of solar panels in Sydney on the roof of Wharf 7.

Can you make a change and help save our oceans? 

Credit Main image: 'Harp Seal' by Jennifer Hayes

Explore the exhibition images

Elysium Stories

Learn more about Elysium Arctic and the team through these compelling stories.

An iceberg superbly sculpted by wind and water, is lit by the Arctic sun. Gillian Clark, Eskimo Bay, 2015

24 Sep 2019

Polar opposites: What's the difference between the Arctic and Antarctica?
Sylvia Earle celebrating the ocean at the top of the world [Michael Aw]

13 Sep 2019

Her deepness: Dr Sylvia Earle
Arctic puffins, Svalbard. Image Michael Aw

25 Jul 2019

Elysium Arctic: Artists for social change
Award-wining photographer Michael Aw discusses his passion for conservation and wildlife photography.

28 Feb 2019

Capturing nature, before it disappears

Discover more

Love Elysium Arctic? Create and learn with our fun-filled arts and craft activities perfect for kids inspired by the exhibition. Listen to legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle as she shares her own stories and hopes for the future of the world's ocean. 


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