Communicating Polar Climate Change Through Art

Tedesco boat
Tedesco boat

Last month marked the culmination of an innovative, year-long collaboration between City University of New York (CUNY) professor Marco Tedesco, artists Ethan Ham, Ina Saltz, and Jonhathan Perl (The City College of New York), and a handful of their students. The group collaborated on Polar Seeds to communicate the processes behind Greenland climate change are communicated to the public in a new, very visual, way.

“I went to my colleagues with the idea that they would communicate my research in Greenland through their own interpretation of the science,” says Tedesco. “People have heard now about warming and melting, but it’s time to get people to understand positive feedback mechanisms – how these processes are related.”

He says he reached out to non-scientists to “make science not boring.”

Tedesco’s artistic contributions include photography – photos taken during research excursions to Greenland of landscapes, scientists and students working, and a variety of gear and materials used in their field work along with videos and audio recordings.  The artists interpreted his scientific results graphically and data are translated into sounds with variations in pitch, tone, and amplitude to communicate various concepts and multiple datasets simultaneously.

Polar Seeds Experiment Video

“We also have a video game that people can play at the exhibition, where it will be projected on a wall, or online. The player must balance a number of physical properties – clouds and precipitation, for example – to keep the ice sheet healthy. This is an effective and interactive way to engage people while helping them understand processes,” says Tedesco.

The group was awarded $50,000 from a competitive, college-wide grant program, called CITY SEED, meant to foster campus partnerships.  Visitors to the campus’ Compton-Goethals Art Gallery can see the results of their collaboration January 28 – February 14.

Installations, including a soundscape of field recordings and time lapse photographs of blocks of ice that melt at different rates, depending on their color, will provide ambient exhibition background, are meant to round out the experience—one that Tedesco wants to feel like a conversation.

“This is a team effort. Even though I had a clear idea of the project, I wanted my collaborators to feel free to do what they wanted to do. It was really interesting to work with artists because I had to first communicate my science to them and then let them go,” Tedesco says. ” There was compromise on both sides. It was interesting from a management perspective because I knew the outcome could go anywhere – this is not at all like writing a scientific paper, but it’s actually quite similar to doing field work as we get ready for the exhibition. It’s very exciting because, through visualization, we are breaking the 3/D and 4D barrier to communicate science.” —Marcy Davis