The Whole Picture

Did you take these for just some stunning water colors? Well, these are hard data on climate change. An artistic expression of an ugly, oft overlooked truth. Jill Pelto, the artist, who graduated in December from the University of Maine with a degree in earth science and studio art, created these paintings based on graphs of data on the environmental effects of climate change.

This piece, “Climate Change Data,” uses multiple quantities: the annual decrease in global glacier mass balance, global sea level rise, and global temperature increase. I wanted to convey in an image how all of this data must be compared and linked together to figure out the fluctuations in Earth’s natural history. PHOTO: Jill Pelto

This piece, “Climate Change Data,” uses multiple quantities: the annual decrease in global glacier mass balance, global sea level rise, and global temperature increase. I wanted to convey in an image how all of this data must be compared and linked together to figure out the fluctuations in Earth’s natural history. PHOTO: Jill Pelto

 

PBS reports:

Pelto’s paintings are based on several different data sets that measure glacial melt, animal populations and forest fires, among others. Each set focuses on the ways that climate change has affected these aspects of the environment.

Seven years ago, Pelto began assisting on a project led by her father, glacial researcher Mauri Pelto, to measure the health of the glaciers in Washington’s North Cascade National Park. The project, which measures snow depth across a wide area to determine to what extent the glaciers there recede each year, has been ongoing for 31 years.

Pelto hopes that her pieces can work as a visual link to the data, grabbing the attention of people for whom those numbers aren’t enough. “As someone who’s interested in science, I’m intrigued by a graph in an article,” she said. “But I know the majority of people aren’t. They’re going to just skim over a graph. … I think a much bigger percentage of people are attracted to the visuals of art.”

When creating a piece, Pelto looks for “something that is happening that is important but isn’t well-publicized, maybe something that people aren’t paying much attention to,” she said. Most of her data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,Climate Central and other researchers whose work she has studied.

Pelto is working on a piece now about a caribou herd in Canada whose population is in decline. “My hope is that by creating this piece, it’ll get more people to stop and learn and think and become more informed,” she said. “My main audience are those people that know climate change is going on and know these are important issues, but either don’t realize how drastic it is or don’t stay informed.”

See more of her work here.

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