Watermarks

Last night in Bristol, England, marked the start of Chris Bodle's Watermarks Project. For the next week, Bodle will be projecting onto the facades of buildings throughout Bristol estimated future high-tide marks should the entire Greenland ice cap melt.

[Image: From Chris Bodle's Watermarks Project].

The idea is brilliant; I love the idea of mapping the future earth onto the earth of the present, of overlaying onto our present geography the virtual presence of a geography yet to come.
In many ways, I'd even say that this project can be divorced from its immediate context of climate change science and applied to any number of terrestrial processes, from the projected future and the hypothesized past. Whether mapping lost lakes of a different era or tracing the edges of disappeared lagoons that still haunt the streets of San Francisco – or reminding urbanites of the sport-fishing possibilities beneath Manhattan – we are alive within laminations we will never fully map or comprehend.
And these geographic superimpositions needn't all by hydrological: the constant erasures and revisions of the earth through plate tectonics represent an unlimited supply of counter-landscapes we might explore.
I'm reminded of John McPhee's fantastic book Assembling California – part of his equally great collection Annals of the Former World. There, McPhee describes how entire "Newfoundlands, Madagascars, New Zealands, Sumatras, [and] Japans" have all come together, rammed into place, one into the other over millions of years, to form what we now call California. Walking around Los Angeles, or through the coastal hills of Bug Sur, you're not walking on unified ground at all, then, but across "the metamorphosed remains of what had once been an island arc."
The ground here is all wandering, nomadic wreckage, only it's been temporarily "consolidated as California."
So could all those old islands be flagged, their mutated and compressed remains – sheer gravel, lone hillsides, folded slopes, and whole mountain ranges – marked out with surveyors' tape? The Archipelago Project. You cross and recross lost geographies made visible through an artist's intervention – or follow a new state hiking path that meanders around the edges of minor fault lines yet to open.

[Image: From Chris Bodle's Watermarks Project].

In any case, projecting the earth's future oceans onto a contemporary cityscape is an almost unbelievably stimulating idea.
These are the data points of a world yet to come, you might say, made visible here, now, on the fronts of a hundred buildings – a future or alternative version of the earth coming into focus all around us.

(Via the RSA's Arts & Ecology site, thanks to Nicky!)

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Anonymous HvI said...

On a bridge in Amsterdam: “If the water reached this level we would not need the bridge. Drive on, maybe we will achieve this!”

February 07, 2009 3:20 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Here in Boulder, a little over a year ago, there was a work by Mary Miss that was one piece in a show at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. The show - entitled Weather Report: Art and Climate Change (http://www.bmoca.org/artist.php?id=74)was curated by Lucy Lippard. The work by Ms. Miss,"Connect the dots“ was quite similar to Chris Bodle’s - she placed blue dots around town that represented the high water mark of the Boulder flood plain.

February 08, 2009 2:21 PM  
Anonymous Purple Wyrm said...

A meandering line of bricks passes through the port city of Fremantle, Western Australia marking the original shoreline (before reclamation and construction of the port facilities in the 19th century). In some places it's a good 200 metres inland.

February 08, 2009 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I read this story and its initial response, I was heartened by the possibility the installation could actually be used for science and discourse. An outrageous demonstration requires a solid foundation in order to spur research and imagination. This sort of installation is exactly the type of infographic that can take advantage of new technology in connecting people (for the discussion) and data sets (for the foundational science), which is the point of much of the technology around us.

Instead, its supporters have demonstrated their lack of desire for bidirectional communication, opting instead for a false united front devoid of critical response. I guess that's simply off topic.

I didn't write the other comment that was deleted, but I'll be sure to remove any links here if my impressions are correct.

February 09, 2009 3:59 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Anonymous, the comment to which you're referring was the exact opposite of "bidirectional communication." It aggressively hurled profanity at both myself and at the artist I've written about above. It was a ridiculous comment from an idiot.

At the very least - if that commenter had not been so stupid - they would have realized that at the very least if the Greenland ice cap melts for whatever reason, be it nuclear war, climate change, or some kind of solar catastrophe, then water levels in the city of Bristol will hit a certain height. It's an interesting art project if only for this reason. Which is why, if the erased commenter had taken the time actually to read the discussion into which he or she leapt hurling insults, then he or she might have seen in my very description of the project that it is interesting even when "divorced from its immediate context of climate change science." That is, even if you simply look at this project as documenting a freak accident - the inexplicable meltdown of Greenland - then it is still imaginatively stimulating.

As it happens, however, the overwhelming - and I mean absolutely the overwhelming - amount of evidence available today from rigorous scientific experimentation is that if atmospheric chemistry changes, so does the atmosphere's capacity to store heat; a large part of this chemical shift today comes from the atmosphere now holding more carbon dioxide than it once did. This is carbon dioxide that was once solid matter in the earth's surface - liquid petroleum and coal, for the most part.

If you aerosolize a geological formation and put it into the sky, clearly the sky is going to start acting differently.

But, again, if you can't look at an artwork that shows what will happen to urban water levels when the ice caps melt – for whatever reason (maybe a Bond villain does it, maybe a meteor impact, maybe climate change) - without using profanity to insult the artist or the writer of this blog, then your comment doesn't belong here. It's hardly an example of "bidirectional communication," in other words.

What is so hard to accept about the fact that the atmosphere will behave differently when it is loaded up with new gases?

February 09, 2009 10:54 AM  
Blogger stuart candy said...

Geoff, last year I wrote up a series of interventions comparable to this one -- "blue line projects". Some are more installation-like in character, some are more performative, but they all aim to map (some version of) future sea levels in urban environments.

http://futuryst.blogspot.com/2008/02/mapping-c-change.html

Terrific blog, by the way.

February 10, 2009 4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pro-Global Warming Study Receives Worldwide Headlines; Discovery of Error in Study Garners Op-Ed in One Paper

Amy Ridenour
News Busters
Monday, Feb 9, 2009

When University of Washington Professor Eric Steig announced in a news conference and paper published in the January 22 edition of the journal Nature that he and several colleagues removed one of many thorns in the sides of climate alarmists — in this case, evidence that Antarctica is cooling — he received extensive worldwide attention in the mainstream press.

But when a noteworthy error was found in Stieg’s research less than two weeks after it’s publication, of the mainstream press, only an opinion column in the London Telegraph and a blog associated with the Australian Herald Sun carried the news.

The Stieg paper’s release was covered by 27 newspapers, including the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle & Los Angeles Times, by CNN, by the Associated Press, by NPR and quite a few others.

After independent analyst Steve McIntyre discovered a major error in the data, and released his results on his influential blog Climate Audit beginning on February 1, based on a Nexis search I conducted today, none of these outlets chose to inform their readers.

Here’s how the Stieg research showing supposed warming was received by the mainstream press:

NPR covered it twice (a January 21 package by Richard Harris and a January 23 Ira Flatow interview of Steig), with no hard questions either time (Flatow called Steig’s paper “probably historic”).

A January 22 piece in the Seattle Times by science reporter Sandi Doughton contained this little editorial:

By bringing Antarctica in from the cold, the new study could undermine the small cadre of global-warming skeptics who still argue that the planet is not getting hotter, or that humans are not to blame. Many have used the apparent cooling in Antarctica to attack global climate models and point out perceived weaknesses in the scientific consensus that emissions from automobiles and factories are beginning to change global climate.

A January 22 New York Times piece by Kenneth Chang presented the report along with quotes from scientists who thought it by and large likely accurate. One scientist was quoted saying, “But the idea of a long-term cooling is pretty clearly debunked.” No one urging caution about Stieg’s results was quoted.

CNN.com’s report began:

Antarctica is warming in line with the rest of the world, according to a new study on climate change in Antarctica.

Rather than being the last bastion to resist global warming, U.S. research has found that for the past 50 years much of the continent of Antarctica has been getting warmer.

(Article continues below)



For years common belief among scientists studying climate change was that a large part of Antarctica, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, has been getting colder while the rest of the world has warmed.

However the new research from the University of Washington has found that warming in West Antarctica exceeded one-tenth of a degree Celsius per decade for the past 50 years, which more than offsets the cooling in East Antarctica…

The CNN.com piece ended with quotes from Stieg.

The AP’s Seth Borenstein’s January 21 wire report began “Antarctica, the only place that had oddly seemed immune from climate change, is warming after all, according to a new study,” and included a quote from global warming activist scientist and study co-author Michael Mann, saying the study refuted the views of climate “contrarians.” Borenstein did, however, include two quotes from other scientists who raised questions about the study.

The Los Angeles Times’ Thomas H. Maugh II began with an editorial:

Scientists have long believed that Antarctica has been bucking the global warming trend, but that is not the case, new research shows.

East Antarctica, as assorted studies have shown, has been cooling recently, but the remainder of the continent is warming at a rate that offsets the cooling, according to satellite and ground data.

Global-warming skeptics have pointed to the presumed cooling of the continent as evidence that researchers’ computer projections of climate change are in error, but the new findings reported Thursday appear to refute their criticisms…

Maugh’s readers weren’t told that any scientists had doubts.

The San Francisco Chronicle went still further into alarmism. Science editor David Perlman told his readers flatly that “the issue [of Antarctic warming] has apparently been resolved.” The piece was headlined: “All of Antarctica Appears to Be Warming.”

The Guardian titled its piece, “Scientists Solve Enigma of Antarctic ‘Cooling,’” summarized it by claiming “Research ‘kills off’ climate skeptic argument by showing average temperature across the continent has risen over the last 50 years.” The Guardian included no alternative points of view.

Co-authors of Stieg’s paper included David Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Scott Rutherford of Roger Williams University, Michael Mann of Penn State, Josefino Comiso of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Followers of the global warming issue will easily recognize Michael Mann as the proponent of the since-disgraced “hockey stick” global warming graph and an activist global warming activist and the Goddard Institute as run by one of the world’s most infamous global warming alarmists, James Hansen. Stieg himself is a contributor to the ardently pro-alarmist and environmentalist-supported PR blog RealClimate. Despite this, none of the mainstream press stories I reviewed mentioned the activism activities of authors.

On the other side of the question, here are samples from Andrew Booker’s op-ed column in the UK Telegraph critical of Stieg:

…So it predictably made headlines across the world last week when a new study, from a team led by Professor Eric Steig, claimed to prove that the Antarctic has been heating up after all. As on similar occasions in the past, all the usual supporters of the cause were called in to whoop up its historic importance. The paper was published in Nature and heavily promoted by the BBC. This, crowed journalists such as Newsweek’s Sharon Begley, would really be one in the eye for the “deniers” and “contrarians.”

and

One of the first to express astonishment [about the Stieg paper] was Dr Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a convinced believer in global warming, who wryly observed “it is hard to make data where none exists.” A disbelieving Ross Hayes, an atmospheric scientist who has often visited the Antarctic for NASA, sent Professor Steig a caustic email ending: “with statistics you can make numbers go to any conclusion you want. It saddens me to see members of the scientific community do this for media coverage.”

Polls show the American public is continuing to apply critical thinking when it comes to the question of human-caused global warming. Too bad the same can’t be said for much of the mainstream press.

February 10, 2009 5:28 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Anonymous, any chance you could try to summarize articles before posting them in full in the comments threads of other people's blogs?

Stuart, I'll definitely check out your post! Enjoyed your review of White House Redux, by the way.

February 10, 2009 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'll try and keep it concise cause snippets of info are the best way to get people to look at things.... but it's difficult. global warming is modern feudalism, the most insidious and incramental form of tyranny that this planet has ever seen. all i want people to do is at look at what i have to say and then prove i am wrong. i would just like to say the trilogy of climate terror economic terror and and taliban (boogey man) terror is no coincidence.....by the way i am sorry about my first post, i didn't mean to upset anyone. i'm just very passionate about my opinion. please accept my apology.

February 10, 2009 11:48 AM  
OpenID readzebra said...

I apologize if this was mentioned; I didn't read every bit of the other comments... but the idea of alternate, specifically past, realities projected as laminate onto our current world reminds me also of Eames Demetrios' Kymaerica installations. Geoff, I'm sure you're familiar with that? That's a whole other dimension of this idea: not iterations that have happened or could happen, but totally fictional redrawings...

January 03, 2011 3:18 PM  

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