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Climate change from an artist's perspective

By Renee Tratch
Digital Writer, theweathernetwork.com
Thursday, February 26, 2015, 6:32 PM

When Toronto is trapped in frigid temperatures and slick with ice and snow, you can’t help but to long for the frozen stuff to melt away. Not everyone, however, is glaring at the icicles hanging from almost every corner.

Scientists have long been identifying ice (or lack of) as one of the biggest indicators of the effects of climate change. While it may not be visible in Toronto, areas such as the North have been severely affected. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average. This animation from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration illustrates the dramatic loss of Arctic Sea ice from 1987 to 2014.

But it’s not just scientists who are concerned about the increasing vulnerability of ice. Artists have been finding beauty and tragedy in the planet’s rapidly changing landscapes ever since they first started exploring the world’s icy regions in the 1800s.

Torontonians need only to travel north to Kleinburg for a new perspective on ice. Until April 26, 2015, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection presents a unique look at climate change through its feature exhibition Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012. The showcase of 70 works from the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington depicts a 200-year period of alpine, Arctic and Antarctic landscapes through the eyes artists, writers and naturalists.

The paintings, photography and multimedia are as provocative as they are stunning.

One of the most powerful is the juxtaposition of Arthur Oliver Wheeler’s 1917 image of the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park and Gary Braasch’s 2005 photograph of the same location – a startling comparison of how much the glacier has disappeared.

Another photo highlights the fragility of the regions’ inhabitants and the critical need for wildlife conservation. In 2002, American artist Subhankar Banerjee captured the Caribou Migration – a 400-mile annual trek in the Alaskan Arctic. This bird’s-eye view of the caribou crossing a frozen river was used in the US Senate to help avert exploratory oil drilling in the area.

Outside the gallery, you’ll find Melting Ice a site-specific artwork referencing the beauty of ice and the dramatic loss of alpine and polar glaciers around the world by American artist Jyoti Duwadi. He has done similar installations on this theme.

A fascinating 400-year timeline helps put this environmental issue in perspective,

by illustrating the connections between alpine and polar literature and exploration, the economy and climate science. The timeline also tracks the CO2 in the atmosphere, showing a startling increase in the last 50 years, as well as the frequency in the monitoring. In 1770 the CO2 measured 280 parts per million (ppm); 310 ppm in 1950; 400 ppm in 2013. 

The exhibition may have you rethinking ice. Want to do more? Two projects allow Canadians to provide information on the ice in their own backyards, contributing to the overall understanding of climate change.  

Nature Canada’s IceWatch looks to citizen scientists to monitor and supply data about ice events in their region. From this, scientists have found that the freeze-thaw cycles of bodies of water are changing in the North. 

Prompted by research that saw a potential decrease in the number of days of outdoor skating in the future, geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo created RinkWatch. Canadians can participate by pinning the location of their backyard rink online and each winter record every day whether it is skateable, thus creating a database that maps climate trends. 

Learn more: The science behind outdoors rinks & why we should care, as told by @rinkwatchorg: http://s.nhl.com/6016LY1E

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