Q & A with Marco Tedesco: Presenting Climate Science Through Art

One of the hot topics in environmental news has been the melting of Greenland. Some use this as a political arena while others, like Professor Marco Tedesco, merely wish for people to understand what’s going on in our world. Marco Tedesco has led four expeditions to Greenland and has participated in one expedition to Antarctica, as well as leading several snow and field campaigns in the continental US. His research has been highlighted by media and journals, especially his studies concerning melting in Greenland. His research on the melting Greenland ice is currently being presented in an art exhibit in New York

James Kennedy: In the Fall of 2011 you had the idea to stray from convention and display your research on the Greenland ice sheet through visual arts and music. Why not stick with lecture halls?
Marco Tedesco: I’d been performing my work in research in Greenland for five seasons or so, and I was trying to figure out how to communicate the large body of information that is getting more and more complicated, to an audience that doesn’t have a scientific background.

The idea for art was something that I had always been passionate about. I grew up in Italy where you can delve into art right on the streets. A lot of the focus was getting my thoughts and scientific research to my peers, as well as communicating with the masses. When president Lisa Coico of City College of New York announced the CITY SEED program – hence the Polar Seeds – it fit perfectly with what I wanted to do. Originally the idea was bigger than the final project, but we decided to focus on Greenland. My main goal was to relay the message that yes, we know the melting is increasing, but there are other processes involved beside increasing temperatures.

The Albedo Effect [the ability for a surface, like snow, to reflect light] is one of those processes. Prof. Saltz from the Art Dept. created the infographic, 
and that is one of the pieces of our exhibit. Attempting to explain things like the Albedo Effect to people that are not scientists can be hard, and art is a great way of doing it.

JK: Do you believe that it was effective in getting people interested?
MT: Yes, definitely. At the opening of the exhibit we had people from multiple backgrounds of study. One of the things that I was most pleased to see, besides people enjoying the art, was they were able to translate things like “I know my black shirt gets hot faster than my white shirt,” and put that understanding into the ice sheets. In the movie we are showing at the exhibit, they could see that the block of ice that had dirt and pollution on it melted faster than the cleaner block of ice. As a scientist, I’m not satisfied by saying ‘with warmer air comes more melting.’ People need to understand the role of other processes, such as the albedo.

JK: There wasn’t a strong political message with the exhibit, why is that?
MT: I’m not sure that a political message has a place in our exhibit. The work that we did is about the ice sheets and sea level rise. There is no political debate I think.

I’m not sure that a political message has a place in our exhibit…The work that we did is about the ice sheets and sea level rise. There is no political debate I think.

JK: What can the average citizen do on a day-to-day basis to help?
PT: Anything helps really. I think that the idea of what happens in Greenland stays in Greenland is wrong. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. In fact, quite the opposite. It changes the entire climate system. Storm surges get worse as sea levels rise, and they are rising much faster with increased melting of the ice sheets. We must be informed.

Read more about the Polar Seeds and the work that Professor Tedesco.

By James Kennedy