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Know the West

How one artist captured the changing climate in watercolor

Artist and scientist Jill Pelto’s riveting paintings use data to show climate change’s impacts.


Jill Pelto, a Maine-based artist and scientist, says she sees nature as a work of art, even as it changes. Her latest project makes use of the staggering numbers on melting glaciers, rising sea level, threatened species. “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,” Pelto, wrote on her website. “I hope to cover both positive and negative issues that depict the reality of our current ecosystem.” The result of the project is something you don’t typically see on an artist’s tapestry: an x-and-y axis. In one of her watercolor paintings, numbers on the left y-axis depict quantities of glacial melt and sea level rise, and a setting sun dipping across the horizon contains numbers that represent the global increase in temperature. The timeline on the bottom serves as a reminder of the data's message: urgent action is needed to avert what seems inevitable. Paige Blankenbuehler, assistant editor