Climate Change & Ocean Health

Polar Sea Change

“Climate change is a reality. Caused by us all, it is a cultural, social and economic problem and must move beyond scientific debate… artists can engage the public in this issue, through creative insight and vision. ” D. Buckland 2007

The imperative of engaging broad sectors of society with the effects of climate change provides the most important and timely challenge for  science communication. While science has much to say about the patterns and effects of temperature, sea level change and ocean acidification, the challenge remains how to communicate this in a way that is informative but emotive and action-inspiring. A sci-art approach may be particularly valuable, as shown by many internationally successful examples, such as Cape FarewellPlatform LondonClimate Change Education.Org and “The Centre Cannot Hold,” an exploration of climate change, imperialism and migration.

Several projects:


What the Animals did Next: Climate Change Zoology.
This project integrates art and science imagery and text to tell the story of climate change from the viewpoint of a variety of animals: ‘celibate shags’ (Galapagos cormorants and El Nino), ‘the suddenly fragile polar bear’, ‘the end of the icefish’, ‘tuatara sex and a masculinised future’ etc.

Engagement and ‘Zoo-empathy’: Romanticising Climate Change (with Eva Hayward & Oscar Hunter)
In communication, it is important to understand what brings a situation to life (Nietzsche’s creative ‘active surge’). Cognition theory and neurophysiology show that engaging emotion can facilitate cognitive interaction. Using less prescriptive narrative  and more visual & sensory storytelling, and other classical emotive approaches of Romanticism making real contemporary and future climate change. Here we explore these concepts in an inquiry about emotional engagement through non-mammalian representation/translation to progress climate change communication.

Environmental temperature is projected to rise 2-4˚C in the next 50 years around the world. This will have the most enormous effect on the biology of ectotherms (‘cold-blooded’ animals, and plants). My biological research has often focused on temperature adaptation in ectotherms -from the muscle physiology of Arctic crustaceans, to reproductive biology in high latitude reptiles. In polar marine environments, sea temperature is already rising notably.  

My continuing research in biology is on the effect of ocean warming on development and dispersal in Antarctic fish. Impacts of Southern Ocean warming on marine connectivity: Integrating oceanographic modeling with molecular ecology and developmental biology. [NERC UK F001777]. This project addresses the question: how might ocean warming affect the connectivity links between populations? Collaborative with the British Antarctic Survey and Bangor University, it integrates thermal biology, oceanographic modeling, and molecular ecology and life history evolution. Temperature influences developmental rate, and increased developmental rate can decrease the potential for long distance dispersal for many fish larvae. So how will a 2-4˚C rise in sea temperature in the Antarctic Scotia Sea affect population connectivity for species with different life histories? Will important links be lost?