Science Policy & Funding Meeting Report

Communicating Arctic Science Creatively for Diverse Audiences

Revealing the New Arctic: A Climate Change Communication Workshop; San Francisco, California, 16 December 2015

By and Jessica Rohde

Glaciologist Hajo Eicken maintains an ice growth and melt-monitoring station near Barrow, Alaska.
University of Alaska glaciologist Hajo Eicken walks among melt ponds on sea ice while he maintains an ice growth/melt monitoring station near Barrow, Alaska. Credit: Matthew Druckenmiller

Seven Arctic researchers shared their unconventional methods for communicating scientific developments and discoveries to the public at a workshop held simultaneously with the American Geophysical Union’s 2015 Fall Meeting. The event—Revealing the New Arctic: A Climate Change Communication Workshop—not only explored creative approaches to communicating Arctic change but also revealed scientists’ personal reasons for engaging in outreach.

The meeting was organized by the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) Sea Ice Action Team and facilitated by Andy Revkin, a New York Times environmental journalist. Jennifer Francis (Rutgers University), coleader of the Sea Ice Action Team, helped organize the workshop to raise awareness of the team’s focus on improving communication in Arctic science.

SEARCH executive director Brendan Kelly urged the audience to reexamine the role of science communication in engaging decision makers. He outlined SEARCH’s efforts to develop concise science resources to inform the busy professionals in fast-paced policy realms. Reiterating the policy theme, Mia Bennett, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke about her efforts to apply perspectives from political and economic geography through her blog Cryopolitics.

Composite three-dimensional lidar point cloud of an Arctic sea ice floe in the Fram Strait.
Composite three-dimensional lidar point cloud of an Arctic sea ice floe collected by ScanLAB Projects in the marginal ice zone of Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard, in July 2012. The scans, which also captured the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, were used to produce scaled museum replicas. Credit: Till Wagner

Other speakers focused on outreach to the public. Larry Hamilton (University of New Hampshire) discussed public perceptions of Arctic sea ice trends. He explained that “surveys show that many people find the Arctic intriguing, but without personal experience they rely on others to understand how it’s changing.” He added that “improving science communication can help to empower engaged, science-friendly citizens and to inform others who are less engaged but open to learning.”

Marco Tedesco (Columbia University), whose presentation used sonification to transform observations of Greenland’s shrinking ice cover into sound, told the audience to listen to the data. Reflecting on his reasons for participating, he said, “We need to transmit not only information but also knowledge. This is crucial to generate a new social paradigm that can expand into people’s lives and make them understand how crucial the Arctic is and how unprecedented the changes are. Music, for me, is one way to do so.”

Partially melted ice floe replicas on display in London.
Partially melted ice floe replicas on display at the Architectural Association in London as part of the exhibition Frozen Relics: Arctic Works, a collaboration between ScanLAB Projects, University of Cambridge, and Greenpeace. Credit: Till Wagner

Till Wagner (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) presented his novel approach to exhibiting scaled frozen replicas of sea ice floes for museum audiences. The replicas were created from three-dimensional lidar scans taken from the field. One such replica was recently on display at the Architectural Association in London as part of the exhibition Frozen Relics: Arctic Works, a collaboration between ScanLAB Projects, University of Cambridge, and Greenpeace.

Local Iñupiat hunter looks at drifting sea ice near the edge of shorefast ice at Barrow, Alaska.
Local Iñupiat hunter looks at drifting sea ice near the edge of shore-fast ice at Barrow, Alaska. Credit: Matthew Druckenmiller

Revkin, a master of both the fast-paced Twitter world of communication and developing relationships with scientists, reinforced that successful communication can take many forms. “The array of presentations beautifully demonstrated how climate research and environmental change can be conveyed in captivating ways.” He said the key is to think about what mix of media and strategies makes the most sense for presenting to diverse, distracted, divided audiences.

Audiences with divided opinions are a clear and persistent challenge. Hamilton noted that “some of the confusion about Arctic change comes from organized and politically based science rejection.” Other presenters expressed optimism. Francis explained her appreciation for the creative and varied work highlighted at the event: “It gave me hope that we are winning the war against anthropogenic-climate-change denialism!”

—Matthew L. Druckenmiller, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder; email: [email protected]; and Jessica Rohde, Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) Collaborations, Washington, D. C.

Citation: Druckenmiller, M. L., and J. Rohde (2016), Communicating Arctic science creatively for diverse audiences, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO057009. Published on 10 August 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • davidlaing

    The problem is not “anthropogenic climate change denialism,” it is lack of sufficient evidence to justify the assumptions of the models in use today. It is a human tendency, and an easy one, for humans to assume that a well-developed, well-thought-out theory, especially an old and well-respected one, such as that of greenhouse warming, has more value than actual, hard evidence from the Earth system itself. This is obviously not true. The fact is that greenhouse warming has never actually been proven to work, although an awful lot of theory and mathematics has gone into its development. No amount of theory, no matter how clever, however, can substitute for hard evidence from the Earth system itself. We need to pay more attention to what Earth is actually telling us and less to what human “experts” are prone to say about the way it operates.