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It Was Only a Matter of Time: Climate Museums

You don’t get a lot of ice cores in downtown Manhattan. But visitors to the inaugural show at New York’s Climate Museum can watch 269 soothing minutes of film featuring nothing but turquoise ice cores, drilled from the depths of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

For scientists, the cylinder-shaped ice blocks open magical windows into prehistoric atmospheric conditions, but in this New York gallery, the goal is to prod the imagination as well as feed the mind.

“If this installation can create even a momentary sense that climate change occurs over millennia, that can help us comprehend the phenomenon’s enormity,” said Peggy Weil, the U.S. artist behind the work.

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Ice cores are samples of ice excavated from miles below the surface – vital in tracking atmospheric conditions, including rising temperatures, over hundreds of thousands of years.

The film captures the details of 88 such cores in an attempt to reconstruct some of the data scientists use to compare past periods of climate change with today’s.

Art student Leonard Yang said he felt bitter-sweet as he strolled between photographs of the ice cores, which were exhibited at Manhattan’s Parsons School of Design.

“It just makes me feel like all of this is just going to disappear,” said the 29-year-old, wandering the small museum that is now part of a growing global trend. For as world leaders increasingly face up to the fallout of climate change, curators are planning a new wave of museums, devoted to what many consider a defining issue of the times. From Germany to Denmark, Hong Kong to Canada, talk of climate museums is on the rise.

In the German city of Bremerhaven, the Klimahaus Bremerhaven 8° Ost exhibits recreations of different climate zones so museum goers can follow the tracks of changing temperatures. Last year, about half a million people visited the museum, a vessel-like building north of Bremen which opened in 2009, according to a spokeswoman.

In Hong Kong, the smaller Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change chronicles grand scientific expeditions, including those of the Xuelong, an icebreaker that went on voyages to probe the Arctic’s response to global warming.


Scientists say that left unchecked, projected levels of rising temperatures may displace entire populations, flood cities and trigger conflict. So museums want to fuse art and science to raise awareness.

In Norway, the University of Oslo will this spring start building a 7,000-square-feet (650 square meters) climate museum thanks to a donation of nearly $9 million, said a spokeswoman.

A rendering of the Klimahuset (Climate House), a climate-change themed museum whose construction in Oslo is due to start in May 2018. Illustration: Natural History Museum of Oslo & Lund Hagem Architects.

The Klimahuset (Climate House) has big ambitions.

The museum – its designers call it a “climate machine” – will open with an exhibition that will include a section tracking the “fingerprints” left on the atmosphere by carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, said project leader Torkjell Leira by phone.

In Britain, entrepreneur Joe Inglis was in talks with the University of Oxford’s School of Geography in the hope of creating a first British climate change museum, dubbed Climatic. His initial plans stalled but he hopes to resurrect the dream.

More than 500 museum staff have joined Canada’s Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, hoping to push their places of work into staging more exhibits on the issue, said a spokesman.

And near the Danish capital of Copenhagen, Jay Sterling Gregg, a scientist whose day job revolves around climate, formed a group that aims to open the country’s first climate museum.

Stil in its infancy, the plan is to start with pop-up exhibitions then open a physical museum after 2020, he said.

A museum, the university researcher said, was needed because it could reach people in a way that academics cannot.

“It reaches deeper; it evokes emotions; it inspires,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

Photos of ice cores drilled from the depths of the Greenland Ice Sheet, are displayed as part of an installation called ’88 Cores’ by artist Peggy Weil at New York’s Climate Museum inaugural show, featured at the Parson’s School of Design in New York City, U.S., February 6, 2018. Picture taken February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid


Citing climate change, scientists predict sea levels are on track to surge as temperatures rise, posing threats such as deadly heat, extreme weather and land swallowed by rising water.

While the world has rallied around a landmark 2015 agreement to fight global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. President Donald Trump has pulled his country out of the pact and repeatedly cast doubt on the phenomenon.

And opponents of climate change science remain vocal in the United States, despite research showing that most U.S. adults are believers and think man-made emissions are to blame. But some experts say climate-change nay-sayers are better at spreading their views, especially if science stays off the menu for many Americans when it comes to dinner-time chat.

“One of the issues is that Americans don’t talk about (climate change) with their friends and family,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, of Yale University in the state of Connecticut. “Museums give them an opportunity to engage these themes.”

By Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. 

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