Visualisation of geochemical data showing climatic and environmental change in the Maya lowlands over 6000 years

Guatemala City | Started on 1/1/2022

The data visualisation is composed of a computer-generated environment which visually expresses the lowland Maya population’s responses to climate change based on real data from a lake adjacent to the archaeological site of Itzan, provoking viewers to imagine distant timescales and complex patterns of human and non-human activity. The journey of these data began in the muddy, wet Maya lowlands where, plagued by insects and the blazing tropical sun, sediment cores were retrieved on a bobbing assortment of planks buoyed up by empty plastic drums. From there, the cores, encompassing six thousand years of sediment accumulation, made their way to sleety Montréal, where they were arduously worked over to extract the organic molecules known as lipids using different ratios of organic solvent. Subsequent analyses revealed insights into the changing demography and environment of the area. We then used a software called Unreal Engine to turn the insights revealed by the molecules into visual landscapes.

The resulting representation of the real-world site considers vegetation distribution and other environmental elements, such as amount of rainfall, of the geochemical periods being represented. Collaboration between scientists and artists is rare and yet holds much potential as a method for communicating science. The project is a novel example of science communication by visually rendering palaeoclimate data into forms of public art. Our goals: 1. Develop a new scientific methodology to communicate climate change science in the form of digital art; 2. Produce digital art that is moving and aesthetically pleasing to evoke an emotional response.

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