Team Shrub at the Edinburgh Science Festival

April has been a very exciting time for Team Shrub in terms of science outreach – we have teamed up with digital artists and videographers to communicate the key findings of our research in the Arctic to an audience from Edinburgh and beyond. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Simon Sloan, Archie Crofton and ASCUS to go beyond traditional means of science communication and use beautiful photographs, data visualisations and hands-on workshops to prompt discussion on the rapid environmental changes occurring in the Arctic. In addition to our wonderful collaborators, our outreach work is hugely benefiting from the excellent photography skills of our own Team Shrub members Sandra Angers-Blondin, Jeff Kerby and Anne Bjorkman. The Edinburgh International Science Festival was the perfect occasion to bring together beautiful photos with cool artifacts from our fieldwork for an event under the theme of “Arctic from Above” – Team Shrub’s first exhibition!

Arctic from Above

Preparations for the exhibitions were filled with much joy and trepidation – with drone imagery, shrub rings, photos of tundra plants and wildlife, tea bags, muskox fur and more, the exhibition encompassed many of the reasons why we love Arctic research!

Weeks of careful consideration of themes, colours and order culminated in an exciting chance to share our work with everyone who came along to the opening nights. With many questions and discussions, the exhibition room was buzzing with curiosity and enthusiasm. We were thrilled to see so many people engage with the dramatic changes the Arctic is experiencing, and ask meaningful questions – it is always refreshing to think about your work from a different perspective, and we really appreciated our chats with the exhibition visitors.

The Summerhall War Memorial Gallery is a wonderful home for our creative outputs, and there is still plenty of time to check out the exhibition before it closes on the 12th May! The vibrant and diverse atmosphere of the Contemporary Connections events, among which our exhibition “Arctic form Above”, is also captured in the video below. In the video you can also see moments from our second contribution to Contemporary Connections – a visualisation of shrub growth by Simon Sloan!

Contemporary Connections: visualising data in innovative ways

Sandra’s shrub ring photos and growth data served as inspiration for digital artist Simon Sloan to create a captivating video of shrub growth through time. It was fascinating to see data represented in a new and different way, and we hope to be collaborating with Simon again in the future to continue pushing the boundaries of innovative science communication! We were very impressed to find out that behind the beautiful imagery there is… code! Of course, our own R code sometimes results in abstract renditions of data visualisation, but that’s usually the result of a coding error, not a purposeful desire to create patterns and shapes where there would usually just be data points. The next Edinburgh Science Festival event in which Team Shrub participated, “Dialogues with the artists” gave us a glimpse of how we can highlight the beauty in data through graphic design software and the Processing programming software.

Check out the video about the exhibition featuring Team Shrub:

Dialogues with the artists

Through a series of talks by scientists and artists and follow up questions, the public got the chance to learn how collaborations between two seemingly very different disciplines – science and art – come to be, and what are the challenges and benefits of such work. We enjoyed learning about our fellow Edinburgh School of GeoSciences researchers including Seb Hennige who study Scottish deep-sea cold-water coral reefs and their artistic collaboration with Hannah Imlach entitled ‘From the Dark Ocean Comes Light, among several other great art-science projects. Isla and Sandra talked about the key themes of our research, what it’s like to work in the Arctic, as well as how we collect data. Following from the introduction to the dramatic environmental changes occurring in high latitudes, Simon shared what it’s like to bring out the creative side of data – turns out there is data clean up and formatting regardless of whether you are using the data for research, or art! It was fantastic to see how we can go from shrub ring photos and rows of numbers via processing code to a captivating video of shrub growth!

Communicating through video

We have also teamed up with motion designer Archie Crofton to communicate the big questions that we are investigating in our research.  Archie has put together a series of video clips inspired by our drone ecology research using drones to link on-the-ground measurements of tundra vegetation change to satellite observations of the greening Arctic.


Our art-science collaboration has inspired us for more outreach and we are very keen to continue fostering a discussion on Arctic change among the wider public! We would like to thank the Global Environment & Society Academy Innovation Fund for helping us bring these projects to fruition.

Our next two outreach events at the Edinburgh Science Festival will be a more hands-on experience of what it’s like to use shrub rings as indicators of environmental change through time, as well as what it’s like to be a drone pilot and what new horizons drone technologies open up for ecology!

Contemporary Connections: Exploring the Art in Data – Saturday 1 April – Friday 12 May 2017 at Summerhall

Tundra shrubs – Arctic time machines, with Sandra Angers-Blondin – Wednesday 12 April 2017 11:00 and 14:30 at the ASCUS Lab in Summerhall

Researching with Drones: Meet the ExpertsSaturday 15 April 2017 10:00 AM at Our Dynamic Earth

By Gergana

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