Visualizing the invisible through art

Visualizing the invisible through art

authored by Grant Ferguson

Groundwater is often thought of as out of sight out of mind and has even been accused of being not photogenic. The typical visualization tools used by hydrogeologists include maps, cross-sections and graphs. These can be effective, especially amongst ourselves, but it is difficult to invoke the sort of emotional response that is typical from seeing other hydrologic features such as waterfalls, lakes and coastlines. Recently, Dr. Jennifer McIntosh and I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Louise Arnal, a postdoctoral fellow in computational hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, who also happens to be an exceptional artist. Following a series of conversations on recent research by Dr. McIntosh and me and our ideas on the groundwater systems, Dr. Arnal put together a series of linoprints and watercolour illustrations conveying a range of ideas, concepts and puzzles on groundwater systems, which became the exhibit in “Deep Time” in The Virtual Water Galley.

       The result was striking in many ways and communicates the story of groundwater with far more emotion than I have ever been able to with scientific papers, maps and graphs. Having an artist create something from how Dr. McIntosh and I envision groundwater systems was an incredible experience. I can’t help but wonder what other ideas on groundwater are waiting to be communicated this way and highly recommend that hydrogeologists collaborate with artists if the opportunity arises.

Connections from “Deep Time” by Louise Arnal with Grant Ferguson and Jennifer C. McIntosh

Groundwater—the world’s largest freshwater store— is a life-sustaining resource that supplies water to billions of people, plays a central part in irrigated agriculture and influences the health of many ecosystems. Water Underground is a groundwater nerd blog written by a global collective of hydrogeologic researchers for water resource professionals, academics and anyone interested in groundwater, research, teaching and supervision. The blog, started by Tom Gleeson and managed by Xander Huggins, is the first blog hosted on both the EGU blogs and the AGU blogosphere.

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