Science & Art

From the first Maine Science Festival (MSF) in 2015, arts organizations have been a vital partner to the MSF, providing a way to introduce science in a format that was inviting and different from most ways people learn about science. Through this kind of programming, collaborative projects have arisen out of the connections made at every MSF and continuing today. Our most ambitious project has been a direct result of our collaboration with the arts: In January 2019, the MSF commissioned Composer Lucas Richman to write The Warming Sea – a symphonic exploration of hope in the face of the climate crisis, with the planned world premiere at the 2020 Maine Science Festival. 

To assist Richman, the MSF arranged a series of discussions between Richman and experts up and down the coast of Maine, so that he could learn about their work as they address the ravages of climate change.

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Collaborators

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, nonprofit research institute located in East Boothbay, Maine. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, Bigelow Laboratory scientists use innovative approaches to study the foundation of global ocean health and unlock its potential to improve the future for all life on our planet. Bigelow’s primary research focus is on the microbial life and biogeochemical dynamics of the world’s ocean, advancing society’s understanding of the interactions between ocean ecosystems, global processes, and the environment.

 

Friends of Casco Bay is a community of people who care about Casco Bay. Their mission is to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Concerned citizens formed Friends of Casco Bay/Casco Baykeeper® in 1989, after a report identified the waters as one of the most polluted regions in the nation. Friends of Casco Bay works to keep Casco Bay blue through monitoring the health of the Bay, inspiring residents and businesses to take care of our coastal waters, supporting efforts to reduce pollution, and advocating for strong protections for the Bay. Climate Change Institute (CCI), University of Maine is one of the oldest climate research units in the United States and among the first with a multi- and inter-disciplinary focus. CCI is a global leader in climate change research, with CCI investigations spanning the last 2 million years to the present. CCI has a legacy of major scientific contributions to understanding the timing, causes, and mechanisms of natural and human-forced climate change, and on the effects of physical and chemical climate changes on the biological, economic, social, and political conditions of humans and the ecosystem. 

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A message from Kate Dickerson

I love science and scientists; I studied chemistry as an undergrad, and I've spent my professional life surrounded by scientists and engineers, using my education in science while working on  everything from environmental cleanups, to policy work, to producing public science events. I think scientists are our unsung heroes, working to figure out the world around us with a passion that few get to see. I am also a huge fan of the arts, but my love for them borders more on awe. Artists of all kinds are able to convey ideas and passions in a way that I find inspiring and magical, all the more so because it is so foreign to my background and training. One of the major areas of scientific investigation and expertise in Maine is climate change, with internationally renowned researchers at the forefront of climate change research. It was some of those scientists who confirmed that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the oceans, and it’s other scientists and experts who are exploring exactly what this means for Maine and the world. Personally, I’ve known about climate change since the late 1980’s - back when we called it “global warming” -  however, I didn’t realize that I was part of only a small minority of people who knew it was happening. And while the fact of climate change has only recently been accepted, we still have a difficult time communicating the science of climate change, including what we know, what it means, and what we can do. This has improved in the last 20 months, but only because we have so far to go. I believe we need more visceral ways to understand climate change than science alone has been able to provide. That is what inspired me to have the Maine Science Festival commission Lucas Richman to write The Warming Sea. Everyone involved in this project believes in the power of truth and how it is the basis for building a strong foundation that the next steps can be built upon. And by providing both an interpretation of the science along with suggestions of concrete actions that the audience members can take individually and as a collective, we hope to provide the audience will have the tools needed tothe ability to begin to address the climate crisis in their own lives and across communities. This won’t be easy. I have a deep appreciation for the immense amount of time and expertise provided by the scientists and artists for this project. This merger of scientific and artistic expertise has already helped us reach a wider audience than we would have been able to with science or art alone. The willingness of the artists and scientists to be a part of this project, coupled with their excitement and enthusiasm, has made for a truly dynamic experience already and provides a deep hope in me that this project will continue forward and be used by other symphonies and public science events to talk about climate change and the climate crisis and lead us to do our part.

Kate Dickerson

Founder & Director Maine Science Festival

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The science

“If I were a lobster, to me it would be

stressful, chaotic, sort of frenetic... heart

racing... because these are all really

stressful conditions.”

Heather Hamlin, University of Maine

Annual average SST anomalies for the Gulf of Maine, compared to the world, as a whole. Light gray line indicates daily SST anomaly in the Gulf of Maine; black dots and lines indicate the annual mean SST anomaly for the Gulf of Maine; the solid blue line is the trend in the Gulf of Maine SST anomaly for the full timeseries, just as the dotted green line shows the same metric but for the whole world https://www.gmri.org/stories/gulf-of-maine-warming-update-summer-2021/.

What did Lucas Learn science-wise? What was the scientific result? How do you help a deeply accomplished composer learn about climate change in 4 months? What science do you talk about? We decided on the equivalent of a crash course in these areas: What towns & organizations are doing to address climate change from moving services and buildings to increasing the amount of buffer to rising waters via ecosystems like salt marshes.

The music

The Warming Sea, for women’s chorus, children’s chorus and orchestra, is the result of a rich collaboration between the scientific and artistic communities of Maine. The central section of the work is two hundred measures in length in recognition of the State of Maine’s Bicentennial celebration (2020). Every bar in this section represents a year of temperature variance in the Gulf of Maine (1820-2019) with the variances informing each measure’s pitch center.  The women’s chorus takes on the role of the mythological Sirens, with a little bit of an update: in the context of The Warming Sea the Sirens sing as climate change deniers whose alluring messages of complacency ensure an ultimate doom to those who listen. The Sirens sing these words in Greek, the language of the myth’s origin, and, with a contrary polarization of the “Truth,” their melody is the direct pitch inversion of the children’s anthem. Blasting forward into 2020, all the musical elements come to a full collision of forces as clanging harbor bells foreshadow the children’s appeal for hope. The women, shedding their role as Sirens, join with the children’s choir for the final message found in the concluding anthem, “Hope Begins With Truth”. It charges today’s global population with the responsibility of enacting change based upon the undeniable truths presented in climate science in order for there to be hope for generations to come. peering into the future with uncertainty as the work concludes upon the same unresolved chord with which the piece begins.

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Hope Begins with Truth
A message from Lucas Richman

When Kate Dickerson, Founder and Director of the Maine Science Festival, commissioned me to compose a musical work examining the effects of climate change in the Gulf of Maine and its destructive impact on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, I could not have imagined the scope of the journey upon which we were both about to embark. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of all the world’s oceans and I realized that, for the piece to be more than just an emotional response to an issue about which I knew very little beyond normal news consumption, it would be imperative for me to become better educated about global warming and the multitude of efforts being employed to head it off at the pass.

Kate arranged a series of discussions for me with numerous scientists and town managers by which I might learn about their work as they focus on the ravages of climate change upon the environment, be it on land or on the ocean. Each interview was an invaluable contribution to a sort-of personal graduate-level seminar with every bit of information becoming wound into a fabric imprinted with patterns and images not yet in focus. How was I going to translate reams of data and experiences into musical notes—and to what end?

 

The answer came as a result of the multiple outreach visits we also made to middle school classes before I had written one note of the piece. We spoke to the students about climate science and the process of composing a new symphonic work. Towards the end of each session, I posed the question, “What would you, as the next generation, like the final message of this piece to be?” Across the board, it became clear the students wished the piece could inspire hope for their generation and future generations. This understanding became the basis for the message sung by the children as an anthem in the final moments of the work: “Hope begins with Truth.” In other words, accept the science and future generations might have a fighting chance against the rapidly encroaching disaster before us.

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Adaptation

Climate change and the crisis that is unfolding is the single biggest threat to human life on earth, yet we are only just starting to really grapple with the vast impact it will have. Scientists have been studying the impact of climate change since 1938, and have known of it as a theory since the 1850s. Even though the science itself is long-settled, the “general public” remains mostly unable to discuss and address the vast impact of the climate crisis. This is a deep challenge for the global community: climate change has not (until recently) been recognized by the public as an existential threat in the same way that other threats like smallpox, the ozone hole, and even the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have been.

As part of The Warming Sea event, we will be providing our audience with actions that they can do now to address the climate crisis. These actions, relying on research and curated by experts, will include both individual and systemic actions that are necessary to help address the climate crisis now. In addition to providing information for the headliner audience, the MSF will be reaching out to our international network of public science events with a programming package that they can use and build off of to present a similar program in their community. Additionally, Richman and the BSO will reach out to their nationwide network of orchestras and musicians with the same programming package. We hope to have at least two other partner groups signed up/interested in performing The Warming Sea package within a year following the world premiere.

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