Jill Pelto is an artist and scientist whose work focuses on communicating human-environment connections. She incorporates scientific research and data into watercolor paintings to create visual narratives about climate change.
Jill grew up in Massachusetts and currently resides in Maine. She has B.A. degrees in Studio Art and Earth and Climate Sciences. Her M.S. focused on studying the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in a warming world. This diverse background has allowed her to create artwork that engages broad audiences with climate change data. Because climate change can be difficult to verbalize and visualize, Jill hopes her work will encourage open dialogue about human impacts at different scales. Jill’s work has inspired online features in Smithsonian, PBS News Hour, and National Geographic. She recently created a custom data-art painting for the cover of TIME Magazine in July 2020. Her data art is also being used in K-12 curriculum programs across the U.S. and Canada. Most recently she has exhibited in Maine, New Mexico, and New York.
Habitat Degradation: Arctic Melt shows Arctic sea ice data from 1980 to present. Rapid warming in the Arctic has caused the sea ice area to decline so quickly that species cannot adjust. The Arctic fox is small and extraordinarily resilient to the most severe cold. They can withstand the frigid north and thus have this corner of the world in which to hunt. But when the temperatures mellow, competition from larger species could overcome them, as other species move further north to escape their own warming environment. I painted the Arctic foxes to look cornered and skittish. One is hunched and defensive, the other is yowling in panic. The sea ice, from which they are separated, is spaced out by large expanses of dark blue water absorbing the sun’s heat.
Habitat Degradation: Deforestation uses data showing the decline in rainforest area from 1970 to 2010. These lush ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes, and with them, millions of beautiful species. I’m quite certain that anyone would agree that a tiger is a magnificent creature, yet how many people realize that they are critically endangered? For this series I chose to separate the animals from their habitat, because that is ultimately what we are doing. The tiger is trapped outside the forest, cornered. He is defensive and angry that we are sealing his fate.
Habitat Degradation: Ocean Acidification contains ocean pH data from 1998 to 2012. The decreasing pH is due to atmospheric carbon dissolving into the ocean, and creating carbonic acid, which means a more acidic ocean. This has harmful effects on all marine life. Studies on clownfish show that more acidic water alters how their brains’ process information. This affects their ability to avoid predators by detecting noises and find their way home. Ocean water has a lower pH than a fish’s cells, so they take in carbonic acid in order to be in harmony with their environment. Even a small drop in pH requires fish to expend much more energy in order to equilibrate, and this energy is taken from other necessary functions. The clownfish in my watercolor are grouped in confusion, separated from the anemone in which they live. The oceans may be vast, but if pH drops globally, there is literally nowhere marine life can go, they are confined to the water.