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Walking the Edge of the Earth

Eve Mosher’s art project HighWaterLine takes climate science to the streets.

Leila Christine Nadir

In 2007, environmental artist Eve Mosher read a report by Vivien Gornitz of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research and learned that parts of her home city of New York are increasingly likely to be inundated by seawater in coming decades. According to the report, areas along New York’s coast will experience what scientists call a “100-year flood” much more frequently than the name suggests. As climate change accelerates, these neighborhoods can expect 100-year floods every 40 years by the 2020s, every 20 years by the 2050s, and every 4 years by the 2080s.

Click to Enlarge ImageMosher wanted to know what these numbers mean for the people and places closest to her. What exactly is in the flood zone? What will be the impact of warming oceans and melting glaciers for specific communities? Frustrated that the report did not answer her questions, and worried about the absence of climate change from public debate, she decided to find a way to make the data feel more real. She wanted to connect climate science with the places where we live, work, and play.

For Mosher, art provides the crucial link: “Artists can create visceral and emotional connections that can make change possible in ways that data and reports cannot,” she says. In summer 2007, she set out on foot, equipped only with blue chalk and a chalk dispenser called a “Heavy Hitter,” and drew a line marking an elevation of 10 feet above sea level—the elevation of the 100-year floodplain—through more than 70 miles of Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s waterfronts.

Mosher’s blue line wove through the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Coney Island, Tribeca, Dumbo, the East Village, and beyond. It outlined schools, churches, and hospitals. It wound around playgrounds and apartment buildings. Her public art performance, titled HighWaterLine, drew crowds of art lovers, activists concerned about climate change, and curious bystanders wherever she went. The project gave tangible meaning to the climate data, prying them free from academic reports and embedding them directly into the landscape.

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