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Da Vinci Of Data Art: Glacier Scientist Uses Watercolors To Highlight Environmental Issues

BOSTON (CBS) - With every stroke of Jill Pelto's brush, moments in time are captured before they literally melt away.

She's the Caravaggio of Climate Change and a Da Vinci of Data Art. Pelto is a glacier scientist and accomplished watercolor painter, blending two passions into what's turning into a masterpiece of a career.

Growing up in Worcester, Pelto wasn't exactly accustomed to seeing glaciers in her backyard. At an early age, Pelto drew inspiration from another glaciologist - her father - by tagging along on some of his research trips to Washington.

Jill Pelto
(Image courtesy Jill Pelto/@GlaciogenicArt)

She finds that her research speaks to people on a deeper level using her watercolor paintings. "People can see that visual, see that story behind [the landscape]", Pelto says. "I think that's the power that art has with story-telling and emotion."

Now 29, Pelto has been traveling to the Pacific Northwest for the last 13 years. This Summer was a bit different than previous trips.

Increasing Forest Fire Activity data art
"Increasing Forest Fire Activity" by Jill Pelto (Image courtesy Jill Pelto/@GlaciogenicArt)

"It was really emotional for me to see the impacts of those landscapes that I've known and grown to care for. And to see more powerfully, climate change first-hand. To see forest fire smoke, to see reservoirs and streams being low and the water warm," Pelto added.

Data art is defined as taking a data set (like melting glacier surface area), and applying it in a chart, infographic, or in Pelto's case... a canvas. The main purpose to make hard-to-visualize data a bit easier to interpret.

She's now completed about two dozen data art pieces, one of which was featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

"It's always so hard to know if you create something that speaks and communicates to people," says Pelto on her Time cover.

Pelto's pieces are undeniably unique, and her titles are pretty straightforward. In 2018, she created a painting called "Gulf of Maine Temperature Variability" based on, you guessed it, the variability of temperatures in the Gulf of Maine

Rising Mitigation data art
Rising Mitigation (Image courtesy Jill Pelto/@GlaciogenicArt)

While many artists paint pictures of dreams or nightmares, Pelto's paintings are that of our own shared reality.

She always tries to find the beauty in any situation. "[I try to] remember that no matter what, a lot of these landscapes will be here and still be beautiful. They'll be changing drastically throughout my lifetime and beyond. Recognizing that instead of denying it helps me a little bit," she adds.

Pelto's works will be featured in an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum next February.

If you're interested in her work or the stories behind the art, visit her website.

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