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Water | Environment

Bringing Art To Narwhal Research In The Arctic

Two Seattle-based adventurers — one a scientist, the other an artist — are on an expedition to study and document narwhals in Arctic waters off the west coast of Greenland. 

As global temperatures rise and Arctic sea ice shrinks, scientists are trying to learn more about the creatures that call the Arctic home. Scientists like Kristin Laidre of the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center. She’s studying narwhals - those arctic whales known for their long spiraling unicorn horns.

“We’re really just filling in the gaps about how these animals survive. What do they do in the ice? How do they find food? How do they communicate? And then trying to piece that together to be able to make better predictions about the future in terms of how sea ice loss or ecosystem change will impact them,” she said.

Communicating about research that takes place in one of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet can be a challenge. But not if you have Maria Coryell-Martin along for your trip.

Coryell-Martin is an expeditionary artist. She’s traveled around the world painting in polar and glaciated regions. Her goal: to document and explore remote places with scientists and share the stories of the environment and the research through art.

Coryell-Martin has joined fellow Seattle-native Laidre on her research expedition in Western Greenland where they take a helicopter up to 100 miles out over the sea ice in hopes of spotting Narwhals and studying them more closely. Coryell-Martin says it’s a huge source of inspiration.

“It’s this remarkable environment of sparkling light, ice leads, cracks in the ice, patterns in the ice and the space and the quiet, vast sky — and occasionally a narwhal.”

She adds, the cold can make the scientific instruments “fussy” but not Coryell-Martin’s painting equipment.

“I think I have it a little easier because with my watercolors I typically just paint with vodka when I’m out there to lower the freezing temperature,” she chuckles.

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