• Natalie Marsh

Adriane Colburn visualizes river flooding over time

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the New Jersey Council on the Arts have come together to commission four artists (as part of a larger campaign) to create temporary art installations that help to visualize coastal risk caused by climate change. Adriane Colburn’s project will be sited in a park along the Passaic River that is designed to withstand floods, which the Passaic has done historically and with increasing frequency.

Adriane had proposed to make a series of high tide markers to be located at the beach and in response to sea level rise, but the consortium ended up moving her project to the river which is both a tidal zone and a site that floods more frequently due to increasing rainfall. New Jersey now has 15% more rain that it used to, often falling all at once during more intense storms. Excessive concrete and development along rivers, increased rainfall, warming temperatures (of 5 degrees) and sea level rise, have all contributed to greater risk of flooding. New Jersey has seen some of the biggest changes in the contiguous US due to climate change, including the highest temperature swings, among other events.

The work Adriane will be installing consists of two posts made from a ship’s mast. The first is a gauge to measure past and future floods. The second is a data visualization piece that has been turned on a lathe. The form of the post is defined by measurements made by a nearby US Geological Survey waste gauge that measures how much water is coursing through the river at any time. The data goes back to 1895 so you can see how water levels have changed over time. Each year is carved into the lathe-turned post at a different width and painted a color that corresponds to the average temperature of that year. Through this work one can see the intersection of temperature change, increased water levels, and heightened frequency of flooding – the top 45 floods have mostly happened since 1990 (with a few outliers).

The project was slated to be installed in September, but during Hurricane Ida the site flooded and was under five feet of water. Also noteworthy: the county’s historic collections sustained huge amounts of damage due to the flooding. Adriane and the consortium are now scheduled to install the project at the end of October. At around the same time, The State of the Arts, a PBS show on art in New Jersey will be airing a mini-documentary about the projects.

Visit Adrian Colburn's ViVA Artist Page

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