In 2000, UChicago Prof. Doug MacAyeal tracked the world’s largest iceberg, called B-15, as it broke off from an ice shelf in Antarctica. MacAyeal placed seismic sensors into the iceberg that recorded the seismic groans created when the chunks scraped past each other.
Humans can’t hear these seismic spikes, but sped up and set into speakers to vibrate correspondingly, the recordings produce a set of sounds that range from faintly eerie to outright alarming.
For the next month, these creaks will provide the soundtrack to an immersive public art installation along the Chicago River that makes it appear that the famed Art Deco building at 2 North Riverside Plaza has cracked in half, mimicking an iceberg.
The installation, called “White Wanderer,” opened Sept. 7 and aims to bring the realities of climate change in Antarctica to Chicago. The brainchild of Luftwerk, the Chicago-based artistic collaboration of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, the piece maps the 120-mile crack that formed last year in the Antarctican ice shelf Larsen C before it broke off as a massive iceberg in July 2017.
“I think it’s a wonderful, dramatic piece that really taps the natural curiosity people have about icebergs,” said MacAyeal, a professor in geophysical sciences, who for decades has conducted research on glaciers in Antarctica. “We need to have more people than just scientists advocating and talking to regular people about climate change, and art brings meaning that science alone cannot express.”