So often the data showing the ecological impacts of climate change are presented in graphs, tables or complex pages of text. However, a collaboration by two Stanford PhD candidates has created a sonification of forest change over two summers in Alaska. Each tree species is represented by a different instrument in the first piece, whereas the second piece of music is the yellow-cedar and the increasing silence is the sound of climate change. The silence is the areas with dead yellow-cedar, killed by warming temperatures and outcompeted by other tree species. Quite a haunting piece.
The Alexander Archipelago, a 300-mile-long sweep of islands off the southeastern coast of Alaska, is known for its isolation, its heavy rain, and its thick, ancient forests of hemlock, pine, spruce, and yellow-cedar. Yellow-cedar, which John Muir called a “truly noble tree,” has long been prized for its fine-grained, butter-colored wood. But over the past century, as average temperatures have risen, shrinking spring-snow cover has exposed more and more of the species’s shallow roots to freezing temperatures, and yellow-cedars have been dying off. Because the tree was and is used for so many human purposes—canoe paddles, ceremonial carvings, even bridges—the disruption is both ecological and cultural.