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These time-keeping paintings capture the disappearing glaciers

PHILADELPHIA — After artist Diane Burko flew over Lake Powell toward the Grand Canyon in the 1970s, she began her first great landscape series, which inspired years of work depicting large-scale geological spaces like volcanoes and snow caps. But in 2006, when Burko questioned if the snow caps still had snow on them, she launched herself into a scientific investigation of the world’s changing environment.

In an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, Burko portrayed Grinnell Glacier in Montana in four time periods between 1920 and 2006, where the glacier loses mass in each painting. A new exhibit that displays a selection of her paintings and photography will be available to view at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia later this month.

“Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych,” (2009) by Diane Burko. Photo courtesy of Diane Burko

“Glacier National Park had 150 glaciers way back when they named them. Now there are only 25,” Burko told WHYY. “Repeat photography was the way geologists learned how to track it visually and of course that’s what I’m doing.”

In the last 10 years, Burko’s work has focused on the issue of melting glaciers due to climate change and, most recently, coral reefs. Through boldly-colored mixed media, utilizing maps and scientific data, she’s educating people about the ocean’s rising temperature and it’s associated implications.

“What I’m interested in is melding information with aesthetics,” she said. “I’m sharing the information and I’m sharing the urgent issue about climate change because it’s urgent.”

This report originally appeared on WHYY’s “Movers & Makers.”

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, it was incorrectly stated that the new exhibit would be on view in Washington, D.C.; it will be shown in Philadelphia at the American Swedish Historical Museum.

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