Barnstable students create art installation with climate change warning
A dozen Barnstable High School students are using art to warn the community about the impacts of sea level rise.
At Barnstable Harbor Marina last week, a group of 16-to-19-year-olds painted five wooden pilings to show where the mean high tide is today and where it could be with one, two, three, four, and five feet of sea level rise, which could happen by the end of the century as a result of climate change.
“I'm really bad with measurements. So when I hear two feet, I don't really know how high is the water going to be,” said Grace Simpkins, Woods Hole Sea Grant marine education specialist, who helped organize the students. “So the pilings are really for you to have a visual. When someone says to you, ‘Sea level rise in 20 years might be this much higher...,' I can look at that piling and see, ‘Oh, there's one foot, there's two feet, there's three feet, there's four feet.’”
Students broke into groups of two and three. At the first piling, they had to crouch low to paint a blue and yellow wave where high tide typically is in 2023. It was important, said Ethan Sonnabend, 16, for his class to paint in a highly visible place.
“So the sailors here will be able to see that their boat is next to this new informational piece, and they’ll look to see what it is. And then they could realize that it is the high tide and they realize that their boat will be under it,” he said. “And so maybe it'll push them to do something for their livelihood.”
Another group painted a wave where high tide will be with five feet of sea level rise — taking inspiration from a famous artist. Rose Bancroft, 17, had to reach above her head to put on the finishing touches.
“We are painting the Great Wave [off Kanagawa] by Hokusai,” she said. “This is the highest level, so we kind of wanted to have a little bit of a well-known, extravagant painting.”
Bancroft said she was struck by how sea level rise will transform the area.
“It's crazy to me because if you look at the harbor here, some of the buildings would be underwater. And the water would be really close to the road. So it would cause a lot of damage.”
Mike Smith, the environmental science teacher at Barnstable High School, has been working with his students to reach this moment since the beginning of the school year. He was left with the same feeling.
“I’m just looking at it right now and I'm like, ‘Wow, that's ridiculous,'” he said. “What's this place going to look like? Is that bridge going to get flooded out? What happens to Hyannis Harbor, Barnstable Harbor, any of our coastal beaches?"
Soon, Smith said, the class hopes to add signage next to the installation to complete the project and work on another art installation near Hyannis Harbor next fall.