Artist Records Glacier's Sounds from the Deep Before Vatnajokull Glacier disappeared into the ocean, artist Katie Paterson wanted to record its last gasps. The Glaswegian artist documented a week in the erosion of Europe's largest glacier using a microphone in the lagoon at the edge of the glacier.
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Artist Records Glacier's Sounds from the Deep

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Artist Records Glacier's Sounds from the Deep

Artist Records Glacier's Sounds from the Deep

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Europe's largest glacier is slowly slipping into the sea. The Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland is about the size of Delaware, but not forever. It's melting. Katie Paterson documented a week in the erosion of the glacier. Ms. Paterson is not a scientist. She's an artist, so she didn't collect data. She collected sound.

Ms. Paterson drops a microphone into the lagoon, at the edge of the glacier. And invited people to dial a phone number to listen. She created the project for her master's degree show at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Ms. KATIE PATERSON (Artist; Student, Slade School of Fine Art, London): I'd spend about six or seven months living in Iceland before I moved to London and so I visited a lot of these incredible places, volcanoes and glaciers. And then, in particular, in one of my trips I got a bit ill and so I was having some strange ideas and one of the ideas that I had was to film the glacier. And so when I came back to London, I just started investigating how on Earth do it.

ROBERTS: So you blame a fever?

Ms. PATERSON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PATERSON: That's right.

ROBERTS: And technologically, how does that work? What was the setup?

Ms. PATERSON: Well, I got fantastic help from a company called Dolfinir(ph). They're in America and London. And they sponsored the project and custom-made all the equipment. And it basically involves a hydrophone, which is an underwater microphone, and which hooks up to a kind of amplifier box, and there's a regular mobile phone connects to that, and then it goes on auto answer so that when people called, they'd get right through to the glacier after a few rings.

ROBERTS: Let's take a listen to some of the tape.

(Soundbite of glacial ice cracking)

ROBERTS: Now, can you tell us what we're hearing?

Ms. PATERSON: Well, the microphone was led into this massive lagoon called Jokull (unintelligible), which is an outlet of this Jokull Glacier. And then huge piece of icebergs are breaking off constantly into the lagoon and very slowly floating towards the sea. So what you're hearing is the kind of cracking in the ear that's been stuck in these icebergs for millions of years.

(Soundbite of glacial ice cracking)

ROBERTS: And were you there at the glacier or where you in a nice cozy hotel room in Reykjavik?

Ms. PATERSON: No. I was in a tent by the glacier.

ROBERTS: Really?

Ms. PATERSON: And unfortunately - well, no, unfortunately, it was a great trip. It was seven hours from Reykjavik. It's right in the middle of nowhere and 70 kilometers from a shop even. So we were in tents, right next to the glacier itself. And one of the tents housed all the equipment and the other one - me and my boyfriend were staying for the whole trip, just watching the equipment and keeping an eye on everything, was running okay.

ROBERTS: I have to say that's a nice boyfriend camping on the ice for a week to watch your equipment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PATERSON: I know. Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Katie Paterson is an artist living in London. She spoke with us from Paris. Thank you so much.

Ms. PATERSON: Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: This is NPR News.

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