WAIS Reliquary: 68,000 Years

Video of Installation on Vimeo

In January 2012, after ten years of planning and work, scientists completed drilling a 3405 meters core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (http://www.waisdivide.unh.edu/). It is one of the deepest and most detailed ice cores ever retrieved. Data from the study of this ice is redefining our understanding of the climate record.
In 2009-10, I visited the WAIS Divide Ice Core field camp (1) and was struck by the scale of time and space that the Ice Core represents. The WAIS Reliquary sculpture acts as a shrine and permanent memorial of this project, symbolically recapturing samples taken from the depths of the ice sheet and drawing connections between the secular and sacred.


For WAIS Reliquary,I created 3405 borosilicate glass ampules at the University of Washington’s IsoLab. They were filled and sealed with 0.2ml of water from each meter of the WAIS Divide Ice Core. These ampule “relics” were then prepared and sewn to 678 silk panels, each panel representing 100 years of ice.
The length and width of each panel is dictated by the isotope measurement (a proxy for temperature) and by the number of meters of ice per 100 year, based on data from Eric Steig’s research at University of Washington (see 2 below). It is a silent and abstracted representation of 68,000 years of temperature. The sculpture is 22 ft. long x 14.5 in. deep x 9 ft. high. Materials include silk, glass, glacier water, wood frame.

Detail, installed at Nevada Museum of Art

Detail, installed at Nevada Museum of Art

In addition, Seattle composer/sound artist Steve Peters has created a multi-channel soundscape made from the electronically-processed sounds of the glass ampules used in the visual work, referencing the crystalline qualities of ice and the vertical representation of geological time implied by the drilled ice core.  Steve has many years of experience making site-specific audio installations based on environmental sound and natural phenomena. He has a long history of collaboration with artists working in other disciplines, presenting these works in museums, galleries, and public places.

Listen to a sample of it on his BandCamp page.

Peters recording, studio installation.

Peters recording, studio installation.


Detail – Installed at Nevada Museum of Art

Detail – installed at Nevada Museum of Art

detail - installed at Nevada Museum of Art

detail – installed at Nevada Museum of Art


  • National Science Foundation’s Antarctica Artists and Writers Program provided in-kind support for my travel to West Antarctica.
  • Steig et al., Nature Geoscience (2013); WAIS Divide Project Members, Nature (2013 & 2015).