The newest addition to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s (OMSI) educational repertoire is an exhibit that seeks to educate visitors about permafrost. Now open to the public, Under the Arctic: Digging into Permafrost addresses the subject of climate change as viewed through the lens of a thawing arctic using exciting interactive features such as an Alaskan permafrost tunnel replica, fossil research stations and interactive games.
The exhibit, a collaborative effort between OMSI and the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), transports visitors to the Arctic using the sights and smells of the nation’s only permafrost research tunnel. Visitors step into the boots of climate science researchers to explore real Ice Age fossils, ancient ice cores, and engineering challenges posed by thawing permafrost.
“Climate change can be hard to wrap your head around. For a lot of people who don’t experience its effects, it feels abstract or distant – like something in the future,” said Allyson Woodard, an exhibit developer with OMSI. “This exhibit is an opportunity to make the impacts of climate change tangible - you can see it, touch it, and even smell it.”
Permafrost is soil that has been frozen for at least two years, and it traps an enormous amount of carbon dioxide. As it thaws, carbon is released into the atmosphere, which in turn has drastic repercussions for the planet. This exhibit strives to educate visitors about permafrost’s fascinating characteristics and its greater implications.
“We’ve thought a lot about the emotional journey in this exhibit. We know that climate change can be scary or confusing, so we’ve taken into consideration how to guide people to a place of hope,” said Nancy Stueber, president and CEO of OMSI. “I hope that in the end, people come away with a sense of empowerment and self-advocacy – the idea that I may not be able to change the world necessarily, but there are small things I can to do to contribute to the greater good.”
In order to create a fully immersive environment, OMSI contracted expert exhibit sculptor Jonquil LeMaster to construct the 30-foot-long replica of an Alaskan permafrost research tunnel. LeMaster, whose extensive credits include habitats for the San Diego Zoo and installations for the Sacramento Airport, believes that the tunnel will heighten the visitor experience.
“People are the most moved when something in their world moves them,” said LeMaster. “Hopefully this exhibit is powerful enough, beautiful enough, interesting enough, that anyone would look at it and be moved somehow. Is that possible? Aren’t we moved by the world around us? I know I certainly am.”