Vis-a-thon 2021

Breathing Through Time Across the Mid-Pleistocene Transition


Basia Marcks Doctoral student, University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography


Zachary Scheinfeld MFA Candidate, Rhode Island School of Design, Graphic Design


Emma Hogarth

This interactive installation allows viewers to experience the last one million years of Earth's climate as recorded in the chemistry of deep-sea sediments from the Southern Ocean. Our visualization incorporates data about glacial and interglacial transitions to create an immersive experience for viewers, inviting them to engage with the subtle, nuanced differences between subsets of geological time.


I started this project hoping to create a straightforward schematic which I could use in presentations and publications. I hoped to showcase the location of my sample site and the surrounding ocean variables that govern what is deposited in the sediments through time. When I got in contact with Zach and heard his ideas I quickly shifted my focus to creating a more abstract presentation of my data. I learned about different plotting/projection software and conductive paint. The idea of experiencing my research in an immersive way was very appealing and we decided on an interactive projection installation.

Basia Marcks

The project became more abstract in its presentation but the way Zach programmed the visuals meant that elements like color, speed, and size could be directly scaled to Basia's data. This meant that while the visuals were more abstract they actually maintained the numeric integrity of my data in a way that a schematic could not. This helped Basia sees the data in a completely different way.

I could see cooling as the visuals became bluer, and I could see glacial-interglacial cycles extend in length, essentially seeing our planet breathe more slowly as the shapes slowed their pace. I then subset my time series into four discrete intervals for us to display.

As I sat with my data, I identified slices of time in which the Southern Ocean behaved in a unique way. I was able to identify different episodes throughout this transition that helped me better understand the sequence of events that occur leading up to, during, and after this climate transition. This helped me better understand my data and the interval of time that I study in a way that I had not previously thought of.

Basia Marcks

The installation consists of projections on four panels. One for each subset of time, displayed at different angles but all gesturing towards the audience. As viewers roam through the space, the projections slowly transition between different climatic transitions, using animation methods like speed, layering, and repetition, all generated through site-specific data, to convey the ocean's unique behavior as it relates to global climate.

Final Projection Installation

This immersive projection installation is a unique way to allow people to connect with Earth’s past in a novel way. It is a new medium for Baisa to help to communicate his research with a broad audience, allowing people to experience past climate in an all-encompassing and interactive environment.

This installation presents data in a way that maintains its integrity but is not as straightforward as a typical science graphic or plot. Which makes it more appealing and less intimidating to someone who is not familiar with this type of research. On the other hand, by showing the data in the abstract form scientists are able to find different trends in the data set.

Generative design can be extremely powerful not only as a making tool but as an educational tool for engaging with and learning from a specific body of research. Basia had extremely specific observations about her research subject that we used to inform the parameters of our design. Her thinking, that informed by years of research, clarified our design objectives and made it easier to create a generative rule set that we used as a framework for our installation.”

Zachary Scheinfeld


The projections are cast on different surfaces by the audience's interaction with the control board. The control board enables selecting a particular slice of time to experience.

ZACHARY My interests are in the area of generative design; an iterative design process that creates outputs from a ruleset and a group of variables. This process often involves creating a generative program through coding. One major challenge I’ve faced in this area is finding a way to inject a personality or concept into an otherwise very rigid, process-driven approach to design.

Tools Used in the Project

p5.js Mad Mapper Bare Conductive Circuit Board  Foam Core Short-throw Projector


© Breathing Through Time Across the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, 2021

This material is based upon work supported in part by the National Science Foundation under EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.