Groundwater on Broadway

Nineteen-thousand-square-foot screen to display winning design for HeadsUP! Times Square Visualization Challenge on World Water Day 2012.
Digital artists take note: your design for the HeadsUP! Times Square Visualization Challenge could be displayed on Broadway on March 12, 2012—World Water Day. (Photoshop Compilation: HeadsUP!)
Oct 9, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Can fact-backed art save a depleting natural resource? Digital media artist Peggy Weil sure hopes so. The organization she founded, HeadsUP!, has partnered with Visualizing.org, to challenge designers to visualize critical global issues, like climate change, by creating large-scale signs for public spaces.

The organization is currently accepting applications for its HeadsUP! Times Square Visualization Challenge, an animated, data-driven indicator that will alert the public to America’s deteriorating groundwater supply.

Premiering on March 22, 2012—that’s World Water Day—the spot will run for one month across 19,000 square feet of prime Time Square real estate. The Grand Prize winner, which will be announced on December 7, 2011, will receive $2,500 from General Electric.

“It is an opportunity to transform planetary data into a common sign that the masses can understand,” says Weil.

Hurry up, artists—the submission deadline for the contest is November 14. (Photo: HeadsUP!)

Roughly half the U.S. population depends on groundwater to supply its drinking water. Groundwater also provides approximately 50 billion gallons per day for agricultural needs.

"On nearly every continent, groundwater in aquifers is being drained faster than the natural rate of recharge,” notes Payal Sampat of the World Watch Institute.

In California, groundwater depletion is especially worrisome, according to Dr. James Famiglietti, the director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling.

From October 2003 to March 2010, aquifers under the Central Valley were drawn down by 25 million acre-feet—almost enough to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir.

“Unlike, say, stranded polar bears or glaciers, we all use fresh water every day,” says Weil. "But while we are familiar with water, groundwater is underground, out of sight, and for the most part out of mind.”

Moving the problem from the recesses of America's collective consciousness to a topic a conversation at dinner tables is one of Weil’s hopes for the eventual winning design.

“Displaying this kind of data is critical,” says Weil. “We need to get this type of information into channels that are not niche inboxes for specialized scientists, but into the public square for all our citizens to see.”

The submission deadline is November 14, 2011.