Meet our Newest Affiliated Artist, Adi Khen!


Our newest Affiliated Artist is Adi Khen, a PhD student in Marine Biology studying coral reef ecology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Check out the Q&A below to learn more about our coral-loving artist.

Climate Science Alliance (Alliance): What are you researching for your PhD? What inspired you to pick that topic to research?

Adi: I am interested in how coral reefs are responding to global climate change. Using a 9-year time series of permanent photoquadrats collected by my advisor, Dr. Jennifer Smith, on Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific, I am measuring coral bleaching, recovery, growth, and mortality through image analysis. In a way, my research is similar to my art in that I hand-trace borders of coral colonies and algal patches in Photoshop. Please see an example of an untraced and traced image below; I think it turns out resembling abstract art! I am inspired by the beauty and biodiversity found on coral reefs around the world, not to mention the important ecosystem services they provide. However, coral reefs are now threatened by the progression of climate change, and we need to improve our understanding of coral bleaching and recovery as well as raise public awareness of the topic.

Example of photoquadrat that was digitized in Photoshop to be able to extract planar areas of corals and algae and analyze their change over time.

Alliance: When/why did you begin using art to communicate?

Adi: Over the past few years I began drawing as an outlet to express myself and also deal with stress. While I started with hand-drawing, I soon taught myself to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create digital art. I have now drawn hundreds of species of scientifically-accurate seaweeds, fish, and marine invertebrates. Many of my drawings have been incorporated into talks, educational posters, and figures and I plan to continue to integrate art into my own research because I think it helps us to conceptualize complex systems such as coral reefs. It can also be an effective teaching tool especially in this digital age, and my goal is to eventually create lesson plans for students with my art, as well as other outreach products.

Alliance: What role does climate change play in your life and your art? What was your "climate moment" - the moment that made you want to do something about climate change?

Adi: My research is essentially about the impact of climate change on coral reefs, and my art often shows how climate change could affect reefs as we know them. What motivates me is that we still have the potential to make a difference: in some cases, corals can recover from bleaching and reef health can be restored when appropriate steps are taken toward minimizing climate change impacts.

Alliance: What marine organism is your favorite? At the moment, of course.

Adi: I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite marine organism, but I’m partial to sea hares (sea slugs that I raise as pets in the lab).

Coral bleaching infographic.

Transition from a healthy reef dominated by corals and other calcifying organisms to a degraded reef with fleshy organisms and diseased, bleached or dead corals.

Algae mandala design.

Brown, green, and red algae. The arrangement was inspired by Ernst Haeckel's scientific illustrations.

We are looking forward to showcasing Adi’s work in upcoming “Art of Change” shows. Stay tuned!

Learn more about our Affiliated Artists here.

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