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Earth Science

Famous Paintings Help Study the Earth's Past Atmosphere 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the color-of-things dept.
houghi (78078) writes "From European Geosciences Union: 'A team of Greek and German researchers has shown that the colours of sunsets painted by famous artists can be used to estimate pollution levels in the Earth's past atmosphere. In particular, the paintings reveal that ash and gas released during major volcanic eruptions scatter the different colours of sunlight, making sunsets appear more red.' The original paper can be found here. In the last 150 years, the sunsets have become redder, likely reflecting increased man-made pollution."
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Famous Paintings Help Study the Earth's Past Atmosphere

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  • by generic_screenname (2927777) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:35AM (#46614693)
    At least, according to Van Gogh.
  • by buzzsawddog (1980902) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:40AM (#46614737) Journal
    Because we know they never used artistic license to paint something that is less than realistic...
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:47AM (#46615051)

      . . . so let me take a quick look at my works from Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Rene Magritte . . .

      Rothko - There's pollution in the atmosphere, but it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.

      Pollock - The world's fucked.

      Lichtenstein - The atmosphere is comical.

      Magritte - The sky looks fine . . . but it is in the face of a scary looking guy in a black suit.

      Science and art . . . quite a powerful combination! What do creationist believe about the world's atmosphere . . . did God create it polluted? Or did it start with that eviction deal over a terms of use dispute with the Garden of Eden . . . ?

    • by bluegutang (2814641) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @02:10PM (#46615819)

      And because we know artists from past centuries had access to exactly the same paints and color ranges that we do today...

    • by s.petry (762400) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @02:29PM (#46615891)

      This!!

      One of my many studies in life has been art. I paint in oils and acrylics, and even took a few college courses. Very few painters are "realists" and even back 3000 years ago we knew about how to use colors for effect, not realism.

      Sure, sculpting was one of those things where the ancient Greek artists tried to be as realistic as possible. At the same time, paintings of Hermes and Zeus indicate that not everything required the same level of realism (unless of course someone wishes to argue that the Ancient Greeks "saw" their gods.). Trying to measure the atmosphere based on pictures of Hermes seems pretty silly to me.

      Lets also not forget that even with realism, many things can give the sunset or sunrise in a nice red hue (storm on the horizon anyone?). The pollution in the atmosphere is just one of countless things that could cause the sky to have a red hue. I really hope that people are not calling this "science".

      • by Agent0013 (828350)

        >

        Lets also not forget that even with realism, many things can give the sunset or sunrise in a nice red hue (storm on the horizon anyone?). The pollution in the atmosphere is just one of countless things that could cause the sky to have a red hue. I really hope that people are not calling this "science".

        Plus, the artist would probably be expected to choose a scene they felt warranted the time and effort to paint it. Boring dull horizon. . . yeah, I'll paint that one! Bright colorful horizon. . . naw, why waste my time! If there was same reason to expect that every type of sky was equally represented in the paintings then this theory could hold some water, but I don't see how you could expect that to be. If they were constantly running weather cams or something, then it would work.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And the pigments, they have changed. Industrial tube colors came about 150 years ago as well. The amount of aerosols have reduced significantly during the last decades over Europe due to environmental regulation, while in some other places they have likely increased quite significantly.

    • by fufufang (2603203)

      And because we know the artistic style for sunsets remain stable over the years...

  • Dear Hippies, (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "Pollution" is what happens when living things do stuff. Pollution is not bad, per se... it is a fact of life. Demonizing "pollution" is the way of the intellectually unsophisticated or lazy. It is how we deal with pollution that is ever the issue.

    • Our goal should still be to limit pollution to what is absolutely necessary and not overdo it. Along the golden rule that your actions should not impose more harm upon others than entirely necessary (because by the very nature of existence it is impossible to have no negative impact on everyone all the time).

  • Surely photography would be a better reference - I'm assuming that the vast majority of 'globally influencing' pollution would have occurred after colour photography became popular.

    • Surely photography would be a better reference - I'm assuming that the vast majority of 'globally influencing' pollution would have occurred after colour photography became popular.

      "King Edward I of England banned the burning of sea-coal by proclamation in London in 1272, after its smoke became a problem."
      So how far back to you think color photography goes?


      (1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

  • Clutching at straws (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LongearedBat (1665481) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:11AM (#46614853)

    The climate debate is pretty much settled: humans are responsible for (at least) most of the current climate shock.

    But this is just silly. Art is subjective, even for the artist. And even if all artists always painted with perfect colours that don't change over time, artists don't paint sunsets on a regular basis, but rather irregularly, such as when they're extra pretty.

    This sort of study makes AGW proponents look desperate, and that's not a good way to convince people who prefer to stick their heads in the sand.

    • > But this is just silly. Art is subjective, even for the artist. And even if all artists always painted with perfect colours that don't change over time, artists don't paint sunsets on a regular basis, but rather irregularly, such as when they're extra pretty.

      Do read the article. They measured red-green _ratios_. Since much of color vision is based on the contrast between objects, and since they measured changes in the same artist's work from year to year, this seems a very reasonable way of measuring c

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stumbles (602007)
        "... the existence of those striking sunsets is, in itself, often a sign of artificial or natural pollution altering the sunsets."

        Or just their fucking imagination, geesh what mental gyrations "scientists" and the holy believers will go through to "support" their religion.

        • > Or just their fucking imagination, geesh what mental gyrations "scientists" and the holy believers will go through to "support" their religion.

          Well, yes. That's why the researchers looked for artists who tried to do "realistic" work, and compared over years of work by the same artist, and checked for the contrast levels, rather than the direct color. It's actually quite good work based on how human eyes and minds perceive color, as _contrasts_ rather than as absolute values.

    • by Smauler (915644)

      Everyone seems to be assuming that this paper is about global warming. It's not.

      The pollutants that they are talking about generally lead to cooling of the climate, as evidenced by the climate change observed after major volcanic eruptions. Just because it talks about pollution, does not necessarily mean it's equatable to global warming. In most of the western world, these airborne pollutants are now at a much lower level than they were a hundred years ago.

  • We get it, you are climate change believers.... can we move on.... please.
    • This has nothing to do with climate change. Climate change is focused on CO2. This study is focused on dust (aerosols) and other things that we know are in the air.

      Really, 'air pollution' is not equivalent to 'climate change.' The pollutants mentioned here will actually cool the earth.
    • We get it, you are climate change believers.... can we move on.... please.

      That's an awkward turn of phrase - 'climate change believer' , like calling someone who drives a car an 'oxidation believer' or someone who is careful on a ladder a 'gravity believer'.

      In any case, no, we won't stop discussing an important topic just because it makes you uncomfortable. And it will continue to have import for hundreds of years, although I suspect if we bit the bullet and did something now the discussion later would be less fraught - like pulling a painful tooth.

      Ironically of course, the

  • ...it's Instagram filters.

    I guess either way the planet is going to end up uninhabitable - we may not choke to death on smog, we'll be overrun by hipsters. God, what an awful way to go.

  • John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who has written: “I’m sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see.”
  • wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:36AM (#46614997)

    When I read the title I thought to my self "That's a clever way to word something, so people will be outraged, read the article and then find that it's really about them sampling paint and finding pollutants there." But no, it was as ridiculous as the title suggested. Can we revoke their science card?

    • Can we revoke their science card?

      You'd revoke their science card for what the authors freely admit is a "tentative proposal"? And based on, what, your hunch that what they describe is too good to be true?

      They sampled red-green ratios from various painters, compared it to historical pollution data and found a correlation. They got an artist to paint before and after a dust event (of which he was unaware) and found a similar correlation. Doesn't sound that far-fetched to me. Will it "help study the Earth’s past atmosphere" as the headl

      • They sampled red-green ratios from various painters, compared it to historical pollution data and found a correlation.

        Good God. Seriously? Really wonkey_monkey? You're willing to give these idiota the benefit of the doubt because... they found a correlation? I know what happens next: The correlation becomes a model, the model predicts utter doom for mankind, possibly, but first more money is needed to fund further research!

        They should be fired for brining science into disrepute. I bet their "corre

        • No, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt because the only reasonable information I've seen on what they've achieved suggests they've got something interesting, and also because it a) doesn't seem that ridiculous to me and b) doesn't really matter enough to me personally to go and investigate further. They haven't claimed the sky is falling. Why are you, and others, going ape-shit (as so often happens on Slashdot) just because someone's dared to suggest - tentatively suggest, at that - something t

          • The reason I'm going "ape shit" is because this is one story in a continual stream of complete bollocks the press releases from which get recycled into the "media" on a regular basis, making scientists look truly stupid and helping to destroy public trust in science, the scientific method and scientists as a whole.
            • which get recycled into the "media" on a regular basis

              This is a new paper, isn't it? On what basis are you lumping this particular study in with the rest of the bollocks?

          • by s.petry (762400)

            No, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt because the only reasonable information I've seen on what they've achieved suggests they've got something interesting, and also because it

            Interesting != Science

            a) doesn't seem that ridiculous to me

            So Zeus was a historical figure and the Greeks painted him while he posed? He's just one of many of their gods painted.

            I believe it's obvious that this is like reading tea leaves. When you start with a unrealistic premise it's nearly impossible to get to a realistic solution. Perhaps because of your "b" you just don't care to scrutinize the logic.

            I'll agree with you that it's interesting, but it's not science. It would be impossible to try and make any type of measurement for what

            • It would be impossible to try and make any type of measurement for what they are trying to measure based on paintings, when the majority of those paintings contain mythical and unrealistic objects.

              Just Google search "Ancient Greek Paintings"

              Perhaps you should try reading the article properly. I think I see where you went wrong:

              A team of Greek and German researchers [...] analysed hundreds of high-quality digital photographs of sunset paintings done between 1500 and 2000.

              • by s.petry (762400)
                You are correct, I didn't read the article. No need though, because the article won't change my logic at all. Paintings and Canvas are not done to be exact replicas of nature, but are painted to be appealing to the eye. Even if an artist attempted to replicate a particular color he saw in the sky, there are thousands of reasons for the sky to be that color. Pollution is not the only, or even the best, explanation for the colors the artist chose.
                • Paintings and Canvas are not done to be exact replicas of nature

                  They don't have to be exact to bear some relation to reality, and it wouldn't be unremarkable to discover that some painters would take pride in capturing the beauty of nature as exactly as possible.

                  Pollution is not the only, or even the best, explanation for the colors the artist chose.

                  The abstract doesn't mention pollution, per se (man-made or otherwise). Still, the authors have found a correlation, albeit a slight one which they only tentatively propose to be of limited utility. Yes, many things will have a bearing on how an artist paints his pictures. But it hardly seems outside the realm o

                  • by s.petry (762400)

                    What you seem to miss completely is that an artist does not choose colors by the colors they see, or that someone else saw. Colors are chosen more for providing an emotion, or to have continuity in the painting, or to emphasize a color in the focus area, or to help move a persons eye to a different region of the painting, or countless other things. It also has to do with the paint being used, how the color is added to the paint and what is used to make the color. None of that is "realism".

                    Of course these

                    • What you seem to miss completely is that an artist does not choose colors by the colors they see

                      If that was literally true, every painting would be random colours, wouldn't it?

                      Colors are chosen more for providing an emotion, or to have continuity in the painting, or to emphasize a color in the focus area, or to help move a persons eye to a different region of the painting, or countless other things.

                      I disagree. Colours in art are chosen primarily for what things actually look like, otherwise we'd have paintings of Elizabeth I with blue hair and red skin. But for some reason everyone painted her as pasty and redheaded, because she was. In almost all cases, those things you've mentioned are secondary factors. I don't think you'd find many artists who'd paint a clear daytime sky as hot pink just because they'd have an argument

                    • by s.petry (762400)

                      If that was literally true, every painting would be random colours, wouldn't it?

                      Random? No, and the statement is an absurdity (intentional or otherwise). For example: If I paint a horse blue, it's not going to look much like a horse. I don't go measure horse RGB values of real horses, but I stay within browns, blacks, whites, and grey colors. I may put spots in a pattern that is intended to move your eyes in one direction or another, I don't necessarily use an exact pattern found on a real horse somewhere. If I wanted viewers to feel more tranquil, I'll probably use lighter colors

                    • but I stay within browns, blacks, whites, and grey colors.

                      Exactly. Your primary influence is the actual colour of horses, and so it will be for the majority of artists.

                      Let's simplify things and discuss zebras. If zebras in the 18th century were 25% white and 75% black, but those in the 19th century were 50% white and 50% black, you would expect paintings to reflect this quite well, wouldn't you? What if they were once 40% white and 60% black, but now 50-50? That information would also seem likely to be recoverable, especially given a variety of paintings by a vari

                    • by s.petry (762400)

                      Let's simplify things and discuss zebras. If zebras in the 18th century were 25% white and 75% black, but those in the 19th century were 50% white and 50% black, you would expect paintings to reflect this quite well, wouldn't you? What if they were once 40% white and 60% black, but now 50-50? That information would also seem likely to be recoverable, especially given a variety of paintings by a variety of artists.

                      If I look at various paintings of Zebras, I'm not going to be able to do any such measurements. I'll find Zebras that appear to be 6" tall, and others that look like mountains. I'll find Zebras with 2 strips, and Zebras that have hundreds. I'll find Zebras with unicorn horns and monkeys riding them. I'll find Zebras with long hair, and short hair, grey hair and red lips, purple eyes, and all sorts of hoof colors. At no point do any of those pictures reflect reality, they reflect the story the artist w

                    • How do you know which of the painters that are long dead were trying to capture an actual Zebra with the actual amount of stripes in the exact pattern and colors they saw?

                      Statistically, it doesn't matter. When people run polls, how do they know how many people are lying to them? That's why they use large samples, so the signal can rise above the noise.

                      I'll find Zebras with unicorn horns and monkeys riding them.

                      You'd be extremely unlikely to do so, and even if you did, as long as you sample enough zebra paintings, its noise would be swamped by the signal. Most zebra paintings would show a realistic, if not 100% accurate, size and number of stripes, especially if the artist could look out of his window and see a zebra.

                      The great majority of artists strive for emotion, not realism

                      The other inputs

                    • by s.petry (762400)

                      Statistically, it doesn't matter. When people run polls, how do they know how many people are lying to them? That's why they use large samples, so the signal can rise above the noise.

                      Interesting point, but let's be clear. If I happen to be a politician and want to make the economy look good, would I poll every citizen in the US for their feelings on the economy? I believe that I would I target people that are employed, working in particular fields, living in certain types of neighborhoods. This is how statistics are done used to present an invalid/biased view of the world. Anyone believing that the economy is healthy in the US is an idiot, but politicians can show you this all day

  • In other news, researchers examining medieval paintings announced that they believe walking skeletons were much more prevalent 700 years ago than they are today. Bruce Campbell was unavailable for comment.
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      and people with halos, which might have been an early form of what we now call a glowstick, bent into circle and levitating above the wearers head by yet unknown means.

  • This is by far the stupidest "climate" story published on slashdot this week. And as you can imagine, that's up against some pretty stiff competition.
  • It get's farther away every day.

    • by wjcofkc (964165)
      The moon does not physically shrink in size just because it moves further away from the Earth. Also, it moves away from the Earth at a mere rate of 1.5 inches per year.
  • Setting aside artistic license, and the possibility that any artist may well have had chromatic aberrations in their vision, didn't we JUST have a story in the last month or two specifically discussing the changing of colors used in rennaissance paintings, and how displaying them in different colored lighting environments would likely allow us to see the pictures in (something more like) their original hues?

    Seems like another effort to "prove" how the sky is falling, climatologically speaking.

  • We take a painting of a sunset from someone that died 500 years ago, maybe we have several paintings to remove some variation, but still this is where they start. Now they have to account for the shifting of the color due to aging of the paint. They they have to account for the paints that were even available to the artist.

    Presumably they can determine date, time, and location from the scene begin depicted but I recall that some of these artists at that time would paint a single scene over the span of a m

  • ... medical researchers are studying the prevalence of congenital physical disorders in the early 20th Century by studying Picasso's paintings.

  • In the last 150 years, the sunsets have become redder, likely reflecting increased man-made pollution.

    It's also possible that red pigments break down, decompose, fade, and become less brilliant as decades and centuries go by; especially red pigments that were manufactured before colorfastness and other chemical properties were well understood.

  • The old masters painted "striking sunsets" because the sunsets were 'striking' - unusual, not your average ordinary sunset.

    Could some statistician or philosopher of science please supply the appropriate term for the bias not recognised by TFA.
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