Giant melting da Vinci artwork recreated on Arctic sea ice

Press release - 7 September, 2011
Fram Strait, Arctic, 7 September 2011 – A giant version of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketch ‘Vitruvian Man’ depicted melting from the sea ice into the Arctic Ocean has been constructed just 800 kilometres from the North Pole, as a call for urgent action on climate change.

Greenpeace-commissioned artist John Quigley (1), travelling on board the Arctic Sunrise (2), made the massive ‘Melting Vitruvian Man’ -- the size of four Olympic-sized swimming pools -- to draw attention to how climate change is causing the rapid melting of sea ice to outstrip predictions.

The Melting Vitruvian Man

© Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace

The announcement of this year’s sea ice minimum, expected later this month, could mark one of the lowest on record (3). Scientists say the sea ice could be gone altogether in the summer time within two decades (4), which would have grave implications for human beings and bio-diversity; the Arctic’s floating sea ice acts as the world’s air conditioner, helping to keep the global climate stable by reflecting 80% of sunlight back out into space.

The Greenpeace icebreaker became Quigley’s floating studio, after it was tethered to sea ice at 81.45 degrees north that formed his canvas for the ‘Melting Vitruvian Man’. Working in freezing conditions, in one of the most remote and challenging environments on the planet, Quigley was assisted by volunteers from the Arctic Sunrise crew, using copper strips normally used to create solar panels to construct the giant copy of da Vinci’s 500 year-old drawing. All materials were removed after construction and the copper will be reused.

Speaking from the Arctic ice edge, John Quigley explained: “We came here to create the ‘Melting Vitruvian Man’, after da Vinci's famous sketch of the human body, because climate change is literally eating into the body of our civilisation. When he did this sketch it was the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the dawn of this innovative age that continues to this day, but our use of fossil fuels is threatening that.”

Greenpeace expedition leader Frida Bengtsson, said:  “The poles are the regions most sensitive to climate change on Earth, and the Arctic sea ice melt is one of the most visible impacts of climate instability. To highlight the dramatic changes taking place in the Arctic, Greenpeace has joined John Quigley on the sea ice to create this image, which illustrates how our dependency on fossil fuels is tipping the balance of the relationship between nature and humans.”

Quigley’s artwork kick-starts a month-long expedition for the Arctic Sunrise and her crew, which sees the ship facilitate a scientific research project by scientists from Cambridge University on an expedition to measure sea ice thickness (5).

The US-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), the main scientific institute studying Arctic sea ice extent, has confirmed that already this year, sea ice has retreated to the third smallest area on record (6). There has been a dramatic decline in both the thickness and the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic over the past 30 years driven by a rise in global temperatures (7).

Photography, video and interviews with John Quigley and Greenpeace campaigners available.


Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Communications, tel: +44 7717 802 891     

Lucy Campbell-Jackson, Greenpeace International Video Desk, tel: +31 634 738 790

Alex Yallop, Greenpeace International Photo Desk, tel: +31 624 9419 65

Notes for editors:     

(1) Los Angeles-based John Quigley is an internationally known artist, producer and activist. His unique mix of human installation and aerial photography brings together communities to create large-scale messages for the common good. His work was featured in Leonardo Di Caprio’s film 11th Hour, and in 2008 he was created a giant portrait of Nelson Mandela as part of the 90th birthday celebrations in South Africa.  

2) Designed as an icebreaker, the Arctic Sunrise has a rounded, keel-less hull that allows it to navigate through sea ice. Greenpeace began using the ship in 1995 and it has been involved in numerous journeys to document the impacts of climate change, as well as in the organisation’s direct action campaigns opposing Arctic oil drilling and commercial whaling. In 1997, it became the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, a previously impossible journey until a 200m thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed.      

(3) The National Snow Ice and Data Center (NSIDC)

(4) The sea ice minimum is usually in mid-September. The National Snow Ice and Data Center (NSIDC) has suggested the extent of the retreat in the Arctic’s sea ice minimum could rival 2007’s record low.

(5) Scientists Nick Toberg and Till Wagner of the University of Cambridge’s Polar Oceans Physics Group, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics ( are examining deformation of sea ice and how this creates pressure ridges. They aim to establish the average ice thickness of 10 sites using power drills, snow depth measurements and GPS readings. They are measuring the sea ice in the Greenland Sea, Fram Strait and Arctic Ocean.

(6) NSIDC directors’ interview with Gerard Wynn, Reuters, 1 September 2011     

(7) According to the NSIDC, as of September 2007, the September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 was approximately -10 per cent per decade, or 72,000 square kilometres (28,000 square miles) per year. The NSIDC says the decline is greater and the rate faster than natural causes could account for.