Judy Twedt remembers the moment when she started to think differently about her work on climate change: when the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

“It was a turning point for me. I realized I needed to start engaging with people on an emotional level.”

She thought deeply about how she wanted to spend the remaining two years of her PhD work at the University of Washington, and how to build the emotional connection of climate change as a centerpiece of her dissertation.

Twedt turned to the power of music and sounds. She now spends her days “mixing climate science and art to create new ways to understand the physical world around us.” She uses infosonics—music and sound that convey data and information—to tell the story of a changing climate in different places around the world.

“When listening to music, you leave behind your preset notions of science, or climate change, or other issues that we see day to day. It creates new cultural affiliations to science,” says Twedt. “Your whole body listens to music, unlike reading and other mediums. The vibrations are felt throughout your body, and it really does access different pathways in your nervous system. Sound is really helpful for making sense of something as complex as climate change.”

So what does this sound like? So far, she has sonified data related to sea ice change, carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere, and ocean acidification—and more are on the way. Her work is a unique collaboration between the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media at the University of Washington.

And she is having impact. She has since shared her work through multiple outlets, including on social media and with organizations like science and labor societies. When presenting the soundtrack on ocean acidification to a class recently, students put down their phones and instead intently focused on the music. It is sharp and complicated, yet hauntingly beautiful. One student told Twedt that hearing the data put to sound made him feel more saddened by what is happening. A chemistry teacher who heard her piece at a conference remarked that she thought global warming was ‘made up by the alarmists’ until hearing her presentation on the sonification of Arctic sea ice.

“I was moved by that,” says Twedt. “Being able to access the emotional side of communication is something younger scientists are receptive to. It’s a new way to connect.”

Twedt’s own pathway has been an evolving one. Born in Tacoma, she felt a strong connection to the landscapes and places of Washington, and moved back to her home state after going to college in Colorado. She had majored in philosophy and environmental ethics, but was drawn to how math and physics help us understand climate change. Entering her PhD program at UW, she wanted to focus on science that would help in decision making. Her current work blends her interests from the past while introducing a new element: music and sound.

“Initially I wanted to be a seagoing oceanographer. But I felt compelled to work where I could make the most impact and that eventually led to working on this huge communication gap between climate scientists and ordinary people. Music is a way to fill that.”

Judy Twedt is currently doing her dissertation research in the College of the Environment and College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington. You can lean more about her work at judytwedt.com.