Salt Marsh Deep Time Study Center was a part of "Liveable Worlds" October 6 - December 15 2023 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art and Design curated by Julie Poitras Santos and Sabine Malcom.

By most any measure, the world is becoming less liveable. Climate breakdown undermines ecosystems and ways of living, paralleling crises in social life. These disruptions reflect long-standing patterns rooted in the inseparability of settler-colonialism, anti-blackness, and environmental destruction. Whether under political occupation, psychic pressure, or environmental duress; artists, designers, and filmmakers have long found ways to create in what are otherwise unlivable conditions. Liveable Worlds takes as its point of departure the notion that there are multiple “worlds”— material, psychic, and communal—and opens space to envision new forms of visualization, survival, collaboration, and community.

Artists include: Futurefarmers, Sky Hopinka, Athena LaTocha, Patte Loper, Mary Mattingly, Pamela Moulton/Posey, Oscar Santillán, Cauleen Smith, Will Wilson

Various species of foraminefera
Animated video, 3D prints, found biotic material, drawing

Sea level rise is expected to have distinct spatial expressions that vary by latitude, and reconstructing past shorelines help scientists understand the characteristic fingerprints of processes that are affecting us now and will affect us in future.


To create these reconstructions, scientists examine ancient salt marsh core samples to find where species of foraminifera lived long ago. Foraminifera are microscopic, single-celled sea creatures that form shells and are found in abundance all over the world. Certain species live under water, others at the edge of the water. Once a foraminifera fossil is found, scientists can meticulously date the sedimentation found in core samples through carbon dating and pollution markers, and cross reference this information with which species of foraminifera lived at what time, and where, scientists can get a pretty good idea of where ancient shorelines were.


Research sites are selected because they have salt marshes that have remained undisturbed for at least the past 2000 years. Marshes are valuable research sites because they are fundamentally linked to the tides and sea level, and they are calm, quiet places where sediment is steadily added, as opposed to a beach where material is constantly being moved on and off. Many things affect the scientists’ understanding of any given site, including the distribution of native salt-tolerant plants, sea levels, ground elevation and composition, and tidal ranges.