EGU23-7765, updated on 25 Feb 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Inception Horizon: a case study in the science communication of groundwater through song

Fergus McAuliffe1, Laurence Gill2, and Norah Constance Walsh
Fergus McAuliffe et al.
  • 1iCRAG SFI Research Centre in Applied Geosciences, School of Earth Sciences, Dublin, Ireland (
  • 2iCRAG SFI Research Centre in Applied Geosciences, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland (

Informal science learning has been shown to increase interest in and understanding of geoscience. Creative geoscience communication efforts through collaboration with the arts and cultural performances are an effective tool in reaching new and under-engaged audiences to increase science capital.

Given that groundwater is largely unobservable to the naked eye, people’s conceptions of groundwater and other underground resources are typically naive and in the absence of visible cues, spatial reasoning plays an important role in the development of people’s understanding and conceptions of groundwater when constructing mental models of groundwater environments. Here we present an immersive science communication experience, “Inception Horizon”, as a case study in creative public engagement with groundwater and karst systems through the interlinked medium of song, performance and short film. The science communication project took place over a three year period, involving 30 members of the Mellow Tonics community choir and composer Norah Constance Walsh in the creation of an original musical piece, two performances (one above ground and one in a cave) and the creation of an accompanying short-film of the same name.

“Inception Horizon” follows the path of atmospheric water above karstified terrain, through the soil and into the layers of rock that lie beneath. It seeps, drips and then gains traction, creating and passing through various pathways with its laminar and then increasingly turbulent flow. Over time it carves out a vast cave before finding its way back to the air via a spring. The concept of an inception horizon features strongly in the music of the work - this is the crucial point that facilitates the initial passage of water and then stretches out like a constant ceiling above further descending erosion. Whispers of the corrosive forces at work echo in the space against an overall trajectory of descent, until the final upwards rush when the audience can breathe again.

Evaluation of audience members and choir members was carried out using mixed-methods: Q&A audio recordings on hand-held mic, on-camera interviews, a post-event survey email to all attendees and choir members, and mood boards. Evaluation found that 89% of attendees indicated that the event increased their understanding of karst, and 63% of attendees reported an improvement in confidence about Earth Science issues. Using a logic modelling approach as part of a wider Theory of Change, the evaluation results are taken as an indication of increased empowerment in earth sciences, showing that engagement through the arts can be used as an important medium on the pathway towards informed decision making on water resources. In terms of demographics the Inception Horizon events were successful in attracting attendees from both STEM (42%) and Arts/Music (32%) backgrounds, with the latter being a key audience due to their high cultural capital, but not necessarily high science capital.

How to cite: McAuliffe, F., Gill, L., and Walsh, N. C.: Inception Horizon: a case study in the science communication of groundwater through song, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-7765,, 2023.