Geo Rutherford is an artist and an educator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But what a lot of people might recognize her from the most is the social media application TikTok, where Rutherford runs an account making pretty popular videos all about the Great Lakes.
Though originally from Colorado, Rutherford went to school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and stuck around in Milwaukee after graduation.
Her videos about the Great Lakes often get hundreds of thousands of views, and every year she makes at least a couple videos about Great Lakes ice and some of the interesting ice structures and formations that happen.
Great Lakes Now News Director Natasha Blakely talked to Rutherford about her videos.
Watch Great Lakes Now’s interview with Rutherford here or read the transcript below:
The following interview was transcribed and edited for length and clarity.
Great Lakes Now: What makes ice such a fun topic for a TikTok?
Geo Rutherford: It’s really rare for you to get such a large body of water to be able to get the natural phenomena that happen on the Great Lakes. Just doesn’t happen on most lakes. You’ll see it on enormous lakes that are in cold regions, but we get cool videos of the ice here in the Great Lakes because people are going to the beaches. They’re spending a lot of time on the water, and we get some fluctuations in temperatures. We get some really cold weather as well as warm weather, so the ice is freezing and melting and freezing and melting. And that can kind of create some interesting dynamics when it comes to ice, so it’s a great place for talking about ice.
GLN: I’ve seen a few of your TikToks and they really cover a lot of the different kinds of stuff that happens with ice on the Great Lakes. It’s not just one sheet and it covers the whole lake, which already is kind of wild to me. Can you talk to me about what’s your favorite Great Lakes ice thing?
GR: I often joke that my favorite type of ice are ice shards. I just love how crunchy they are. I love when the ice is gravitating towards the shore and that breaks the ice up. You get this great crunching noise as the sheet of ice is breaking into these tiny chunks, and the chunks are just these gorgeous, little chip-shaped pieces. And I always joke that I want to eat them because they look crunchy. I actually have a list. I wrote a list of all the craziest ice that I love, because I was like, “Man, Geo, you’re going to forget about ice volcanoes and ice balls,” you know? And the ice caves and different types of bubbles and blue ice. There’s just so many different types of ice that are just really interesting on the Great Lakes.
GLN: You mentioned that sometimes people link videos to you. Does that happen pretty often?
GR: Constantly. I get every video that ever goes even remotely viral, like even if it has 30,000 views, I’m probably tagged in it. If it has anything to do with ice, if it has anything to do with the Great Lakes, I’ve probably seen it.
GLN: How did you kind of end up being this person that people turn to or try to funnel things toward that’s all about Great Lakes, all about the ice?
GR: I started to do my thesis on the Great Lakes, and at the same time we had our lockdown and the pandemic. So I was writing this paper about the Great Lakes, and I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, so I knew nothing about the Great Lakes, and I’m just doing all this research. I’m so blown away by how incredible the lakes are, and I’ve never really thought about lakes or considered them. It’s not something that’s really commonly in our K-12 education, as lake education is not really up there. So when TikTok started to become an interest of mine, I started with a lot of my artwork and artist books. But then I also wanted to share the information I was learning about the Great Lakes, and I was a high school teacher for five years. I have a lot of education background, and I just decided to jump on and talk about the Great Lakes. My very first video got 4 million views. Immediately, people were interested in the Great Lakes, and so I started to just make Great Lakes content.
GLN: Since you didn’t come from the area, what was your – I don’t know if you remember it – but what was your first personal experience with the Great Lakes?
GR: I think, like many people, my first real experience with the Great Lakes was thinking that they looked like an ocean, just not truly comprehending their size. And you drive along the coast in Michigan and you drive, you drive and you drive, and it’s a never-ending horizon. And it’s amazing how many of my followers or people that have seen my videos are shocked about that. They’re shocked that there’s waves. They’re shocked that there’s a horizon that never ends and you can’t see the other side. I think that people in the Midwest in the Great Lakes region, in Canada take that for granted. And so when you put that out there to the internet and they start to appreciate just how enormous the Great Lakes are –there’s a lot of shock and awe.
GLN: Are there any other big ice things that you want to hit?
GR: I feel like one of the great parts of making these videos is the willingness to just be surprised and be enamored by the different results that you can get every year. So I don’t really plan. I don’t sit here and wait for more ice pancakes or a good volcano video or a good ice boulder video. Instead, I just wait to see what happens.
GLN: Your TikToks, a lot of them focus on some of the really cool aspects of the Great Lakes, all these different hidden joys of nature or those stories about it. What are your thoughts on how that intersects with climate change and how that’s shaping and changing the ecosystem?
GR: I think that ice gives us kind of some interesting indicators to what’s happening with the Great Lakes. We get indicators throughout the year, but ice is a particularly interesting point that always takes us back to talking about climate change. If we don’t have a lot of Great Lakes ice this year, it still is an interesting topic, because it gives you an opportunity to talk about the declining ice on the Great Lakes and how that is affecting a lot of things that are happening in the Great Lakes climate-wise and for their ecosystems and so on and so forth. With less ice, it means we get more evaporation, it’s more likely that we’re going to see declining water levels over the next couple of years. It’s not good for the ecosystems and the creatures that depend on consistent ice coverage throughout the year. So if there isn’t an opportunity to talk about cool Great Lakes ice, then I know there’s going to be an opportunity to talk about Great Lakes climate issues, which I’ve done a lot in the past. Great Lakes algae blooms, Great Lakes invasive species, all of these things are different topics that I do on my TikTok, and I think that there’s a place to have a conversation about declining ice and its impacts on Great Lakes waters.
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Featured image: (Photo Credit: Great Lakes Outreach Media)