While global warming might be an inconvenient truth that people don't want to face, creating more interactive, fun ways for people to learn about how the Earth operates might help convince new audiences of the importance of sound environmental policies. At the very least, it would be more appealing than watching Al Gore give a powerpoint presentation.
Now a couple of months later I get the news that the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is sponsoring an island in SL that may demonstrate the longer term impacts of climate change in compelling and informative ways. I just finished checking it out, and I was literally blown away.
The NOAA/ESRL decided to hold a contest to enable three groups of SL developers to use the strengths of Second Life's 3D modelling and animation tools to create interactive environments that inform people about meteorological and climactic phenomena. The teams had two-weeks to come up with prototypes, which are now on view on Meteroa Island.
All three teams created impressive demos in a short amount of time. You can see and interact with everything from a submersible that can lead tours through simulated underwater environments to a P-3 orion hurricane hunter flying through a virtual hurricane.
Probably the most impressive build was a tsunami simulator, created by Aimee Weber. To use it, you have to wear a heads up display (HUD) that guides you through the steps in the creation of a tsunami. Entering the simulator, you find yourself on a lovely shoreline with a couple of beach houses facing calm blue waters. Two deck chairs seem to invite you to relax by the gentle waters.
A narrator (Aimee herself) describes the precise interaction of tectonic and oceanic forces that lead up to a tsunami as you see the water ominously start to churn. Then, just as suddenly, the water recedes, deceptively leading you to think it's merely lowtide. But alas, its simply the gathering of forces as a wall of water 6 stories high crashes down on you.
There's no where to run, and nothing that can stop it. The water washes over you, destroying everything in its path.
All that is left is rubble as the water slowly recedes.
A couple of clicks later, the simulator resets itself for the next tsunami.
It's high drama and well-explained in the text in the HUD. You have a newfound appreciation for what poor folks in Pakistan, Indonesia and Lousiana went through and how powerful the ocean can be under the absolutely worst conditions.
Equally terrifying, but larger in scale, is the virtual glacier built by another team to demonstrate the effects of global warming.
A large thermometer stands in front of a glacier, showing the changes in global temperature from year to year since 1990. Extrapolating on current trends, you click on markers for the years 2000, 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100.
As the years go on, three things occur: the temperature rises, the glacier melts, and the water level rises. By 2100 its up to your knees. You have to wonder how many destroyed villages and lives that equals.
While these are simply evocative ways of presenting scientific information, you don't have to go far in wondering what must be done to ramp up our environmental policies to halt the rise of global warming and to better prepare for tsunamis and other natural disasters.
Because when a wall of water crashes down on your avatar, leaving a wake of complete clusterfuck all around you, it really makes you think.
(Aimee Weber herself blogs about the NOAA/ESRL project here.)