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Students Utilise Virtual Reality to Observe the Decline of Reefs

Based on research, a virtual reality simulation based on the ill effects of acidification in the ocean was successful in helping people become familiar with the problem.

Despite climate change gaining mass awareness, the concept of ocean acidification, a phenomenon leading to large-scale marine deaths, is still a distant concept to many.

Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford University professor of communication, and co-author of the environmental study stated that he believed VR to be an effective mechanism for helping the environment. He expressed that the said technology can enlighten individuals and create a considerable positive impact.

VR consumer volumes are growing with the rise of cost-friendly equipment from companies like Microsoft, Oculus Rift, and Samsung.

Upwards of 270 individuals ranging from high school and college students and adults, were able to witness the Ocean Acidification Experience. Roy Pea, Stanford University Human-Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute professor of education and director, co-authored the venture along with Bailenson and his associates.

One particular test involved senior high school students from the marine biology division of  Sacred Heart Preparatory school in Atherton, California, assuming fresh VR identities within the free to download simulation. They took on identities like those of a pink coral placed on a rocky reef, which has an abundance of life forms including snails, bream and urchins.

As the simulation neared to its end, it projected a vision of how the reef structure would appear during the century’s end. Vivid, colourful and diverse life forms would have disappeared by then. The simulation shows that these life forms would be replaced by organisms like the silver Salema Porgy and green algae. Fiorenza Micheli, a marine science professor, is the brains behind the simulation.

At a point during the simulation, the dead virtual skeleton of the viewer experiences disintegration. The narrator explains that due to continual ocean acidification, several rich marine ecosystems including the rock reef will be eventually enveloped in weeds.

A closer learning experience

Through the simulation, participants could experience a more bodily encounter, as revealed by motion tracking performed by researchers. Vigorous head and body movements were witnessed during the simulation.

The movement responses were intriguing, and the experience was indeed like being underwater – Cameron Chapman, an 18-year old student

Another student Alexa Levison revealed that the experience was more real than her initial expectations. She expressed that witnessing the acidification from such a close perspective was quite eye-opening.

Following the simulation experience, there was a nearly 150 percent increase in questions regarding contributing acidification factors from the students of Sacred Heart. It was found that they had held on to that knowledge even after many weeks. With longer exposure to VR learning, the knowledge became more embedded in their brains.

David Markowitz, chief author, and an assistant professor at the University of Oregon elaborated that the VR simulation helps people across all age groups, and learning backgrounds, gain a better idea regarding the causes and impact of ocean acidification.


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