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VR Being Used by City Planners to Show Residents the Impact of Climate Change on Their Localities

Virtual reality (VR) startup company Virtual Planet is exhibiting features showcasing how sea-level rise can affect coastal cities

Sea level rise would bring the shoreline closer inland and flood neighbourhoods with several feet of water. Making all of this evident through visualisation was generally considered quite difficult. This is where the VR company has stepped in, generating simulation footage to show the residents of coastal areas how sea-level rise could affect their neighbourhoods.

Source: Virtual Planet LLC Credit: Juliano Calil

According to developer Juliano Calil’s account to NPR, the project aims to initiate discussions among people to help them visually interpret climate change effects, understand the available solutions and the possible compromises to be made.

This new project by Virtual Planet was showcased at a Turner Station community meeting held in Baltimore. The meeting was organised as part of a project proposal consideration to help the peninsula area gain better protection against floods. One of the initiatives deals with utilising dredged sediment sourced from Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore Harbor to augment the low-lying coastal areas.

Gloria Nelson, the Turner Station Conservation Teams president, remarked that the entire community needs to be on board with the programme. She considers that as a better scenario than a company approaching the community with pre-made plans.

The Virtual Planet project is an initiative to lure in community members to the cause. Upon wearing the VR goggles, users are able to see an office space containing the miniaturised topography of their locality. As they look down into the projection, they can get a bird’s eye view of the city shot by a drone. The users can then tune up the levels of flooding on a scale ranging from the spring 2019 high tide to up to 6 more feet of water.

Based on an NPR report, viewers of the VR feature at the Turner Station will witness the shoreline and the baseball grounds nearby suffer due to rising sea levels. The community is situated on a peninsula close to Baltimore, and its baseball fields become unusable quite often now.

The company had first showcased the Sea Level Rise Explorer project in Santa Cruz, California, where it is based. According to reports in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Downtown Branch was recently equipped with VR headsets. The 7-minute-long VR experience can be witnessed in English and Spanish languages.

Tim Robbins, a Santa Cruz resident, described the VR experience, and particularly its aerial view aspect as being truly realistic. He expressed that the feeling was like observing from a blimp, and opened his eyes regarding how much water had actually come in during an event like the previous year’s tidal inflow.

Another edition of the Virtual Planet presentation is set to focus on a beach-side strip containing lavish properties in California’s Long Beach. Calil remains hopeful that the VR visuals can incorporate the impacts of potential solutions, similar to the project focused on low-lying area strengthening at Turner Station.

Virtual reality can prove to be quite more effective than 2D and 3D features to accurately showcase climate change impact to community members.


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