As climate change continues to worsen, researchers around the world have created projected models of what the future may look like. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Oregon have created a new type of climate model by using virtual reality.
Traditional methods of presenting global warming and its consequences include photos, graphs, maps, and satellite images. In a recent study published in the International Journal of Geographical Information Science, a group of geographers describes their virtual reality forest.
What the team offers is an immersive experience of a future forest by combining virtual reality with ecological and procedural modeling, they wrote in the study. Using the LANDIS-II simulation model, they mapped three tree species commonly found in Wisconsin.
Climate Change is No Longer Abstract
Experiencing a virtual reality of how climate change affects forests, noted the authors, "facilitate communication among experts, policy-makers, and the general public." The main problem with global warming, explained by Professor Alexander Klippel from Penn State, is that the concept of climate change is "rather abstract." The consequences that follow a decade or a century later make it difficult for people to understand why we need to discontinue current trends such as single-use plastics and burning fossil fuels.
The virtual forest was also created with the help of the Menominee Indian Tribe. Klippel shared how they were inspired by the tribe's "deeper connection to the environment." Experiencing the future, even virtually, is essential for environmental decision-making, he continued.
The virtual Wisconsin forest brings people to what it would look like today until 2050. Walking through the forest, viewers would see the types of trees, their understory, and how they've changed because of climate change.
Settings with the VR headsets and controllers include seeing individual tree species, ground-level, or Birdseye view as strollers walk through the forest. Scenarios include comparing the forest today to 30 years in the future where people could compare an abundance of trees versus the hot and dry scenario.
Orientation and small details of the trees shared Jiawei Huang from Penn State, were place randomly in the simulation so all the trees would look different. It was also the procedural modeling that allowed the geographers to create a forest with an organic and natural feel.
Model for Other Climate Events
Aside from forests, which are Earth's natural carbon sinks, the model can also be used to create other global-warming related events such as bushfires, floods, droughts, melting glaciers, and loss of biodiversity. Another goal would be to communicate how the Earth has evolved not only between today and the future, but ecology in the past as well.
Desmond Tutu, known for winning the Nobel Pease Prize in 1984, said that 25 years ago, people could have gotten away with ignorance or doing little about climate change. "Today, we have no excuse."